Samaritans & Syrians: A Response

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children-from-syria-1-1241271This lengthy article is written hesitantly. It is in response to a recent article that appeared in Reason & Revelation. In it, Dave Miller argues against the acceptance of Syrian immigrants, but more importantly he claims that there is no Christian imperative to do otherwise. I appreciate the work for Christ that Miller does, and I consider him a brother. Likewise, I do not believe disagreeing on the Syrian issue is a test of fellowship or common salvation in Jesus. I maintain brotherhood and friendship with many who would disagree with me on this very issue and who will not particularly appreciate this article. However, the line of reasoning demonstrated in Miller’s article leads away from the compassion of Christ into a world of moral casuistry, where mercy is made to submit to self-interest. So, for the sake of illuminating what I believe is a significant principle, here is my response to Miller’s article, undertaken with neither hostility nor malice.

Go read Miller’s article first, then come back. Ready? Here we go.

The Appeal to Israelite National Law

First, it is surprising to see Miller appeal so strongly to Israelite national law in this article as a guide for Christian ethics.

He states,

Interestingly, the only civil law code in human history authored by God Himself is the Law of Moses. When one cares to examine everything the Bible says about treatment of “strangers” under the Law of Moses, it is quickly evident that the #1 concern of God in the acceptance of foreigners into one’s country is their moral, religious, and spiritual condition. That is, God was vitally concerned about the spiritual impact the foreigners would have on Israel’s ability to remain loyal to Him, untainted by moral and religious contamination. … For those who (1) believe in God and trust God, and (2) understand that His directives in the civil law code given to the Israelites were “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12; cf. Psalm 19:7-11; Psalm 119:72,77,97,113,142,163), then such directives—which emanated from the mind of Deity—carry great weight in sorting out the current discussion regarding the acceptance of foreign refugees.1

My first difficulty here is the appeal to Israelite law when convenient, but not at other times or for other topics. For example, in another article discussing the salvation of the thief on the cross, Miller writes:

In approximately 1,500 B.C., God removed the genetic descendants of Abraham from Egyptian bondage, took them out into the Sinai desert, and gave them their own law code (the Law of Moses). Jews were subject to that body of legal information from that time until it, too, was terminated at the cross of Christ.2

How important is this distinction between Old and New Testaments for Miller? In the same article, he writes:

This hermeneutical feature is so critical that, if a person does not grasp it, his effort to sort out Bible teaching, in order to arrive at correct conclusions, will be inevitably hampered. … In other words, if one simply takes the entire Bible—all 66 books—and treats them as if everything that is said applies directly and equally to everyone, his effort to be in harmony with God’s Word will be hopeless and futile.3

It concerns me a great deal that a principle so essential to a hermeneutic in one area is so swiftly set aside in another. Worse, still, the choice of Israelite principles to be kept are pretty poorly assessed. The civil codes concerning the national identity of Israel are the least applicable to Gentiles under the Law of Christ. If Jesus rejects anything, it is Israelite ethnic taboos. If Jesus keeps anything, it is the Jewish law’s concern for compassion! The national identity codes that safeguarded Israel were not only not applicable to me, but they were intended to keep people like me out. However, this is not my greatest concern about the article.

Concerning Assimilation

Miller’s argument from the national code of Israel pertains to the requirement of assimilation. He writes,

Hence, God issued several civil decrees that strictly regulated the acceptance of foreigners into Israelite society. Among other strictures, foreigners were required to:

  • observe the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14)
  • be excluded from Passover (Exodus 12:43,45—unless the foreigner was willing to naturalize via circumcision [Exodus 12:48])
  • refrain from eating blood (Leviticus 17:12)
  • abstain from sexual immorality, including homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and adultery (Leviticus 18:26)
  • not blaspheme the name of God (Leviticus 24:16,22)

It would seem that foreigners who immigrated to Israel were not required by God to convert to Judaism. However, they were strictly forbidden from engaging in any religious practices that were deemed unacceptable according to God’s will.4

This is at least mostly true. I think Miller emphasizes the requirements at the cost of shrinking the command to welcome the neighbor. These rules existed in conjunction with the imperative to “treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34).

