Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13:1-2
As we’ve noted, the “refugee” label carries various connotations. Nearly all of them are negative.
To be identified as a refugee is to become weak, pitiable, a victim, a nuisance, a threat. “Refugee”, “displaced person”, “migrant”—they are ultimately dehumanizations. If the Church is to call people into the fuller, truer humanity that is available to them, we must ask: How can the image-bearers behind the labels escape the stigma of their brands?
Spiritually, the “refugee” label can be overcome simply by seeing every person as so fully human and fully free that the legal implications of the term become irrelevant. The weight of the “refugee” identity can be broken off through solidarity with welcoming and loving neighbors—at home or in a host community—such that it loses its significance by power of diffusion. Every person becomes equal in their position as “refuge seekers” and, therefore, the term becomes a false distinction.
The Church can take such a tact, of humanizing and joining in the solidarity of our universal refugee-seeking staus, because refugeeism is spiritual as much as it is physical and social.
That said, in our everyday political and social contexts, there are only three ways by which refugees can be free of that manacling label: 1) they can repatriate to their home of origin, 2) integrate in a community they’ve run to for refuge, or 3) be resettled in a third country.
The Church in the rich West can powerfully and joyfully facilitate repatriation and second-country integration by way of humanitarian aid (Chapter Four) and addressing root problems (Chapter Six), but in terms of their own Western lands, they comprise what is principally a resettlement zone. North America is not producing many of its own refugees—at least not directly—but it can and must be a place of welcome for the world’s dispossessed.
It is important to emphasize again that resettlement is not the ideal first response—empowering people to live and thrive in their homelands is the chief goal. The emigration of skilled people, the wiping out of native churches through Western sponsorship, and the neutralization of minorities and moderates, spell disaster for bubbling hotbeds of radicalism—out of which the majority of refugees come.
Resettlement is not the first choice…
…but sometimes it is the right choice.
Even the Eastern clergy who plead against the resettlement of their congregations acknowledge this, to their pain. And while we ought to prioritize enabling the displaced to remain or return to their homelands, we must not deny them their desire—their very real need—to free themselves and their children from the bondage of war, the lash of persecution, the tribulation of famine and disaster.
The Church cannot look refugees in the eye and tell them, “No. You have to tough it out in the deadzone.” We can and must look them in the eye and say, “Welcome.”