During my 2014-2016 tenure as president of our nation’s largest body of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, we adopted a resolution “On Refugee Ministry.”
Recognizing the global mass displacement of people—in particular the Syrian refugee crisis—and our denomination’s history of caring for the sojourner, we resolved to encourage America’s 15 million Southern Baptists to serve and minister to refugees who come to the United States.
Furthermore, we affirmed that “refugees are people loved by God, made in His image, and that Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.”
To us, loving refugees was an unquestionable matter of Christian faith. It wasn’t about whether we agreed or not with President Obama’s policies on refugee resettlement and immigration. As Christians, we understood the ancient biblical mandate to love the foreigner in our land.
Yet, amidst these resolutions of compassion and care, we also inserted a clause asking our nation’s leaders “to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm.”
Why did we do this?
The government determines who gets in the country, and the church serves those who do.
Making policies in the interest of the national welfare, especially in relation to protecting the American people, is the government’s job. Christians must honor and respect our elected officials as they do so. Yet, some Christians in recent days have treated America like a theocracy, arguing that it is the government’s job to serve refugees.
It is the church’s job, and while the government might choose to serve refugees, they have no theological mandate to do so in the way the church does. It’s the government’s first job to protect our nation, and it’s the church’s job to serve the world.
The apostle Paul affirmed this. In his letter to the early Christians living in Rome, the epicenter of the Roman Empire, he said, “For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason.”
Peter, a leader of the first church and one of the original followers of Jesus, goes as far as to say that submitting to government is part of God’s will for Christians in presenting a good testimony to those around them.
Even Jesus, in his unique and pithy style of teaching, instructed his disciples to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He also reminded his disciples—perhaps especially Peter, a quick-draw zealot ready to start a rebellion at a moment’s notice—that his kingdom was “not of this world.”
Jesus, Peter and Paul were rewiring the early church’s way of thinking. In a world concerned with who are the movers and shakers, they were telling them that the church marches to the beat of a different drum. While emperors, presidents and prime ministers might change policy with the flick of a pen, the millennia-old calling of loving one’s neighbor remains as consistent today as the day Jesus first uttered those words. And this calling transcends time, language, borders and any executive order signed by any American President.
As our country faces some of the biggest changes in refugee policy in decades, it’s important for the church to remember that her mission is not contingent on what happens at the White House. Nor should the church attempt to force our Christian theology on our government.
We should always raise our voices in defense of the poor, the broken and those in need, and do everything in our power, as citizens, to urge our representatives to make compassionate decisions to ease the suffering of those fleeing violence and persecution. But we should also have humility to know our place and their place.
The government decides who gets in; the church serves those who do.
This article originally appeared here.