At the Southern Baptist Convention in June, the assembled messengers passed a resolution in favor of welcoming refugees and migrants. As Christianity Today reported at the time:
During this week’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, the country’s largest Protestant denomination adopted a resolution reiterating its commitment to refugee ministry and welcoming migrants.
It stated in part, “We continue to ‘encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at his throne,’” quoting text from a 2016 resolution on the issue.
“I think God is bringing the nations, particularly as immigrants and refugees, to the US to give us an opportunity not just to go to them with the gospel, but so that they could come to us and experience the gospel,” said Micah Fries, who attended the Dallas gathering as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “My fear is, as followers of Jesus, we’re missing this opportunity. We’re allowing political conversations, political parties, to derail a Great Commission opportunity.”
A Great Commission opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the Convention came out in favor of welcoming refugees and migrants. This is important! It’s approaching this as a Great Commission opportunity that is rubbing me wrong.
Consider this: Micah Fries suggests that “God is bringing the nations, particularly as immigrants and refugees, to the US to give us an opportunity not just to go to them with the gospel, but so that they could come to us and experience the gospel.” Does this mean that God created the violence in countries like Honduras? Or, to take a more global view—did God create the Syrian civil war to drive the Syrian people into Western countries where they might hear the gospel?
It’s the same logic at hand when evangelicals talk about God using a tragedy to bring you closer to Him—did God engineer or plan the death of a loved one, or a medical problem, or the loss of a home?
The larger problem, of course, is that this sort of resolution makes the issue about the resolution-makers and their goals, and not about refugees and their needs. The resolution calls for Southern Baptist churches and families “to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at his throne,” not because it’s simply the right thing to do.
When I was a girl, my parents sponsored local international students. The idea behind the program, run through local churches, was to get international students into individual American homes where they could be exposed to American culture and hear the gospel. For years, international students from around the world were in and out of our house. It certainly made for an interesting childhood! It was a good thing—but there was always an end goal.
As Petticoat Philosopher said when I mentioned the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution, “They’re not asking these people what they need, they’re telling. … They don’t want to accept them, they want to use them as a means to an end.” And finally: “It’s just colonialism without the bother of travel.”
It occurs to me that there are some parallels between this, and evangelicals’ treatment of LGBTQ individuals. In recent years, a growing number of evangelicals who believe that homosexuality is a sin have adopted a rhetoric of “acceptance” as a means to get close to LGBTQ individuals and fix them—to shape them into what they want them to be. To a certain extent the rhetoric here is similar: accepting refugees in order to evangelize them and re-form them in their image.
Added to all of that is the reality that 90% of Hondurans are Christian (nearly evenly split between Protestant or Catholic). This is a higher percentage than that of the U.S., where only 69% are Christian. But because Hondurans are foreigners and hail from a developing country—well. Clearly they’re prime targets for evangelization.
Again, I’m glad the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution supporting refugees. I just wish the could support refugees, rather than supporting their mission of evangelizing refugees.
Evangelicals like to portray themselves as especially good and especially loving and especially moral. But so much of the time, the good things they do are done for ulterior motives. Accept refugees … to evangelize refugees. Set up homeless shelters … to evangelize the homeless. Be kind and loving to the unsaved … to set them up for evangelization. (I grew up with the idea that if I was especially loving, others would notice and ask, and then I could evangelize them).
And so it is here.
Give me someone who is loving for the sake of being loving, someone who is kind because they want to make the world a better place, someone who supports those in need of help not for any ulterior motive but because it is the right thing to do, and I will take that over this any day of the week.
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