Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

Refugee Test Case    

March 7, 2017

President Trump’s ban on refugees entering the US promises to be temporary, and I hope that turns out to be the case. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable and pitiable people on earth. Just over a year ago I was in Europe, interviewing scores of them. Their vulnerability will never leave me.

But how to treat them? This is one issue where the Bible is clear–not as to precise policy, perhaps, but certainly as to its general direction.

In ancient Israel, foreigners were a constant presence. This was not an age of walled borders or stamped passports. Foreigners found themselves in Israel because of economic opportunity—there was always international commerce—and as refugees from war and famine. Israel, preoccupied with threats to its survival, and concerned for a distinctive identity as God’s people, had an important choice: how would they treat foreigners? Would they see them as a threat? Or would they welcome them?

The Law makes it very clear:

Lev 19:10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Deut 26:12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

The welfare system included foreigners. Gleaning was not charity. It was legally mandated, embracing almost the entire productive economy. In addition the tithe was a 10% tax over the entire productive economy, directed to help those who could not participate in the economy (Levites) and those who were poor and vulnerable (widows and orphans and foreigners).

Lev 19:34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Foreigners were to be treated the same as citizens, and with love.

Lev 24:22 You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’

Numbers 15:15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord.

Laws and rules must not distinguish between citizens and foreigners. Foreigners have the same rights as do citizens.

Deut 10:18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.

It’s well known that God is on the side of the defenseless poor. He is equally on the side of the foreigner, caring for their material needs.

Deut 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.

How do our farms and factories live up to that?

Deut 27:19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Why should Israel treat foreigners so benevolently? The answer is consistent: because you were foreigners in Egypt. The treatment of refugees is a test case for empathy. Can you feel for others the way you feel for yourself?

Our treatment of foreigners is also a test case for America. History tells us that America has welcomed millions. It also tells us that episodes of fear and prejudice have caused us to exclude millions. (Most dreadfully, Jewish children were sent back to Nazi Germany just before WWII began.) What kind of people will our generation be? We are being tried.

A Talk on the European Refugee Crisis

April 29, 2016

I gave this talk at my church a week ago, and some of you may find it interesting. It will seem a little odd, though, because much of the talk I was working my way through some photos taken by my colleague Gary Gnidovic during our trip. A lot of those photos are in the magazine article or on Gary’s blog, but putting them together with my words may require more imagination than you are willing to lend to the project. All the same, some people have indicated an interest so I am posting the audio here.

Refugees in Europe

April 20, 2016

As you may remember, I spent several seeks in Europe during January and February, researching an article on the refugee crisis. With photographer Gary Gnidovic I visited Germany, Austria, Croatia, Serbia and Greece on behalf of Books and Culture Magazine. It was a very memorable experience and I am thrilled to report that, finally, the long article has appeared in print. Here’s a link.

The Refugee Crisis

February 9, 2016

I just returned from 2.5 weeks in Europe, traveling with photographer Gary Gnidovic on behalf of Books and Culture magazine. My job is to write a report on the European refugee crisis. Gary and I visited Germany, Austria, Croatia, Serbia and Greece, more or less tracing backward the path for most migrants. I interviewed many refugees and many people helping them; I tried to understand the situation from the ground level. It was an amazing chance to see a world-historical event as it unfolds. I was challenged and inspired  and sometimes depressed by what I witnessed.

Books and Culture has published a couple of short posts I wrote while traveling; here’s one. You can follow that to the other. But the big article comes out in May. I’ll let you know.

Memory and Callousness

September 3, 2013

I am reading through Christopher Wright’s commentary on Deuteronomy, and came across this magnificent passage regarding the law on gleaning in Deuteronomy 24:17-22:

To harvest in such a way as to leave no gleanings would be to deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice. … The sense is therefore, “Do not pick the forgotten sheaf, the remaining olives and grapes, they belong to the alien, orphan and widow.” The remainder of the harvest is theirs; they have every right to do the final harvesting themselves. This means that the landless are not to be totally dependent on handouts from the landowners after every scrap of the crop has been harvested by them. Rather, they are to have the opportunity to work for their own benefit in the fields of God’s land. Those who do not, for various reasons, have a share in the ownership of the land are still to be given the chance to share in the blessing of the land as the bounty of the true landowner.

When the principle of the law is expressed thus, it can be seen to be  relevant beyond its immediate context of harvest gleaning–a practice the modern harvesting methods render somewhat unprofitable….. The law asks us, however, not to ban combine harvesters, but to find means of ensuring that the weakest and poorest in the community are enabled to have access to the opportunities they need in order to be able to provide for themselves….

Such community care is itself dependent on corporate awareness of the grace of God. Twice Israel is reminded here of the exodus and its proof of God’s generosity to Israel in its time of utter need (vv. 18, 22). When Israel forgot its history, it forgot its poor. The prophets have to remind them of both. It is not surprising either that in modern Western culture, which has systematically been squeezing the biblical God out of its definition of reality and truth, there is a corresponding resurgence of callousness toward the vulnerable. If the alien, the orphan, and the widow of Deuteronomy have anything in common with the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the single parents, the aged, etc. of today, then it is clear that our society is massively guilty of “turning aside justice and rights” from many people in those categories. The portrait of a caring society in these chapters is of a society with a memory at the center of its whole system of moral and social values and norms–the memory of God and God’s power. The phrase “moral vacuum” is being used of the increasingly anarchic callousness of the West. It is a vacuum manufactured by the sucking out of that memory and the denial of any transcendent reality that would undergird our values or challenge our behavior. The gods we worship, though unrecognized as gods, are not the God of exodus. The social gleanings for the poor are accordingly very lean indeed.