It was a matter of time before popular megachurch pastors started delivering sermons specifically addressing the ongoing refugee debate in America. Andy Stanley, Evangelical pastor of the nation’s largest Protestant church, delivered his thoughts on the hot topic in an intriguing message entitled “The (Not So) United States of America” on February 28. He called the refugee crisis “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”
“At the epicenter and crosshairs of the conversation about refugees in particular and religious liberty is the Church,” said Stanley. “We have an extraordinarily important role to play and if we don’t play it there’s not anybody else that’s going to play it.”
You might have expected Stanley’s preaching on the refugee debate to take a politically left-leaning position. One that forgoes intellectual honesty in a one-sided appeal to emotions. Not quite. In fact, Stanley’s message on the global refugee crisis was surprisingly thought-provoking for Christians approaching the debate from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Politically diverse truthfully describes North Point Community Church and its five satellite campuses. Stanley’s churches are filled with bright red baseball hat-wearing Republicans (some of whom I know personally and who work in church leadership) and knitted pink you-know-what toboggan-wearing Democrats. The right audience to hear Stanley’ rather unifying message.
I do hesitate to call Stanley’s message a sermon, however. The format is more like a well-constructed lecture than a sermon really. No Scripture verses were read collectively or even leveraged to prove a particular point. The only theological point Stanley argued was imago dei or the knowledge that every person is created with inherent dignity in the image of God. But for this specific talk, that one Bible-based point was perfectly impactful.
Stanley began his talk acknowledging America is indeed a “Christianized nation” and explained why that’s actually a good thing. He confessed our Founding Fathers “got it right” when they declared, as Stanley put it, “God, not government and not a particular religion, is the source of individual freedom” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
For anyone questioning why Christians need care about foreign affairs or national security policies, Stanley acknowledged, “The Church is a part of that conversation” because our social witness acts as a reminder that “individual dignity flows not from government, not from any constitution, but from the existence of God.”
“If you are a part of one of our churches, you have the moral authority to speak out on the subject of refugees regardless of your view because you have put your money where your mouth is,” Stanley added. “You’ve been caring for refuges before caring about refugees was cool.”
He then cited data showing the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States over the past six years was remarkably low, yet little outcry ensured. Sure, the Obama Administration granted asylum to 12,587 Syrian refugees in 2016, but that number was a far jump up from 105 Syrian refugees in 2014 and a mere 36 Syrian refugees in 2013.
“Where was the outrage in 2014, ‘13, ‘12, ‘11?” asked Stanley. “We [as a nation] just didn’t care.”
Stanley refrained from getting into the specific details about whether the refugee ceiling should be increased or lowered, where rifts were sure to develop among his congregants. But he did note, “For the people in our country who are so currently angry because of the decision of our current president, who are so angry about the U.S./Syrian refugee policy, you’re about five years late to the protests, okay.”
Newspaper headlines and blog posts might have failed to pay attention to the refugee crisis prior to the Trump Administration, but Stanley claimed that wasn’t the case for his congregants. “As a nation, we really weren’t paying attention. But you were,” Stanley said.
Stanley recounted that in March 2015, before the refugee crisis made national headlines, humanitarian non-profits working with refugees along the Syrian border reached out to North Point Community Church for aid. Within two weeks, congregants raised $600,000 to aid the global refugee crisis. In 2012, when Syrian refugees were fleeing into Lebanon, Stanley’s church gave nearly $300,000 to aid Heart for Lebanon. Locally, his congregation has also supported Clarkston-based non-profits resettling refugees in America.
No matter his congregants varying political conclusions, “When it comes to refugees your walk has earned you the right to talk,” Stanley said.
But do refugees admitted from tumultuous regions pose a threat to national security? Stanley’s answer is: “No and possibly.”
He acknowledged that 40 refugees, mostly young men, have been arrested in America for plotting terrorist activity. “But they didn’t come in as terrorists, they came in as refugees that were radicalized once they got here,” argued Stanley. “Which is why I say possibly. But possibly is not on them. Possibly is on us.”
Rounding back to his introduction, Stanley reiterated, “our compassion as Americans, our human-rights orientation that comes from our Christianity and our Christian base” is important because it is our witness to the lost world. But he cautioned Christians not to let compassion become a distraction from the separate purposes of the Church and government.
In a bold statement, Stanley noted, “Compassion and generosity inform our legal system, but we must not allow them to undermine our legal system.”
“We are not a nation of compassion. We are not a nation of religion. We are a nation of laws and those laws were derived from a Source higher than and prior to the U.S. government,” concluded Stanley. “The Church is the reminder. Nobody else is going to remind our culture. Nobody else is going to remind our world that every man, woman, and child is fashioned in the image of God. That government does not grant dignity, government recognizes it and protects it.”