The friend who wrote me an email last week was torn. She wanted me to join her campaign to urge the government to accept more refugees—but only if they were Christian refugees.
Perhaps you feel torn too. We’ve seen images of ISIS and their brutal beheadings in the name of their brand of “Islam.” These images moved us to anger and disgust.
We’ve also seen heartbreaking images of Muslim children who have drowned while trying to escape their war-torn nations. These images moved the world toward compassion and tenderness.
Doubts linger though. What will happen, some wonder, if too many Muslims come and settle in “Christian” countries?
As followers of Jesus, the most Christlike thing we could do is to welcome Muslim refugees. Here are some reasons why:
1. We Don’t Have a Monopoly on Jesus
Jesus promised that whenever you welcome the foreigner, you are welcoming Him (Matthew 25:35). He didn’t say, “Welcome foreigners as long as they are Jewish (or Christian)”—because that wouldn’t make any sense. In that time, foreigners, by definition, were almost always of another religion and culture.
It may be jarring to consider that Jesus could be so concerned about your treatment of someone of another religion and ethnicity. Yet Jesus identified with them so strongly that He made their welcome a central measure of our faith.
2. Jesus Calls Us to Leave Behind Our Tribalism
Part of what Jesus is getting at here is our tendency toward tribalism—an “us and them” mentality that rears its ugly head whenever we feel threatened.
In Luke 4, Jesus announces His mission statement: that God would pour out His blessing on the poor. The people are elated. “Good news for the poor? Yes! We’re poor. God is going to bless us! Yay!”
The excitement continues until Jesus points out that God’s blessing must also be poured out on foreigners of other religions. He outlines how there were many widows in Israel, but God felt it necessary to bless a widow in Sidon (in modern day Lebanon). Sidon was a place of Baal-worship. That widow was certainly not an insider (Luke 4:26).
The Bible tells us, “There were many lepers in Israel … and none of them was healed, except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:27)
If you needed a word from Jesus about how God wants to bless not only your tribe, but also a foreigner with a foreign religion from Syria of all places, there it is.
3. Compassion is Central to Following Jesus
There are few phrases more repeated in Scripture than the call to care for the orphan, the widow and the alien (foreigner):
He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the foreigner by giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).
Historically, Christians have been on the forefront of caring for orphans and widows. Now is the true test of our faith. Will we also care for immigrants, refugees and foreigners, or will we turn our backs, saying it’s too hard?
4. Jesus Was a Refugee
Jesus chose to walk this earth, not as a King, Chief Priest or wealthy landowner, but as an undocumented child refugee to Egypt:
“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Matthew 2:13-15).
If our Lord deliberately chose to identify Himself with refugees, we should not be too quick to overlook the significance—Jesus was in solidarity with those fleeing persecution.
5. The Inaction of Others is No Excuse
There are also certain countries, such as the oil-rich Arab states, that have failed to welcome many refugees. They must be called to account.
But at the end of the day, God will not ask whether you helped more or less than someone else. God will only ask whether you sought to practice the way of Jesus—to welcome the stranger.
6. Only a Tiny Minority of Muslims are Involved with ISIS
Estimates of the number of ISIS fighters ranges from tens of thousands to as many as 200,000. Quite a number. But not when you consider that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.
Like me, you’ve probably watched Donald Trump and his bluster about immigrants and how he would deal with enemies of the United States. But notice, he calls himself a Christian (a Presbyterian!) and claims the Bible is his favorite book.
We are grace-filled enough not to tar all Christians with the same Trumped-up brush. But are you willing to apply the same nuance, the same charitable grace and understanding toward Muslims?
7. Jesus Calls Us to Love our Enemies
There is a chance that some of those who seek refugee status have some connection with violent radicalism. What then is your response to an enemy? On this, Jesus is very clear:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45).
You can argue that this is naïve. You can say that it is unrealistic. But you cannot argue that Jesus called you to something different. Jesus showed us how to love our enemies – not seeking to preserve His life, but to lay it down. Are you willing to pay such a high price for loving like Jesus?
8. Following Jesus is Costly
If you want a religion to make you feel comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity,” C.S. Lewis once said. Welcoming strangers costs time and money. Welcoming people who think, act and believe differently is especially costly and difficult.
Yet God calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.
9. Many Muslims and Christians are Now Discovering Jesus
Ultimately, we will see transformation. Firstly, we Christians are being converted to the way of Christ when we turn away from tribalism and violence. And I am grateful that many Muslims are also discovering Jesus as they experience the radical welcome of Christ in new countries. Love transforms lives. Love attracts people to Christ.
We have an opportunity at this juncture in history to be on the forefront of a movement for radical hospitality.
The world is watching.
This article originally appeared on craiggreenfield.com. Used with permission.
Craig Greenfield is the author of Subversive Jesus: an adventure in justice, mercy and faithfulness in a broken world. He is also the founder and director of Alongsiders International, a grassroots movement for vulnerable children in Asia and Africa.