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Loving the Stranger: A Basic Christian Value

April 28, 2016 One Comment
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Syrian refugees in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. (Image: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2013. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0)

by James Morgan

We all know people with beliefs and lifestyle choices that are different than our own. Even within the Christian faith we see differences of belief—yes, even within Lutheranism. While we must defend pure doctrine and holy living, does that mean we ought to simply condemn and shun those with whom we disagree? No! The Lord Jesus was born, crucified, and resurrected for all people out of infinite love. During His time on Earth, Jesus associated with people with whom He did not agree, in order to show His life-changing love to them.

It is our role as Christians to do the same—to meet people where they are, speaking the truth in love. This is difficult. An extremely delicate balance has to be made between showing respect, dignity, and love towards others without endorsing beliefs or lifestyle choices that are un-Christian. This is a challenge we encounter constantly in our workplaces, neighbourhoods, and families.

“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

People with beliefs and lifestyles different than our own can feel unfamiliar to us—like strangers—because of their differences. That’s true even when we know them by name. This sense of “strangeness” in society can lead to fear. But God does not want us to live in fear. He doesn’t want those who believe in Him to be fearful or to cause others to live in fear either. The fact is, we are all “fearful strangers” sometimes. In North America, where we live mostly in comfort, we need to remember that and lend a hand to others in discomfort and distress. The Lord reminded the Israelites of the same thing in Deuteronomy: “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (10:19).

Strangers in the World Today

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The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where tens of thousands of refugees have lived since civil war in Syria broke out. (Image: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2013. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0)

There are many events in the world today that foster fear and a sense of strangeness. Refugees from Syria know what fear is like. They’re also finding out what it’s like to be strangers: half of the population of an entire country has been displaced. 80 percent of Syrian children have been negatively affected in some form. Approximately half a million people have been killed. Faced with such a situation, we have a Christian obligation to show compassion and assistance to the suffering, regardless of their faith. This obligation was revealed in the Old Testament, long before Jesus Himself came to fulfill and explain it. “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong,” God says. “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33).

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

When it comes to helping Syrian refugees, we don’t all have to volunteer or donate money: we all have limits to what we can and cannot do. But we can all pray. Prayer, and faith in God’s answer to those prayers, is sufficient. Of course, if we can help in more material ways, that is wonderful too, but no one is inferior to another just because they cannot give as much of their time and money as their friends, neighbours, and fellow Christians.

Refugees from Syria are largely Muslim. Elsewhere, it is Christian refugees facing fear. Many refugees fleeing Pakistan right now for Thailand are Christians. There they are encountering institutionalized fear and persecution from the authorities and citizens in Thailand, even though their plight as refugees has been officially recognized by the United Nations (UN). That recognition is supposed to be a guarantee that the Pakistanis will be protected.

For these Pakistani Christians, leaving an Islamic country that is hostile to their faith with an often unstable government in order to flee to a mostly Buddhist country with an often unstable government is an attractive option—an option that most of us would not consider attractive at all. The problem is that Thailand does not want refugees, even on humanitarian grounds. It hasn’t signed the UN’s official refugee convention. That means that already persecuted Pakistanis risk being arrested and jailed if they are found out—and yes, it has happened. Christians from Pakistan are living in fear in Thailand because the local people fear them, simply because they are different.

In many ways, the hardships facing Pakistani Christian refugees in Thailand and the ones facing Syrian Muslim refugees coming to Europe and North America are similar: fear and hostility often await them in both cases. It is true there are differences, especially in religion. But this doesn’t change the basic truth that these people are all human beings with the same needs. God loves each of them equally—even the ones who do not believe in Him. There are Christians in North America who are only concerned about helping other persecuted Christians. The truth is though that the Bible does not say to just look after other Christians and let the others fend for themselves. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). That verse does not say to only look after those with whom we agree. What kind of a show of Christ’s love would it be if we did not help everyone? In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus helped all kinds of people. These were people of all faiths and those who lived at the margins of society. We must remember that evangelism is shown best through love, not wariness and defensive attitudes.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Why We Care

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The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. (Image: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2013. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Division and fear are the evil one’s work. Blatant condemnation and disagreement divide. But the work of Christ is love, shown through the sacrifice He made for us at the cross—a task that completely replaced and outdid any need we have to work to earn his favour and our salvation.

As Christians, we are all called to do good works like caring for refugees. But let us not be confused about why we do these good things. We don’t do them in order to earn favour with God or reserve a space in Heaven when we die. Such an idea completely undermines and cheapens the salvation Jesus Christ has already won for us. We know that we are still sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness; no amount of good deeds and hard work is going to change that. Instead, we do good works because we love Jesus—who first loved us—and because we want to live by His example out of gratitude.

At its core, the call to attend to the needs of strangers is a Christian concept. It is rooted in the love and sacrifice of Jesus. Tragically, some people today play politics with this idea, saying it is a “liberal” value. It cannot and should not be seen this way. It isn’t a political concept at all; it is a Christian value. It is a biblical value. And while some people make it an issue of politics, Christians need not fear compromising our Christian values when we care for the stranger. In fact, this task is borne out of Christian love and service, and can even be an opportunity for sharing the Good News of the One who motivates such love.

There is no right or left, liberal or conservative, when it comes to the Gospels and the example of our Saviour recounted throughout them. Empowered by His Holy Spirit, let us live and work as He calls us to, in love and in service to one another—even to strangers.

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James Morgan is a writer and former broadcaster living in Gatineau, Quebec where he is completing a Ph.D in History. His home congregation is Trinity Lutheran near Gowanstown, Ontario, and he worships at various LCC congregations in the National Capital Region.

  • Watchful

    While I welcome Christians and kind people of any race, Islam is a cancer that brings murder, rape, and war with it and has no place in Christian lands. When the young male “refugees” arrived at New Years 2016 in Cologne, Germany, they immediately set upon mayhem; forming gangs to rape young Christian girls. Anyone who isn’t Muslim (and indeed whatever faction of Islam isn’t popular at the moment) is considered fair game by the others for depraved acts.

    When Muslims form a majority population, they put Christians to the sword, and this is happening world-wide at this very moment. Nobody here needs a history lesson of what happened to Constantinople; the Christian men were killed to a man, and the Christian women and little girls were chained in little rooms to be whores for the invaders.

    While the Lord instructs us to care for all and welcome all tribes in the faith, He, however, didn’t instruct Israel to mix with Canaanites and their utterly foul and disgusting tribal beliefs. To do this with Islam is to welcome in a bosom serpent into our homes who would happily butcher us and our children in our sleep and make our house theirs.