Finding A Christian Response to Migrants

I’ve listened to the political dialogue around how our nation should respond to migrants, asylees and refugees and have noticed the assumptions that we begin with and how those assumptions form our responses. I want to talk about that in this blog post because who we think migrants are shapes how we respond to them. In addition, how we think about migrants shapes the policy discussions that we have. And then I want us to reflect on whether or not our assumptions reflect our faith and how we might consider seeking a truly Christian response to this crisis.

Our beginning assumptions shape how we see:

If we begin with the assumption that migrants or refugees are a threat to our way of life–our culture, if they are a threat to our jobs, if they are a threat to our faith or if they are a threat to our well-being, if they are a threat to our social strength, then we must create policy and enact various security measures to protect ourselves.  If we think of migrants as invaders, then we would need to use military force to protect ourselves from an invasion.  That is the logical flow from our assumptions to our actions.

If our beginning point regarding migrants and refugees is that all of those heading to our borders are criminals coming to harm us, then we must of course stop them from coming into our country at all costs.  Naturally we would not want more violent people or drug dealers.

And this is what is so concerning about our political dialogue.  When we tag an entire group of people with various threatening attributes we consider the whole group to be a threat.  We assume that they as a whole group are less moral, less law-abiding, less healthy etc than we are as a whole group.  This is not a truthful position for us to take because no group, not even our own group, is all good or all bad.  And when we make claims that all migrants are criminals, or all migrants are harmful, then the solution is to rid ourselves of them or keep them out.  We focus on the people and not the system and policies needed for an orderly migration or refugee process.  We make the people group the problem instead of looking at the system or the process, the solution becomes not policy change or policy creation, the solution is action that involves keeping those “bad” people out.

That’s where we need to think more Christianly.

In healthy systems be they political or be they family systems, the focus is on how we can work on the policy or system–not how we can get rid of the people.

I believe that if we would begin with thinking about migrants as those who are beloved of God, those Jesus died to save, those who bear the image of God, then we might have a different kind of response.  If our beginning assumptions are that migrants are coming because they are experiencing violence, hardship, war, and are seeking safety, then our response could be focused on a process would treat them ethically while their claims for asylum or refugee status are processed.

If we think of migrants as mostly vulnerable people needing safety then we have a more ethical and genuine response to what is happening to them as people.  Granted there are those who might pose a threat–a criminal–or someone without a valid asylum claim.  Those folks need to be weeded out in an orderly manner. But that does not mean the entire caravan or group of people are criminals.   

An orderly ethical process would discover those who do not have valid claims and those who are criminals.  (Current law requires background checks and other biometric measures.)

We would not like our group to be considered either all good or all bad.  It would not feel good.  It is the same when we tag all migrants as criminal–bad–threatening etc.

A Christian response begins with how we see migrants and biblically, it should begin where God begins.  God created us in his own image.  Once we see them as human beings made in God’s image, our response to them will be more God-like.

The second issue is about open borders.

Most justice-oriented Christians are not calling for open borders and some sort of free for all as commonly charged.  (this is a fear tactic) I personally don’t think that would be beneficial or helpful.  But I do think that those seeking to be justice oriented must ask questions about our immigration system and whether or not our system is a just system.  We must ask if our immigration system is functioning well.  And we must discern how we might be moral and ethical in the laws we create.  And we might also consider various in between processes such as how we host families with children while they are processing their asylum claims.  (The UN has been working with this for years)  We could be much more creative if we stopped focusing on demonizing the migrant people and began to focus on how we can make our system more effective and ethical.

Everyone talks about obedience to the law and that we are a nation of laws but the questions I don’t hear are these:  Are the laws we have in place just?  Does our system promote human flourishing and well being?  And are the laws we have being applied in a just and equal manner?  As God’s people, these are very important questions to ask.

God’s people long to reflect the heart of God in our relationships, even our political relationships.  As believers it is good and right to seek good laws that promote justice and ethics.   Good and faithful people have been seeking such thoughtful comprehensive immigration reforms for many years with little success.  And we are in this predicament because we have not done the work of examining outdated laws that are no longer working.

The Third issue, that is before us is this: How are migrants and refugees being exploited for political gain? 

I feel that what is lost as Christians debate the immigration issues are the people and the humanity of the people in question.  Political parties exploit real people who are struggling with real issues–fleeing real violence.  I’ve seen more threats about migrants during the political season used to stoke fear.  Pundits are tapping and inflaming fears and creating threats that are not there so that their candidates can get elected.  Both sides have a particular agenda to get folks to the polls based on how they use this crisis.

As believers we are called to live in truth and not allow ourselves to be manipulated.  More we should have the wisdom to see through the political jargon and posturing designed to exploit real human beings so that one party or the other can gain political power.  People are objectified and depersonalized–used.

This is wrong on so many levels. 

A truly Christian response should be very thoughtful and prayerful, considering the wide variety of concerns present.  And when political pundits say migrants or other groups are all bad, all threatening… we should take notice that perhaps real people who have genuine concerns are being demonized.

I appeal to you as a sister in Christ to think Christianly and prayerfully about a godly response to migrants and refugees.  I ask you to question the political narratives that are forming your assumptions.  Let us see through the eyes of Christ who is present in the migrants.

Faith Totushek pastors WayFinders Home church and serves as Director of Worship at St Francis United Methodist Church in St Francis, Minnesota.

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