COMMENTARY: Christ crucified for the refugee

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Migrants queue on a bridge crossing the border river Inn at the German-Austrian frontier between Braunau and Simbach am Inn near Passau, Germany, November 1, 2015. | REUTERS/Michael Dalder

FORT WORTH, Texas (Christian Examiner) – That we live in tumultuous times – times of global upheaval not experienced since the fall of Rome in the fifth century – is no secret.

North Africa is being emptied of its poor and destitute, who are dragging their children for hundreds of miles across desert, ocean and mountain for security, food, employment and freedom from religious oppression.

The diverse reasons why refugees are leaving their homelands in the Middle East and North Africa will be discussed and debated by politicians and historians for decades to come. They will analyze facts and figures, pie charts and line graphs, and someone will write the definitive history on the mass migration of Arabs to Europe and the U.S. – until the next person writes another definitive history.

Why refugees are showing up on our doorstep hasn't been adequately explained to the American people for sure, because to explain the phenomenon is to admit that the Arab Spring stoked by the Obama White House in 2011 was a failure from the start. The Islamists could not – and would not – deliver on democracy because the two worldviews (Islamist and democratic) are diametrically opposed. They cannot be wed.

Nor has the Obama administration provided the proper assurances to the American people that those coming in don't have nefarious plans. "It will be okay. Trust us," has been the common refrain from Washington.

I heard the other day an example of the potential for terrorists slipping in among the refugees, described in terms of a bowl full of chocolate candies. In the bowl of hundreds, one was said to be poisoned. The instructions were to go ahead and eat a handful. The odds were slim that you would, indeed, grab the poisoned piece. Which of us, however, would be willing to take that risk?

This, the person who offered the example said, was why Americans should be on guard, and why Christians should be the only refugees admitted. Those were all the "safe pieces" in the bowl.

That may be true, and it may not. If a terrorist is permitted by his faith to pose as a refugee seeking freedom from the prospect of death at the hands of the Islamic State, is he also not permitted to pose as a Christian to gain access to our country? If a terrorist is committed to entering the country under false pretenses, would he not be just as likely to jump the southern U.S. border, or fly in from Honduras on a Greek passport?

Whether the free world wants to admit it or not, we are at war with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and a dozen other hard-to-pronounce terror groups. Terrorists are going to come in the United States. Most will be apprehended. Some will not.

And of the many refugees who are not radical when they come, they may just as easily be radicalized in the U.S. through social media, preaching in mosques, or backroom conversations with imams who favor Islamic extremism. All of these prospects are real, but they have always been real.

That is why Americans – and Americans who are Christian, in particular – must approach this refugee crisis with sober minds and compassionate hearts. Why do I say this?

In the past week, one group calling itself the "Bureau of American Islamic Relations" gathered outside of a mosque in North Texas with guns (in particular semi-automatic rifles with high capacity magazines which the media erroneously calls "assault weapons"). The same group then published the names and addresses of local Muslims on its website, before the public backlash forced them to take it down.

Such actions are not only un-American; they are also un-Christian for any person in the group who claims to be either or both.

As a Christian, I clearly have no affinity for Islam. As a patriot, I seek no restriction on the Second Amendment rights of ordinary citizens. If, however, you protest in such a manner, I believe I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that your goal is not the exercising of your right to bear arms or even protest "peacefully." It also is not exercising your right to express your religious opinion.

It is intimidation and thuggery and contrary to the precious right of religious liberty guaranteed in the First Amendment and fought for by Christians, in general, and Baptists, in particular. It is, more so, a form of jingoistic terror befitting the goose-stepping Brown Shirts in Berlin in the 1930s.

I have also seen and heard in the past week multiple preachers and churches seeking to take on Islam in a full frontal assault from their pulpits. Whether in a sermon or on a church sign, it seems the condemnation of Islam is a popular message.

It is a message, however, intended solely for those already in the pew – those who already believe it to be a false religion. It certainly isn't for the Syrian or Libyan refugee who has likely never heard four words in English together and been able to comprehend them.

If they could comprehend such words, I hope Christians understand that few people have entered the kingdom of heaven by receiving a brick between the eyes. Certainly, the words are not a physical assault, but they will – in almost every case where they are understood – immediately stun and swell shut the minds and hearts of those who hear them.

I've seen this firsthand in both the U.S. and Canada. If this is how we speak to a Muslim about his religion versus real, lasting faith in Christ, you may very well need to prepare for his radicalization.


Islam in its pre-modern context is absolutely all the vast majority of the refugees have ever known. They have no concept of religious liberty. They have no understanding of separation of church and state. They have not lived in a place where a person can voice disagreement with Islam at the top of their voice and live. They have not heard the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ preached in the public square.

In school they learned about the Crusades, which they regard solely as a Christian invasion of Muslim lands. In madrassas and mosques the world over, they've been taught with steady drum beat how the West has for more than 1,000 years thumbed its nose at Allah. They have been taught that their job is to "fix the world" for Islam.

They were not taught, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." They learned, "There is no God but God, Muhammad is his prophet."

So what is needed to break through this seemingly impenetrable and embedded Islamic worldview? A call for only Christian refugees to be admitted? A call for tighter restrictions on Muslim activity? A call to monitor the mosques and register Muslims?

May it never be! The answer is simple.

Preach Christ and Christ crucified. Preach Him crucified for the Jew and the Greek, for the male and the female, for the black and the white, for the American and the Syrian. Preach Him crucified for the Christian and for the Muslim.

Be the hands and feet of the crucified Christ. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Take in the homeless. Love the seemingly unlovable.

It may just so happen that your actions in communicating the Gospel could bring one of those young men on the cusp of radicalization into the Kingdom. It may shatter the hatred of a hard-hearted and experienced operative of the Islamic State. You might even be leading another Apostle Paul to the foot of the cross of Christ.

Dr. Gregory Tomlin covers the intersection of politics, culture and religion for Christian Examiner. He is also Assistant Professor of Church History and a faculty instructional mentor for Liberty University Divinity School. Tomlin earned his Ph.D. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also studied at Baylor University and Boston University's summer Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He wrote his dissertation on Southern Baptists and their influence on military-foreign policy in Vietnam from 1965-1973.