More disturbing and unclear is how Miller’s assimilation requirement would be paralleled to the Syrian situation.

Finish this relationship: Israel is to America as the keeping of Sabbath is to __________________.

Regardless of what may be claimed, America simply is not Israel, Old Israel, New Israel, or even spiritual Israel. America is not a nation given regulation by God for the preservation of its national identity. If America wants to preserve its national identity, such may indeed be prudent, but it will have more to do with baseball and apple pie than it will Christianity. Being Christian does not make you American or vice versa. Just ask the 78% of people living in Vermont who do not consider themselves “very religious.”5

What would Christian assimilation even look like? Suppose that America is truly a Christian reinvention of Israel and the preservation of our national identity requires conversion of all those who land on our shores (except of course in Vermont). How does that work? It has been tried, of course. Charlemagne wanted a Christian empire to flourish in Europe, and he saw baptism as essential to that. His solution is described by Andrew Miller,

Thousands were forced into the waters of baptism to escape a cruel death. The sword or baptism were the conqueror’s terms. A law was enacted which denounced the penalty of death against the refusal of baptism. He could offer no terms of peace, enter into no treaty, of which baptism should not be the principal condition. Conversion or extermination was the watchword of the Franks.6

Christianity operates by persuasion, not coercion. Asking refugees to convert or return to slaughter would be no different than lifting Charlemagne’s sword.

Miller’s Hypothetical

Next, Miller offers a hypothetical scenario:

Contemplate the following scenario. Suppose in ancient Israel the Moabites attacked the Ammonites, or the Ammonites themselves experienced an internal political upheaval, causing thousands of Ammonite refugees to flee north, west, or south to the corresponding transjordanic tribal lands of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben. … Would God have insisted that godly love for neighbors would require that the Israelites take them in?7

What is ironic about this scenario created by Miller is that it is not hypothetical at all! It is much like the scenario prophetically anticipated by Isaiah, only it was Moabites fleeing instead of Ammonites. God judges Moab for its sins (Isaiah 16:6-7), but he also takes pity on its refugees (15:5). He then commands Israel in the following way:

Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer. When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land, then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. (Isaiah 16:3-5)

It is not hypothetical. In the event that a neighboring, pagan nation was crushed even by God’s judgment, Judah is commanded by the Almighty to shelter its refugees. Their willingness to shelter their neighbor is even tied to their hope of a just messiah on the throne of David. If they want messiah to reign in justice, they must first learn to be just in their treatment of others.

Concerning the Founders

The next line of argumentation from Miller deals with the founding fathers, and I will spend the least amount of time on it. Miller writes concerning the earliest patriots,

To them, “freedom” did not mean permission to engage in any practice deemed by Christian standards to be immoral or threatening to the Christian community.8

I admire many of our founders, and I am very content with the nation they forged. But there is no connection in my mind between the political philosophy of the founders and the ethics of Jesus Christ. If the two should happen to agree, then it is a happy coincidence. If they disagree, then “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For me, appealing to American founders for ethical foundation is as absurd as finding Paul appealing to Romulus and Remus. Perhaps it means more to someone else, but not to me. If Jesus is Lord, then George Washington is not, grand a fellow though he may have been.

Here I will nod toward a good point made by Miller.

The vast majority of the Syrian refugees are Muslims. They do not share Christian values in several key, critical points (including polygamy, treatment of women, and severing limbs as punishment—Miller, 2005, pp. 177ff.,192-197). Muslim enclaves already in America, like those in several European countries, gradually transform their neighborhoods into Islamic strongholds where Sharia law is applied (Gaffney, 2015; Hickford, 2015; Hohmann, 2015; James, 2014; Kern, 2015a; Kern, 2015b; Bailey, 2015; Selk, 2015a; Selk, 2015b; Sheikh, 2015, Spencer, 2014). Though it may take many years, gradual encroachment on American culture due to “immigration jihad” will conceivably transform the U.S. into an Islamic nation. The Founders so designed the Republic that the citizens govern themselves. Hence, the moral, spiritual, and religious condition of the majority of citizens ultimately determines which politicians are installed on every level of government, what laws are made, and what content the teachers will teach in public schools. In short, the influx of Muslims will radically transform American civilization.9

