“Refugee is Not a Four-Letter Word” or “The Law of Intended Consequences”

Yesterday was “World Refugee Day.” 1

The short introduction to the U.N. page on this event states simply “…the time is now to show that the global public stands with refugees.” Put another way: “We the people stand with people, especially those in dire circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment. It is a pro-life, anti-war statement of the inherent worth in every human life. And it’s a natural extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in the aftermath of the horrors of World War, is one of the crowning diplomatic and legal achievements of the 20th Century.2 Politically speaking, that we even have a “World Refugee Day” is also an admission of the complete and abject failure of world governments to deliver on the promise of Universal Dignity and Freedom. Lord Palmerston, Charles de Gaulle, and Henry Kissinger have all famously reiterated that “nations don’t have ‘friends,’ they have only ‘interests.’” In the cold calculus of realpolitik, the needs of the individual have no standing – only the survival of the State.

If we follow the logic that the survival of the many outweighs the rights of the few… or the one, we reach the abyss. And too often we fall into it. The plight of the Rohingya, currently languishing in Eastern Bangladesh, is a case in point and proves the rule. Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma received the Nobel Peace Prize for non-violent protest and campaigning for the rights of her people as they suffered decades of torture and abuse from a military dictatorship trained and equipped by foreign powers. Eventually, her Peoples Movement accomplished legal freedoms for the citizenry and reached accommodation with the military. She became President and elder statesman.

And then…

Probably in order to preserve the fragile political structures of modern Myanmar, Aung San abandoned her commitment to universal human rights. Perhaps she helped prevent the collapse of the State. In the process, she demonstrated a willingness to turn a blind eye to injustice. Persecution of minorities including Christians and many tribal groups came roaring back with a vengeance. Now a half million Rohingya refugees cling to life in squatter camps inside Bangladesh. It’s a region of squalid swamp and jungle. Tens of thousands were murdered as they ran for their lives.

World response to the crisis has been a bizarre admixture of condemnation and righteous indignation vs. cool indifference. In nations where the rhetoric of victimization is unconstrained – such as Russia, Sudan, China and even the United States – humanitarian response and political will to intervene on behalf of the Rohingya has been decidedly muted. From other liberal democracies with solid economies and a history of political and religious tolerance, the response is more vocal and generous. Even then, the response has not been adequate to address the need and solve the crisis. It doesn’t help that the Rohingya were already desperately poor, illiterate, unrepresented in any government and historically Muslim.

When a Christian looks at the humanitarian situation in the world it is very tempting to make judgments through the lens of nationalism and local politics. In a secular sense, political philosophy is as valid as any other foundation for developing a theory of moral law. However, any disciple of Christ must grapple with the notion of identity and citizenship from another source, namely, the Word of God. And from Alpha to Omega we are confronted with a vastly different notion of what it means to be human. To be corrupt and fallen, equally loved and pursued, and eventually transformed into something glorious, holy and fully alive. We’re presented a vision of a glorious Kingdom and a population where all the citizens are royalty, priests, and servants in equal measure. Followers of Christ are commanded to surrender their passports and accept a new nationality. Then they are commanded to step back into the world they left and live as strangers and foreigners in the very lands where they were born – living like people from the Kingdom they’ve claimed, and which has claimed them.

Yes, friends, following Christ into the Kingdom of God really is that radical. Anyone preaching a different gospel is selling God short and setting you up for real disappointment.

How does a true citizen of the Kingdom respond to refugees with no country? With compassion. Because we understand what it means to be a stranger in a strange land – a land which seems to grow ever stranger. The scriptures are full of practical instruction on this.4 And, in an odd way, we find ourselves standing in solidarity with others being oppressed, no matter what their religion, creed, politics or plight. We know our Savior didn’t consider our worthiness before He intervened in our spiritual oppression. He made clear that compassion for the outcast would be a natural overflow from the intense love we’d experience within our new ‘forever family’ – this glorious Eternal Kingdom.

Interestingly, we also take great courage and comfort in the knowledge that this strange place in which we live won’t remain that way forever. The Kingdom won’t always languish as refugees in plain sight. Someday the Kingdom will deliver on its promise and become the inheritors of this earth. Despots, hatred, cruelty and selfishness will be banished. The entire world will be a refuge from evil.

In the meantime, the Kingdom joyfully stands with the oppressed and willingly enters into their sorrows. Then we do something about suffering because we know it’s not wasted energy. It is one step closer to the promise of a Kingdom revealed and every human being understanding and experiencing their immense worth – to their Creator and to His royal children.

For the faithful disciple, every day is Refugee Day.


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