In 2016, I released a book in Swedish together with pastor Stefan Swärd called Jesus Was Also a Refugee. We commented the recent migration debate, providing the biblical teaching on loving, welcoming and blessing strangers (Lev 19:33-34, Mt 25:35).
I was not at all prepared for the huge amounts of Christians who would object to the book title. “Jesus was certainly not a refugee!” The same thing happened as the Christian Post published my Christmas reflection, inspired by Shane Claiborne, urging people to welcome refugees as they would welcome Christ. The comment section on CP’s Facebook page overflooded with arguments against the asylum status of our Savior and his parents.
Most of these arguments are bad. I mean, really bad. Here are the five weirdest ones I’ve come across so far:
1. They were not refugees, they were traveling LEGALLY for a CENSUS!
This argument is strangely popular. It has even made headline news after conservative activist Charlie Kirk used it in response to Democratic politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
Well, nobody says that the holy family were refugees when they went from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We’re saying that they were refugees when they fled deadly persecution in Bethlehem to Egypt:
When the magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up!” he said. “Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.” So he got up, took the Child and His mother by night, and withdrew to Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Mt 2:13-15)
Needless to say, if Joseph and Mary wanted to be obedient to the law, they would have allowed Herod to kill God Almighty. They didn’t. They fled – pheuge in the original Greek, from which we get our word “refugee”. That’s why we call them refugees.
2. They were not refugees, they were traveling LEGALLY to Egypt
I’m having a hard time understanding American’s obsession with legality when it comes to migration. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s morally right or that the law shouldn’t change. Just ask Martin Luther King Jr., or the apostles.
As I pointed out above, the holy family did do something illegal when they fled from Judea since the law demanded that all boys below the age of two should be killed, and Jesus was such a boy. It is true that they didn’t break any Roman law. Both Egypt and Judea were occupied by the Roman Empire, and no law prohibited Jews from traveling from one place to another.
This just goes to show that it should be legal to flee persecution. When the American president makes it illegal for every single Syrian refugee to enter the United States, the richest country on earth, he does something morally wrong. It shouldn’t be illegal to save the life of one’s child.
3. Jesus wasn’t a refugee – he was a baby!
Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many of them are infants. All people who flee for their lives are recognized of their age, even if they are carried by their parents.
4. The holy family were not refugees – Egypt didn’t provide them with welfare and government programs
The UNHCR defines refugees in the following way:
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.
Thus, it doesn’t matter if the country to which the refugees flee rolls out the red carpet and offer free ice cream, or if the refugees have to care for themselves. The refugees are still refugees if they fled from persecution, war or violence. Egypt had a large Jewish diaspora that likely helped Joseph, Mary and Jesus out. That doesn’t make them less refugees.
5. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were not refugees! An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus since King Herod would seek the child to kill him
This is a real thing a guy wrote on Twitter. To which I responded:
The million-dollar question is obviously why people try to deny that our Lord and Savior was a refugee? What’s so uncomfortable with a historical fact? I think we all know the answer to that: they don’t want their countries to receive refugees today, and so they fear the idea that God might think otherwise.
God does think otherwise. But that is not a threat: it’s a blessing. He has all the resources in the world to help us help the poor and fleeing. Trust in him, and you will be just as able to welcome strangers as the Egyptians were.
Micael Grenholm is editor-in-chief for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!