I fear this post has the potential to ruffle feathers, but that is not my intent. Instead, my hope is that you will take the question in earnest in order to search your heart. I have been doing the same.
A while back, I ran across an article, in which a lady wore a Muslim head covering in order to gauge the response of a Christian church. She was a Christian, but she was curious what kind of response a Muslim, who may be interested in Christianity, would receive. The article was posted on the website for the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center is an academic center at Columbia International University, a fine Christian university, that exists to provide research and training concerning Christian witness to Muslims. It is a good resource for the church.
According to the article, the experiment did not go well. To be fair, the article only mentions the incident briefly, and there is no way to know the details. I have no desire to beat this church up in a post, but it made me think about how most churches would respond in this instance. I would hope that most churches welcome strangers, even ones who are different than them. Unfortunately, I see the rhetoric swirling around in the United States today about immigration and refugees, and I fear the worst. I am afraid Christ’s church, scattered across the country in local congregations, may often be more influenced by this rhetoric than by the Scriptures on these issues.
So, I pose the question fresh to you:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If a lady in a hijab walked into your church, how would you respond?[/pullquote]
Would fear win the day? Would it keep you from talking to her, welcoming her to your church? Would it cause you to judge her motives simply by sight? Perhaps fear already does this when you see someone in the grocery store who appears to be Muslim. I spent years living in a Muslim country. My job right now is to research people groups in North America, and I am still taken back sometimes when I witness the massive shift toward diversity happening all around us. This past weekend, I was remarking to a friend how odd it felt to see a young Arab lady in a hijab driving down the road in a Honda Element. Talk about a clash of cultures for me! And yet, marvel at this change is not the same as fearing our new neighbors.
We have a choice. We can uncritically swallow the culture’s vitriol and allow it to color the way we see the world, or we can turn to God’s life-giving Scriptures for our response. Scriptures call us past our preferences, past our fears, to confidence in God’s sovereignty over matters like immigration. Is the world dangerous? Yes. Has God left us to fend for ourselves? Not a chance. What is more, not only does the Bible instill confidence that God knows what he is doing by causing so many different types of people to be here, it also gives us the lens through which to understand why he does it. In Acts 17, Paul is preaching to a group of people in Athens, and says this of God:
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”16”]And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him (Acts 17:26-27).[/pullquote]
God not only decides who lives where, he does so for a reason. God wants his name to be known by all the peoples of the world, and he has given the church, your church and my church, the responsibility to share the good news of his grace with everyone he places across our path.
This is not a post on immigration and refugee policy. Policy is important, and there are some tough decisions surrounding those matters in the years to come. We should extend a little grace to one another in those conversations. However, when it comes to the 43 million foreign-born residents God has already placed in our neighborhoods, what should the local church response be?
Scripture tells us God has a plan, yes, even for this. It also tells us we have a responsibility in the midst of it, to love our new neighbors and share the good news of the gospel, even with that young lady in a hijab.