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Refugees, Trump and Us

How can Independent churches help to support refugees? Steve Wilmshurst assesses the arguments hitting the headlines at the moment before offering churches four pieces of advice.

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As if the tragic stories of drownings in the Mediterranean and being stranded at borders were not enough, refugees are in the news for yet another reason.

Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries has aroused a storm of controversy. An initial ban has been halted by legal action, but a new executive order from the President will come into force later this week.

The furore around this travel ban raises questions for us as British evangelicals. If our inclination is to defend the President’s actions – why is that? If our instinct is to condemn him – again, why? What is really informing our responses? The Bible? Self-interest? Our favourite media outlet?

A complex debate

The truth is (as usual!) more complicated than people on either side of the debate will allow. Not all refugees are perfect saints. It’s obvious once you say it, but you wouldn’t guess it from some of the left-wing discourse. Some refugees are actively persecuting Christians, even in the camps.

On the other hand, the vast majority of refugees fleeing places like Syria are genuinely desperate. And the vast majority don’t know Christ, so they are hopeless spiritually as well as materially. You won’t hear that perspective from the secular media, however good their reporting may otherwise be.

Another question: Are we more interested in arguing with those we disagree with (on the left or right politically) or in meeting the needs of desperate people? How many of us have actually met refugees? …visited the Calais ‘jungle’? …helped with an asylum application? …attended a tribunal hearing?

One indisputable fact is that both the USA and the UK have allowed in very few Syrian Christian refugees. The proportion here is around 1%, and even lower in the USA, whereas the Christian population of Syria (in name) is about 10%. That’s an additional injustice that we should care about.

A Christian response

What can churches do? It’s all too easy to get involved in the intense debate over Donald Trump’s actions, or those of our own government, and ignore the responsibilities we have in our own back yard. Here’s what I think Independent churches should be doing:

  • Be informed – Try to see through the hysterical headlines to understand the issues. Read some analysis by Christian groups like Open Doors or Barnabas.
  • Be compassionate – You will easily be able to find practical ways to help locally, whether by donating clothing and food or through reception centres. Try to meet some actual refugees: they are not just statistics or concepts. And be ready to welcome them into your church when they appear.
  • Be connected – We need to be willing to network (carefully) with other churches, secular groups and our local councils in order to offer practical support. Liberal churches often seem to be better than us at giving hospitality for refugee families, providing English teaching and so on. Perhaps it’s because of our politics: liberal churches almost invariably tilt to the political left, where strong support for refugees is far more popular, while conservative churches are often further to the political right. Perhaps some of us are still frightened of any hint of a ‘social gospel’, as if caring for refugees would somehow compromise our commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy. Either way, it’s unfortunate that we often allow liberal churches to take the lead. We shouldn’t allow our proper caution over who we work with to prevent us from making an effective contribution.
  • Be prayerful – For world governments (1 Tim 2:1-4). We may well feel troubled or depressed at the antics of some of our leaders, yet cynicism is not an appropriate response for Christians. We are to pray with hope, love and confidence in our great and sovereign God.

Our friends at Bearwood Chapel in the Black Country have written a helpful follow-up to Steve’s article.

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Steve Wilmshurst

Steve is Director of Training at Kensington Baptist Church, Bristol and leads Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill+ training programme. He is married to Andrea and they have two grown-up daughters.

Follow Steve Wilmshurst on Twitter – @SteveWilmshurst