Is it Safe for Christians to Refuse to Welcome the Stranger?

by Rev. Chris Cashen
Pastor, Trinity Reformed Church in Lanham, Maryland and
Chairman of the Refugee Ministry Subcommittee

A little over two weeks ago, on May 3, 2021, President Biden raised the 2021 cap on refugee resettlements in the United States fourfold: from 15,000 to 62,500. As he did so, the president stated that the previous limit “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.” In the same statement, President Biden indicated that he would set the refugee admission cap at 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins this year on October 1st. Shortly after President Biden’s statements, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, declared that “It is in our DNA as a nation to open our door to those seeking refuge[1] . . .”

What does this mean? Who are these refugees? And how are we to respond? All good questions which require thoughtful answers.

Each year, the president sets a limit on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in this country. This means that the Executive has determined, for planning and budgeting purposes, that the United States will agree to grant permission (or immigration status) for that number of “refugees” to enter the country legally. It does not necessarily mean that the entire number will actually enter the US. But it gives the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), those folks who are involved in refugee resettlement in this country, the ability to plan, budget and prepare. This is a bit like creating an annual budget for your local church. You plan, or budget, to spend a certain amount on electrical service, but if the summer is not too hot, you may not spend all the budgeted amount. It is the same with the refugee admissions cap. The country has agreed to allow up to 62,500 refugees to enter, but it may not (and probably will not) receive that number as there are many factors which enter into resettling a person or family from a foreign country.

Who are these refugees? There is a legal definition of “refugee” which is helpful to know. In 1951, the United Nations resolved to adopt the following definition of a “refugee” as any person who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” That is the short version. In plain English, a “refugee” is a person who, because of his race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, has been persecuted or is reasonably fearful of being persecuted; has left his home country (crossed a border), and is afraid to return home because he thinks that there will be no safety or peace for him there (that is, his homeland government won’t or can’t protect him). That definition is somewhat sterile.

The UNHCR website is currently reporting that there are 45,449 refugees from the Tigray region in Ethiopia who have fled the violence and fighting and entered a neighboring country: Sudan.  An Ethiopian woman, now a refugee in Sudan describes the horrific conditions she escaped, “We did not know what was going on when we heard the gun shots. Many people were killed—we could see 10, twenty bodies lying on the ground. That’s when we decided to leave. I walked until my legs were injured and bleeding. I thank God that we are safe here and we have something to eat.[2]” There are refugees from Syria due to civil war; there are refugees from Eritrea due to the persecution of Christians; there are refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo due to violence, war, and political opinion. The stories are different, but the human suffering and the material needs are similar. And all of them need Christ.

Is it safe for our families, you may be asking. Is it safe to help those coming to this country legally as persecuted, homeless, weary, refuge seekers? Deep down, you know the answer—only God knows. But let’s consider “Jonas”, a fictional man living in a fictional refugee camp in Tentland, Africa. Jonas must be interviewed and screened by the United Nations in order to be titled, or classified, as a “refugee”. Jonas has to meet the legal definition. After the UN has completed their screening, they look for a willing country to host Jonas. If the US raises its hand and agrees to consider accepting Jonas, it will conduct its own background check before giving Jonas a ticket to enter the country. By the time Jonas arrives at the airport here in the US, he will have been interviewed by the Department of State, registered in the Worldwide Refugee Admission Processing System, checked by FBI, Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Defense, and interviewed by Department of Homeland Security. Jonas will also have his fingerprints taken and have his biometrics screened against several databases. Only after all this vetting is complete to the satisfaction of these agencies, will Jonas be permitted to enter the country and be resettled as a refugee. The better question may be, “Is it safe for Christians to avoid or refuse to welcome the stranger and alien?”

That brings us back to the words of the President and Secretary of State. Think of this—these men, possibly very secular in their worldviews—surprisingly use words we might consider using ourselves. Christians are a people called to welcome and love the alien and stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19). Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have taken refuge in Him from their sin and the tribulation of this world. Shouldn’t we desire to usher others into that very same refuge—indeed, the only true refuge from the storms that our sins have created?


[1] Steve Harman, “Biden to Quadruple Number of Refugees,” Voice of America News, May 3, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/usa/biden-quadruple-number-refugees-allowed-us.

[2] Ibid.


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