This week I received a question from Switzerland regarding warfare and refugees. Specifically, how a Christian should be mentally and spiritually processing terrorism, borders, and the influx of refugees who are ignorant to, or outright opposed to, the Christian faith. The ethical dilemma has become a prevalent discussion piece online, so here is a portion of my email response. – TW
Dear _____, I am inspired by your faith and substance. Stay true to His Word! Great question regarding war and refugees. Any discussion on Christian behavior within a war-time context is rooted in pacifism vs. activism, or more commonly, “Turn the cheek” vs. “Protect our borders” and is a very complex ethical discussion.
During the carpet bombings of WWII, CS Lewis provided an essay titled, “Weight of Glory” and I’d encourage you read it, because along with some of Francis Schaeffer’s work, it remains the most user-friendly literary explanation of this difficult topic. Allow me abridge his sentiments and then provide a conclusion.
First, war is, “very disagreeable” in everyone’s point of view. Only sadists like death and destruction. However, the pacifist contends that war does more harm than good, that every war leads to another war, and that pacifism itself leads to an absence of war, or something modernly called utopia. The presumption of this position is that mankind is innately good, and will grow increasingly good, therefore no one needs to fight, and everyone will one day be embraced.
Lewis opposed this position contending that life consists of tackling each immediate evil in the best way possible. He writes, “To postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength, is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace.” He goes on to illustrate, “[This is] just like a dentist who stopping one toothache has done more for humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race…” In other words, tackling immediate evils with purposeful force does more good than setting up position statements based on some humanistic view of probable improvement.
Second, Lewis responds to the pacifist argument that Christians are called to, “Turn the other cheek” a reference to Christ’s words in Matthew 5:39, “I say to you, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer him the other also.” Lewis rightly interprets that Jesus was speaking with face value to the sociological situation of the Jewish people who surrounded Him that day and NOT to the issue of warfare, or governmental protections. He writes, “[Of course] I should not retaliate against my neighbor who does me harm, but what of the homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third-party, who tried to knock me out of the way? Must I stand by and let him get his victim?” Lewis answers heartily, “No… Indeed as the (Jewish) audience were private people in a disarmed nation, it seems unlikely that they would have ever supposed our Lord to be referring to war. War was not what they would have been thinking of. The frictions of daily life among villagers were more likely on their mind.”
Francis Schaeffer had similar thoughts regarding pacifism, “The Bible is clear here: I am to love my neighbor as myself, in the manner needed, in a practical way, in the midst of the fallen world, at my particular point of history. This is why I am not a pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world in which we live – this lost world – means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.”
Finally, Lewis points us to a natural conclusion. If we accept that pacifism isn’t the answer then we are forced to look at what the Bible says about nations and their borders. In Romans 13:3 Paul writes, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good…” Paul goes further in 1 Timothy 2:2 urging Christians, “Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”
This means that government is put in place by God to set boundaries and protect from anarchy by means of rule and force. It also means that Christians are to focus their energies on prayerful support of the leaders God has put in place.
Therefore, when it comes to the question of warfare and refugees, Christians must simply pray for their leaders and trust their leaders. This is not popular sentiment in a world where everyone with a phone and thumbs weighs in, but it’s what God commands – Unless someone is a president, part of congress, the military, or on an international law review, their responsibility is to pray well and vote well.
How then does a Christian reconcile his allegiance to state with his commitment to be a Good Samaritan? Allow me to speak for myself, and for myself only. For me, I’ve found that instead of worrying over cities and times I can’t change, I need to pray for them, while focusing my energy on the city and time I can change – my own. This means I’ll honorably support my nation, but any time I’m confronted with an orphan or widow – they’ll be cared for – because my immediate Christian duty outweighs my civic service.