Listen: Philip Yancey chats to Clare Bruce about refugee and immigration policy, and fear of ‘the other’. Above: Refugees arriving at a camp in Macedonia after crossing the border of Greece, 2015.
Christian writer Philip Yancey has spoken out about immigration policy, saying that despite the risks, Western nations should always welcome asylum seekers.
Chatting to Hope 103.2, the author reminded listeners that Jesus himself was a refugee once—and that Christians are called to open their arms to those in need.
In an interview about the way Christians act on social media, Yancey said he believes that when Christian nations welcome refugees from troubled parts of the world, they in fact promote international peace.
“I know personally many Christian organizations, one of the best things they do is help bring refugees into the American way of life,” he said.
“Immigration is a great way to expose people from different cultures to what we really believe.” – Philip Yancey
“Some of these people from Sudan and Syria, they arrive in the United States, their world is shattered, they’ve left their families, they don’t know how an ATM works or what to buy in the grocery store, and I’ve seen Christians organizations who assign people to be their mentors, to walk them through, and that’s a beautiful way of expressing the love of Christ.”
He cited the example of the impact Christianity had on Chinese students who immigrated to the USA.
“Many of them did become Christians, and they went back and have really helped the church in China,” he said. “If you’re interested in missions, [immigration] is a great way to expose people from different cultures to what we really believe, and some of them embrace that and go back as missionaries to their own people.”
Was Jesus Really A Refugee?
Yancey said the Bible teaches much about “welcoming the stranger”. And he pointed out that the key figure in the Christian faith sought refuge himself from political persecution.
“Remember, Jesus himself was a refugee as a child,” he said. “He fled to Egypt… they went back to a place in Nazareth where he was welcomed.”
The history Yancey refers to is the flight of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus, to Egypt. They were fleeing the potential murder of Jesus by Herod the Great, who had ordered that all baby boys in Bethlehem under the age of two be slaughtered. Jesus was his target; he had heard that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. Some critics have taken pot-shots at Christians saying Jesus was not a refugee at all, however their claims are based on shallow understanding of Scripture according to scholars.
Immigration Should be Done With Care
Despite his enthusiasm to welcome refugees, Yancey admitted the need for great caution.
“I think we should vet carefully the people that we allow in, because there are organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS who forthrightly say, ‘Our goal is to unleash terrorists in parts of the world and create mayhem’,” he said. “So certainly we do have to have checks at the borders.
“It’s pretty hard to find a single case of a refugee who came into the United States, who was involved in terrorist acts.” – Philip Yancey
“However, it’s pretty hard to find a single case of a refugee who came into the United States, who was involved in terrorist acts. There’s a lot of fear about it, but when you really look carefully, most of them are homegrown. They’re American citizens who were somehow alienated through indoctrination or propaganda or whatever.
“Europe faces a different problem because there’s such a stream of refugees coming in, it’s impossible really to vet everybody and they’re trying to face into that. But yes, we do have to seriously consider who we allow in. “
Don’t Let Fear Guide Your Views
The author of books like Whats So Amazing About Grace calls on Christians to form their views using love as a filter, instead of fear.
“Fear only hardens, only polarizes and divides.” – Philip Yancey
“Okay, there’s terrorism…there are wars going on,” he said. “But we believe that our God is a redemptive God, and if we stand on his side, He will give us the resources to cast out fear. And it’s done through love, it’s not done through giving in to the fear. That only hardens, that only polarizes and divides, and that’s why I think we Christians need to concentrate on bridging the gap, not widening the gap.”
He said history is full of examples of the Christian church overcoming evil in the world by staying “committed to a God that dispels fear”.