I do agree that there is a demographic threat to American identity posed by immigration. I think the application of Sharia law to US citizens is absurd and immoral. I think that the cultural evils that may be produced by the rise of Islam are significant, though perhaps not as dire as Miller warns. I do have concerns about how Christianity in America will interact with Islam in America.

Hear my confession: I am afraid.

The difference is that I just don’t care as much about that fear as I do being a follower of Jesus. At the end of the day, I am not in control of the shape of nations or even the future of my little corner of the world. Such business belongs to God. Men who try to wrest it from Him fail. If you want to influence the nations, pray to the God of nations. It will accomplish more than anything else you can do. In contrast, I am very much in control of how I treat other people. Both Jesus and the God of Israel threw that responsibility right in my lap. The Christian must never let our fear of the future prevent us from imitating Christ in the present.

At Last, The Samaritan

The reason I decided to write this text in the first place was Miller’s decision to address the Good Samaritan. I have written on this subject of late (here and here), and so his reference caught my attention. I believe Miller makes at least five serious, interpretive mistakes.

First, Miller mitigates the parable by qualifying it.

The story of the Good Samaritan pertains to individuals treating other individuals kindly. It does not refer to God’s will regarding the immigration policies of nations. On the contrary, God expressed His will with regard to immigration in His civil law code He gave to the Israelites.10

This reminds me a lot of the grim political philosophy of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr believed the individual to be very capable of selfless benevolence, but not the nation. “All social co-operation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion.”11 For Niebuhr and his disciples, nations and individuals don’t play by the same rules because they cannot.

My objection is that nations only exist on maps. At the end of the day, there are no Syrians, only humans made by God. They are fathers, mothers, and children. Creating a qualifier that excludes a person or group of persons from moral responsibility is exactly what the lawyer has attempted when he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” It is exactly the excuse Jesus dismisses when he responds, “Who acted as a neighbor?”

Second, Miller makes the hermeneutical error of getting lost in the detail of the parable.

Further, when the Good Samaritan rendered aid to the stranger he encountered, he saw to his immediate needs (Luke 10:33-35). This attention did not entail transporting the man to the Samaritan’s own country or home—many miles away.12

A parable is a constructed world used to make a moral point. It is only one possible scenario, and the hearer is obligated to find how it applies to his own world. Noting that the Samaritan did not take the stranger home is like suggesting we may only ask the Father for three loaves of bread like the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-13). The point of the Samaritan parable is not the specific actions, but the character they build and reveal. Compassion is the subject, not lodging.

Third, Miller believes that national success trumps the intuition of Christian compassion.

Christian compassion does not—in God’s sight—necessitate bringing large numbers of displaced peoples to America without suitable regard for the potential moral and spiritual threat to the health, safety, and future of the nation. There is nothing in the Bible that would lead us to believe that refusing refugees into the country is a violation of the Bible principle of compassion and concern for others.13

Let me state this part plainly so that there is no misunderstanding. Christian compassion absolutely involves acting without suitable regard for our safety or the future. It is the moral demand of the cross. The Christian who values safety or plans for the future above the state of another human being has not yet learned the compassion of Christ. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The man who said that died at the hands of the people he was helping. And he is your Lord.

Fourth, Miller fails to observe the personal risk taken on by the Samaritan.

Should the good Samaritan have taken into his home a complete stranger without regard to the man’s moral and religious condition? Should he have jeopardized the safety of his own wife and children when he left to continue his business, as the text says he did?14

Miller is trying to limit the text by adding a hypothetical about taking the stranger into his home. Setting that particular aside, what Miller finds absurd is exactly what the Samaritan did! The good Samaritan did care for “a complete stranger without regard to the man’s moral and religious condition.” The Samaritans and Israelites deemed each other to be heretics. They could not even agree on the proper place of worship (John 4:20), yet somehow such topics are not prerequisite for the Samaritan’s compassion. The Samaritan did jeopardize his own safety and the safety of his family. The bandits who harmed the stranger could have just as easily harmed or killed the Samaritan, leaving his wife widowed and his children fatherless. This is literally the point of the parable!

