At the time of writing, the big news is that new US President, Donald Trump, has suspended immigration from a number of predominantly Muslim nations including Syria, Iraq and Iran. All refugee entries are also suspended for 120 days. When they resume, refugee claims based on religious persecution will be prioritised. Although the President’s executive order is neutrally worded, it favours Christian refugees.
What should Christians think about Christian refugees being favoured? Would we welcome such a policy in Australia? The answer would presumably be ‘yes’, if the church were merely one more ‘special interest group’ lobbying to advance its cause in the political sphere. But is that the way the church should function in our democracy?
Although they are often criticised, special interest groups have a valid place in our system. It is legitimate in a democracy to advocate for one’s own interests, in the hope that these will be taken into account in the delicate balance to be struck between competing concerns. For example, in the battle for the use of the Liverpool Plains, the farming and mining lobbies should be expected to put their own arguments as vigorously as they can (without deception), and it is up to government to balance these with the national interest in mind.
However, I suggest that the Christian church is not a special interest group in that sense. We serve the God who made the heavens and the earth, and whose Son died for the sins of the whole world. As a result, Christians are concerned for the whole world. We have a responsibility to advocate for policies which, in the light of the gospel, are in the interests of everyone.
Our paramount concern must therefore be for policies which make it possible for Christians to continue spreading the gospel. This explains the interesting occasion when the Apostle Paul stood on his rights and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11). Paul was indeed trying to preserve his own life, but not for selfish reasons. Rather, it was better for the spread of the gospel that he remained alive (compare Phil 1:23-24). Of course, to someone who sees no importance in the spread of the gospel, Paul’s motivation might seem to be narrow self-interest, but if the gospel is true, then it truly was for the good of the whole world that the gospel’s chief spokesman should keep speaking.
The same principle explains why the church today staunchly defends its ‘right’ to speak about Jesus through Scripture in public schools. If the gospel is true, then it is good for everyone that this right be retained.
If, then, the key principle is that Christians stand on their rights when the gospel is at stake, there is no good reason to favour a policy which gives preference to Christian refugees. To support it would smack of narrow Christian self-interest, rather than a Christ-like concern for the whole world.
Against my view it might be urged that Christians are to regard each other as family (Jn 13:34; Gal 6:10), and that Western Christians should express their brotherly love by lobbying their governments to give preference to Christian refugees. In reply, I would agree that comfortable Western Christians should reserve a special place in their hearts for those among the world’s displaced people who share their faith in Jesus. However, such brotherly love can be expressed in other ways: always through prayer, but also through support of Christian agencies working among displaced people, and perhaps even, where the opportunity arises, through sponsoring migrations which might not otherwise have been possible.
Overall, then, Christian concern for the whole world points to a non-discriminatory refugee policy, but special brotherly love for fellow believers across the globe should be given real expression.
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