Closely following Governor Abbott’s refusal to continue refugee resettlement in the state of Texas, I found myself sitting in a meeting on the same topic.
The creak of the speaker’s chair pulled me from my thoughts as he shifted forward in his seat and earnestly leaned into the microphone.
“This country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, but I don’t see that anymore, because people come here and won’t assimilate. They want to practice their religion and celebrate their holidays; they are speaking other languages in this country instead of English. Some days, I do not even feel like I’m in America.”
I felt my heart slide into my stomach. This simple argument against refugee resettlement in the United States was admittedly powerful, and one quite commonly used within Christian circles. The basis of this thought is simple: if you are born in another country, if your native language is not English, if you practice a religion different than Christianity, then you are partially responsible for America’s swift fall away from Judeo-Christian values. You are not only a threat to our national security, but our American way of life.
“And this is how they shall know you are my disciples…”
You were born in the United States.
You say Merry Christmas.
You only speak English; you wear blue jeans and go to church. This is the way to uphold Judeo-Christian values. Right?
The issue with this argument is that it fails to take into consideration any word uttered by a certain carpenter from Nazareth.
When Jesus began his work in Jerusalem, some of his most outspoken opposition came from nationalists. The religious leaders were furious that Jesus was upending their ideas on tradition and threatening their way of life. Many firmly believed that God cared about their people first and foremost. But Jesus disagreed. His message was one that extended past any specific nationality, ethnicity, or race to include all people from all places.
When U.S. Christians promote the message that the comfort and traditions of Americans come before the very life of vulnerable human beings because they are strangers, we are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” There is no place for “America first” thinking in the Kingdom of God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to love, serve, and welcome all people, especially the most vulnerable among us.
As followers of Christ living in the U.S., we should be the first to defend and advocate for refugee resettlement within our home.
Here are two impactful ways we can stand against anti-refugee sentiment.
Resist fear mongering: Know the facts about refugee resettlement and share them.
One of the most prolific ways that unfounded fear spreads is through misinformation. Educating yourself on the facts of refugee resettlement is the first way to defend our refugee neighbors. Take some common arguments against resettlement:
Refugees are dangerous. Under the U.S. resettlement program, there has never been a single terrorist attack.
Refugee resettlement is liberal ideology. Refugee resettlement has historically been a bipartisan matter; the current program was founded under President Ronald Reagan.
Refugees cost the taxpayer. A federally funded study found that between 2005-2014, refugees contributed a net fiscal benefit of $63 billion to the economy.
Educating yourself and spreading true information is a powerful way to peacefully but impactfully fight against unfounded fear surrounding refugees.
Consider the Good Samaritan.
Perhaps the most striking story that Jesus tells is the parable of the Good Samaritan. When we think of a Samaritan, the words “hospitable,” “kind,” or “virtuous” likely come to mind. When Jesus told this story, however, Samaritans were at odds with the Jewish people; there were centuries of tension, prejudice, and hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews. In fact, Jesus had just visited a Samaritan community and was promptly chased out under threat of death. Yet, Jesus chose to portray the Samaritan as the hero of the story, despite the national, racial, and religious turmoil that existed between Jews and Samaritans.
A common argument amongst Christians who have spoken out against refugee resettlement is that it poses a risk to our nation; while there are many statistics that show this fear is misplaced, this is also in stark conflict with Jesus’ message. A Samaritan that stumbled upon a Jewish man could have easily fled for fear of his own well-being and been completely justified. Yet, he did not. He stopped. He cared for him. He took him to an inn and spent his own hard-earned money on him, and at the end of the story, Jesus tells us to “go and do the same.”
We are called to love and care for others across borders and beyond our comfort zone.
When a person cites wanting to keep our nation’s Judeo-Christian values intact as an argument for limiting refugee resettlement, let us remember this: Cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity do not erase Christian values; they strengthen them. Religious freedom and the ability to worship as we choose does not endanger our nation; they solidify the principles we were founded on. New languages, perspectives, stories, and experiences do not lessen the American spirit; they invigorate it. Refugees make our nation stronger and kinder; they bring new life, new ambition, and new perspectives, and as followers of Christ, we are called to be the first in line to welcome and love our new neighbors.
“And this is how they shall know you are my disciples: that you love one another.” Across borders. Past nationalities. Beyond differences. Love one another; and sometimes, love means taking a stand.
Hannah Lee is the Director of Community Engagement at Canopy NWA, a refugee resettlement agency in the southern U.S.