This column is the opinion and analysis of the writers.
Evangelicals are wrong about refugees. We know because we are evangelical pastors. A 2018 Pew Research study found that white evangelical Protestants are more likely than any other group to hold the view that “America does not have a responsibility to accept refugees.” This view is held by 68% of white evangelical Protestants.
We are wrong about refugees. And we are wrong about scripture.
Our scriptures tell us that God loves immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. God loves them so much that he became one of them. Jesus was a refugee. He sought refuge from the religious and political violence of Herod. Thank God Egypt opened its country to Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Otherwise, what fate might have befallen them?
In our experience as evangelical pastors, we’ve found that attitudes toward refugees have recently hardened. We hear, “Let them go back to their home country,” or “They’re a drain on our economy,” or even “They might be terrorists.” We’d like to correct the record, on facts and on scripture.
Refugees are hard-working and appreciative people. They’ve been given a second chance, and they know it. They know what it means to go without and they work hard to make a home and a living for their families. According to the Pew Center, often by the second generation refugees out-earn and outperform the general American public.
Also, because refugees are often fleeing war-torn countries with high levels of violence and terrorism, they are subjected to some of the most rigorous screening and background checks of anyone entering the country. Refugees desperately want to begin a new life free from fear and violence. We might ask, “What would it take for us to flee with our entire family to another country?” or “What wouldn’t we do to keep our children and our loved ones safe?”
The facts about refugees are readily available. So why do our hearts remain hardened against the most vulnerable?
It is our experience and belief that evangelical resistance toward welcoming refugees is not a matter of ideology, but is instead a symptom of a larger problem: We are beholden to fear. When we are afraid, we cease to think critically and we start to see the world in stark contrasts, in black-and-white terms. Fear builds walls; love tears them down. It is no surprise that the command, “Do not fear” is one of the most oft-repeated throughout scripture. But our scriptures also teach us that “perfect love casts out fear.”
The love of Jesus, our central rallying call for all we do, was made manifest in the incarnation. Jesus could have been born any way he chose, but chose to be born powerless to a people under foreign military occupation, to a family of poor Jews who would become refugees shortly after his birth.
If Jesus loved refugees so much that he became one, then we would be hard-pressed to claim a love for Jesus on one hand while shutting the doors to refugees with the other. We might well measure our love for Jesus by our love for refugees. Indeed, Jesus said: “When I was a stranger you welcomed me. ... What you did to the least of these you did to me.”
In Tucson, we are remembering the plight of refugees on Saturday, June 22. We encourage everyone to research information about refugees from reputable organizations such as the Tucson Refugee Ministry, (https://www.tucsonrefugeeministry.com/), the International Rescue Committee (www.rescue.org/united-states/tucson-az), or Catholic Social Services (https://www.ccs-soaz.org/).