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Jesus Was A Refugee

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(This article originally appeared at Huffington Post Religion here.)

Just two months ago, the photo of little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey shocked the world. Following the discovery of the 3-year-old Syrian refugees’ body lying face down in the position in which toddlers often sleep, the American public compassionately offered a home to a few thousand more children just like Aylan. How quickly things have changed.

Following last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, 31 U.S. governors (at last count) have issued statements that they will not welcome Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors are powerless to close state borders to anyone living in the country, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why? Perhaps it’s because the Syrian refugee crisis parallels the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely. Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, depicts a Middle Eastern family who were looking for a place to stay, only to be told there was no room for them. Then, Matthew tells us that after his birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt… as refugees fleeing from violence. The irony of Christians rejecting refugees right before we put up the Christmas decorations is hard to miss, even for those who often do miss the irony of their faith and political positions.

Second, Jesus offers a sobering description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the refugee. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

In His depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus, as the King, clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him. Who are “the least of these?” While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for having universalized the love of neighbor.

In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos, which can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant or stranger.” In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. The apprehension some feel is understandable, but there is another view for us to consider.

In addition to Jesus’ warning about the Last Judgment, there are likely earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees will actually create¬†more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States, as turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.

In their fear of terrorism, most of the governors in Middle America, with their purely political statements, have likely already reinforced an anti-Muslim perception of the United States. One could easily make an argument that these statements of rejection have already handed the terrorists a win.

If these governors are acting according to the wishes of their people, then it only took one terrorist attack in Western Europe to apparently change American opinion against welcoming Syrian refugees, many of whom are small children. The terrorists’ most powerful weapon is, well, terror, and if these governors and their supporters fear an attack so intensely that they are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t already won? Not only have they taken human lives, they have now succeeded in taking away our humanity.

For Christians, including many conservative evangelicals, the fact that Jesus himself was a refugee and that we will be judged partially on our hospitality to the stranger, rejecting refugees should be troubling. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, both the life experience and the teaching of Jesus are simply too relevant to the current refugee crisis for Christians to ignore.

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