Sheep, Goats, & Refugees
“This is a moment Christian missionaries to the Muslim world have dreamed about for centuries.” ~David Cashin
Theology plays a serious role in how Christians speak about, think about, and engage in the work of helping refugees from Muslim majority countries. I say serious because the ramifications of the way we think about and speak about refugees have an impact on our ability to help anyone with anything. Many Christians, especially Christians who have been involved in missions for many years, agree at least in part with the statement made in the quote above. Let me paraphrase the theological reasoning given by one American Christian as to why God may be allowing this ‘Muslim moment’ to happen across Europe:
“The Church in Europe is basically dead. There are very few true believers left, and the Church has largely lost its impact. For years and years, we have talked about the 10/40 window in Christian missions as the most ‘unreached’ part of the world. In these places, most people will never encounter the good news of Jesus. But now, because of war and famine, violence and hopelessness, people from these regions are moving into the West. It is as if God is trying to wake up the Church from its slumber, saying, ‘Wake up! Behold! Muslims are at your door. You no longer have to go to them, for I have sent them to you!’”
For some, this rationale makes sense. Since the Church was lethargic or apathetic towards reaching ‘the lost’ in the ‘10/40 window’ (this refers to latitude and longitude lines, btw), God is now causing a new migration of people into ‘Christian’ lands. It is as if God were saying, “Dangit. If they won’t go out into the mission field, I’ll just have to bring the mission field to them!”
From a particular evangelistic theological framework, this is precisely what God is up to. God wants to save everyone, and the only way everyone (or at least a few from every tongue, tribe, and nation) can be saved is for them to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus. The only way for them to hear is for someone who is already saved to tell them, and since in some sense God will get what God wants, he has caused this ‘Muslim moment’ in order to save the world (which needs only be a few people from all over the world). This thinking leads people like David Cashin, an expert in Christian-Muslim relations to say, “This is a moment Christian missionaries to the Muslim world have dreamed about for centuries”.
The Problem With (This) God
If we read between the lines, there are myriad ramifications hovering beneath this line of reasoning that are problematic, if not disturbing. First, in order to believe that God is causing this ‘Muslim moment’ to happen in Europe and America, one has to believe that in some sense God is the cause behind the slaughter of millions of innocent people, the cause behind Assad’s brutality, the cause behind ISIS, the cause behind famine in Somalia, the cause of starvation in Yemen, etc. In order for God to get what God wants, namely to ‘save’ some individuals, millions of people have and continue to suffer. At least one could hear a person say “God is causing this Muslim moment” and also hear that God is behind the suffering, pain, and loss that led to this mass migration of people, and ask:
Christian missionaries have dreamed about this moment?
And, would God do this?
If so, is this God good?
Secondly, this theological framework ignores so much that we understand about Jesus. Jesus, who is God’s best example of Godself and humanity wrapped in human skin, identified himself particularly and specifically with the poor, the outcast, the terrorized, the oppressed, and the sinner. He famously said that whenever we do something for the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, or the sick, that we are in fact doing something for him (see Matthew 25).
David Congdon, author of The God Who Saves, points out that what we often miss is whom Jesus identifies himself with in Matthew 25. Often people read this as a parable about how to get into heaven — do good things to people because you follow Jesus, or something like that. But this reading misses a crucial point: Jesus is the sick, hungry, thirsty, imprisoned person. The person helping and visiting is not bringing Jesus, rather they are encountering him. Muslims and Christians and all other religions of people fleeing oppression, violence, famine, and hopelessness aren’t in need of Jesus. They embody Jesus in their pain.
What they need is
someone to help.
(sorry for ripping off Rob Bell’s style there…it just works sometimes.)
It’s Not About You But it is Also About You
The evangelistic impulse behind the quote at the beginning of this article is understandable. One problem with it is that it centers the Christian in the crises that face people across the face of the planet. It says that the war in Syria is about me in that this Muslim refugee family suffered and became refugees so that I can share Jesus with them.
The war in Syria is not about you.
The war in Syria is not about getting people into heaven.
The war in Syria, and the resulting refugee and immigration crisis facing the world, may be about Jesus visiting us in the form of the oppressed, hungry, thirsty, terrorized Muslim. It may be to wake us up to what God is about doing in the world, which is healing us of all our divisions, all our wars, all our brokenness, and setting us back into right relationships with one another.
It may be to help us become less important, to love more, and to start seeing the image of God in every human person we encounter.