The stranger within our gates


Europe, like the U.S., is struggling mightily with the refugee crisis.

Even knowing what to call the Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, and others who are pouring across our borders in large numbers is a complicated matter, with each term betraying one’s political – and sometimes religious – viewpoint.

Are they political refugees, Flüchtlingen, as my German-language newspaper prefers to call them? Or, are they Muslim invaders, as some members of my church believe?

Raised on the parables of Jesus, like the Good Samaritan, my first response to the refugee crisis was that my church should do something. In fact, I said as much. ‘We should adopt a family,’ I said early on, ‘as the pope himself suggested – one family per parish.’

One of my church members called and told me of his plans to drive a family from a refugee camp in southern Europe to Germany, perhaps in a rental car so as to avoid easy identification. His small act would help only one family, he acknowledged, but at least that one family would be safe. I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about his plan, and told him so, but I found it difficult to do nothing, except for watching the news photos of squalid camps and overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean.

I was quickly informed, of course, that I was naive, that I did not understand how grave the situation was. ‘Muslims do not integrate,’ a few people helpfully explained to me. And news that at least one of the attackers in the Paris massacre last Friday night was a Syrian who had entered Europe posing as a refugee seemed to confirm that I was, in fact, naive, that I do not understand the situation we are facing.

Right now, the more conservative position represented by the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) seems to be the preferred position in this country. The SVP rode an anti-immigration platform to victory in the most recent election, and in a land of direct democracy that was a powerful message.

Even the pope, who isn’t reluctant to voice an opinion, seems to have gone silent on the issue.

I try to remember that I am a guest in this country, very much an immigrant myself. I am still learning the languange and the culture, after all, and it would be presumptuous of me to tell the Swiss how to run their country, especially when they seem to have done a remarkably good job of it for many years.

But I am a Christian pastor. I can and do read the Bible, and I know what it says about ‘the stranger within our gates.’ Republican presidential candidates in the U.S. do not hesitate to quote scripture about other topics, but they are noticeably reluctant to seek out the Bible’s clear teaching on this issue, have you noticed?

What about Exodus 23:9, to take just one example? ‘Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.’ That argument – you should understand because you too were foreigners – is repeated over and over in the Old Testament.

Naive or not, I continue to believe that my faith compels me to look with compassion on the strangers who are appearing among us. The Muslims I have spoken to (a very small number) are deeply disillusioned with their faith, but their faith in many cases is all they have. I would like to think that they would be especially receptive right about now to the Gospel message, the story of a God who welcomes us all, a God who brings shalom to a sin-ravaged world.

I will continue to struggle with this issue and with my naivete. I will continue to search scripture for the appropriate response (though the testimony already seems clear). I will continue to recommend to my members that we show compassion and not act out of fear. I will do my best, in it all, to be the follower of Christ I was raised to be – always concerned for the ‘least of these.’

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


9 Responses to The stranger within our gates

  1. jonathanwheeler10 November 19, 2015 at 5:29 am #

    I agree with what you’ve said. It is a challenge, especially when individuals will now (perhaps with justification) be fearful for their own families. It’s going to be a challenge to live the Christian ethos. I have a question, though, from someone who is a friend of mine back in the UK. She said all the examples which give evidence of the need for compassion and Christian charity to the stranger in our midst (such as good Samaritan and the ones you give above) are where it was just the one or two visitors. However, do those examples still apply if we’re talking about a markedly bigger number of people, where the potential fabric of ones own society may be altered as a result? Is the bible giving an instruction in that situation as well? Where God gives an instruction to people to move into an area (in the Old Testament), he advised them to ensure they do not mingle with them as they will tempt the Israelites away from the Lord. If I say to myself ‘What would Jesus do?’, then my answer would be, he would welcome everyone even if it meant greatly changing our own lifestyle and risk to ourselves. Perhaps I’ve answered my own question!

    • Doug November 19, 2015 at 11:00 am #

      It’s good to hear from you, Jonathan. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I like moral arguments, but I am suspicious of this particular one, as I am of others like it, because the conclusion seems to let me off the hook. I think the loss of European culture would be terribly sad too, but I wonder if God cares all that much about preserving European culture (or American culture, for that matter). In other words, should we keep out refugees because they might ruin a way of life we have come to love? I think that would be hard to defend. I could be wrong, but I think God’s interest here is bigger than my comfortable way of life.

  2. Lisa Blake November 19, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    I have been struggling with this too, because many times in my life I have been told my thoughts are naive, but I think real that is part of being a person of faith. We trust God and know that ultimately good will be accomplished. So, I trust when others think I’m being naive, I know I am follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. Loving my neighbors as I love myself.

  3. Jeff Edwards November 19, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    What a wonderful piece to share, Doug. We all are worried, confused, tempted to take sides one way or the other. Then there is the “what if” we use to confound us even more. You are very correct to point out how those in power, in this case, are willing to point to the Bible for their own means, while forgetting much of it. I appreciate and urge you and others to keep that part of this on going narrative front and center. Thanks.

  4. Svetlana November 20, 2015 at 1:02 am #

    Thank you Doug for sharing your thoughts. I’ve read some articles on webside about refugees and a truely Christian response to this crisis, and this is to support what you’ve written:,

    • Doug November 20, 2015 at 1:21 am #

      Thanks for sharing those links, Svetlana. I had been hoping that Christians wouldn’t lose their voices.

  5. Marianne Nestor November 20, 2015 at 10:46 am #

    Your heart is in the right place. The Bible gives us clear examples of helping our neighbor. The answer seems obvious and your conclusion seems correct.

    I would suggest, however, using a larger lens to evaluate the situation. Is there only one resolution to this problem? Are we to place these refugees all around the globe tearing them apart from their soil and culture? Is the best path one that removes the Syrians, transports them all over the globe and blends them into other societies?

    The radical Islamists have brutalized the Syrians and taken their homeland from them. This apocalyptic cult within Islam has occupied a country steeped in history and rich in culture. We have allowed Syria to be rampaged and have virtually turned the other way.

    But, it is not too late to stop this aggression and stand for what is right. Can we not focus our resources to help these people have their country back? We must put a coalition together that will cleanse Syria of Isis and return it to its rightful people.

    I believe that the US, along with our allies, can create a safe haven in Syria for the refugees while eliminating the Isis from Syria. A committed president and our resources would be more effective in creating such a plan. In time these refugees could return to their cities and towns where their lives have always been.

    Besides giving the Syrians a better option, we and other host countries also have an obligation to protect our own citizens. Bringing refugees here is not as pure and innocent as it sounds. We know that that Isis will do anything to further their cause. They have no qualms hiding among children and will do anything to kill “the infidel.” There is no assurance that Isis would not infiltrate refugees. It only takes a few of them, as we saw in Paris, to commit horrific acts among innocent people. I believe we have a compelling responsibility to also protect innocent people in all our countries.

  6. Arielle December 6, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    Well said, Doug. We miss you!

  7. Kelley December 20, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Has anyone stopped to ask why no predominately Islamic countries are willing to take these refugees?? I sympathize with their plight even though there’s no way I could begin to understand what these mostly innocent refugees must be going through. That said, why don’t their fellow Muslim countries show them mercy and take them in?? Is there some reason that its left to Europe and the U. S.?