Christians without Borders

 Syrian children march in the refugee camp in Jordan. The number of Children in this camp exceeds 60% of the total number of refugees hence the name

Between the worldwide refugee crisis and the discussion of U.S. immigration in our presidential debates, we are faced with the question of how we respond to those who cross the borders of nations and cultures, sometimes desperate for help.

This week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that Hungary should not allow Syrian refugees to enter because most of them are Muslim, and this will cause the further decline of Christianity in Europe. The Muslims will take over. He wants Europe to remain Christian.

Apparently in response to his words, Hungarian residents are standing by the sides of the roads as Syrian families walk through Hungary, handing out water and food and smiling. The Hungarian government finally starting bussing people to Germany, whose army is building temporary shelters.

While the European Union has cut back its search and rescue funding by 2/3, the Catambrone family has contributed $8 million of their own money to fund their own search-and-rescue effort, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, and they are partnering with Doctors Without Borders.

When the government of Iceland said it would allow 50 people in to the country, more than 11,000 Icelanders offered to open up their homes to refugees.

If we attempt to be Christians by trying to keep people (whatever people) out, we have subverted the very Gospel message we are supposed to proclaim. There have always been refugees, wanderers, people of other religions and tribes crossing borders, fighting wars, trying to get arable land, looking for assistance. The entire Hebrew Bible is full of these stories, and there are recommendations for providing for aliens, widows, and orphans.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the cultures of the Middle East and Europe had already been struggling with cultural and religious identity. Who is in, and who is out? “Christianity”–the thing that grew out of Jesus’ revolutionary movement, was intentionally constructed to go beyond borders of nationality, culture, and language. The consistent message of Jesus was to dispense with borders, and the early history of the church reflected that.

This intercultural tension shows up throughout the New Testament, but in the stories involving Jesus, there are two key ones: the story of the Good Samaritan and the story of the Syrophoenician woman (which just happens to be the Gospel message this week for us lectionary-based churches).

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to a lawyer who wants to know just how far the “love your neighbor” command extends. “Who is my neighbor?” he asks. Jesus describes how a man was beaten up and robbed on a road. Two prominent religious leaders of Jesus’ own culture left him lying by the road. But a Samaritan (supposedly an enemy of the Jews) sees the man, takes care of him, and pays someone to continue caring for him. The hero of the story is a man outside the religion of Jesus. And the people who have failed to respond are the people who practice a religion that emphasizes charitable action. (All religions do, in fact.)

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday tells the story of a Gentile woman from Syrophoenicia, that is, a woman who is outside Jesus’ religious and tribal culture. She knows that he is healing people, and she asks him to heal her daughter. He responds initially that his food is for “the children”–the Israelites. But she persists, saying, “Even the dogs get crumbs from the master’s table.” He agrees with her and heals her daughter.

To me, the message to Christians is clear: we are meant to question our notions of who is allowed to benefit and who is not and to extend our charity to “outsiders.” We are supposed to question whether the borders we set up are helping or hindering our neighbors.

We should also question whether those of us who are “in” our religion are actually being doers of the word. The wonderful reaction of individual Europeans to the refugee crisis is heartening, but it’s deeply troubling that the European churches are not united in both prophetic proclamation and practical response to the crisis.

The complicated political scene in the Middle East is beyond the scope of this discussion. (And people are pointing to climate change as the initial instigator of the problems that led to the current Syrian crisis.) I’m talking about what we do when people arrive half-dead at our doorstep. Even when nations have their own economic problems and resource constraints, what do we do when someone who is even poorer arrives?

We take care of them. What else? Really, what other response would be remotely moral? If we wish to “remain” Christian, then we need to be Christian. It’s odd to talk about “remaining” Christian as if some force were trying to take it away. To follow Jesus is not to belong to a majority culture, but to cleave to his teachings.

The minute we stop putting his teachings into practice, especially in the name of preserving our purity or our borders, we subvert the very Christianity we claim to uphold.

4 Thoughts

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