As to taking people into our own homes, while not part of this parable, this too is addressed in Scripture. Have we forgotten: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2)? It was complete strangers that Abraham invited into his tent (Gn 18). In welcoming them, he welcomed God. Jesus likewise connects hospitality to his own person: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:36).

Fifth, Miller misapplies passages advocating care for family and self.

The Bible, in fact, teaches that we have just as much responsibility to be kind and benevolent to ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens as we do to peoples of other countries (Matthew 22:39; Ephesians 5:25,28). Is God, Himself, guilty of violating His own benevolent nature when He placed restrictions on immigrants and refugees to Israel? Clearly, carte blanche reception of refugees into one’s own country does not trump all other considerations—not the least of which is the spiritual impact of that reception.15

The Bible simply does not teach that concern for self is to take priority over the concern for others. It teaches the opposite. It teaches that we do to others what we would have done to ourselves (Luke 6:31). It teaches, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). It teaches that we do honest work so that we “may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28). It teaches giving beyond our means by first giving self (2 Cor 8:3). It teaches fearlessness in the face of danger (Luke 12:4), and compassion in the face of need. Have we not so learned Christ?

To take it a step further, what have we taught our children when we show them that self-preservation is more important than compassion? That is a “religious impact” which concerns me more than any Islamic refugees might bring. Look at our nation and our churches. Our most dire threat is not evangelistic Muslims. We are being crushed beneath the weight of selfish, entitled, complacent Christians.

Solutions & Conclusions

In the spirit of trying to find something in this article I like, I can agree with Miller in at least one partial observation.

A far more rational, appropriate solution would be to assist the refugees with returning to their own country, or other Muslim countries, by interceding on their behalf, whether diplomatically or militarily, to right the wrongs being inflicted on them by their persecutors.16

I agree that the best solution is to return Syrians to a free and peaceful Syria. In the meantime, I seem to remember that Christians do not say, “Be ye warmed and filled.” We act.

However, Miller tips his hand in the end and demonstrates perhaps the key difference in his mode of ethics and my own.

Rather, in keeping with God’s own assessment of nations, the key, all-encompassing issue that our national leaders ought to be taking into consideration is: what will be the moral and religious impact with the entrance of these peoples, and will their presence over the long term affect the ability of America to retain its unique and historically unparalleled status? Indeed, will the moral and religious syncretism, that will inevitably result from such decisions, enable the God of the Bible to continue to bless America?17

Here I could not disagree more. Bring us the starving of Islam. Let us show them how the compassion of Christ is greater than the violence of Islamic regimes. Christians need not fear syncretism.

Islam should fear the gospel.

Footnotes

  1. Dave Miller, “Should Christians Favor Accepting Syrian Refugees?” Reason & Revelation 36:4 (April 2016): 45.
  2. Dave Miller, “The Thief on the Cross,” apologeticspress.org, 2003. Accessed 4/5/16.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Miller, “Should Christians …”: 45.
  5. Michael Trimmer, “The most and least religious states in the US,” christianitytoday.com, 2014. Accessed 4/5/16.
  6. Andrew Miller, “The Sword of Charlemagne or Baptism,” bibletruthpublishers.com. Accessed 4/5/16.
  7. Miller, “Should Christians …”: 45-46.
  8. Ibid.: 46.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Scribners, 1960), 3.
  12. Miller, “Should Christians …”: 46.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., 47.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
Follow Benjamin Williams:

Pulpit Minister for Glenpool Church of Christ (Glenpool, OK); BS in Astrophysics from University of Oklahoma; MDiv in Ministry from Oklahoma Christian Graduate School of Theology

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