The Pilgrims were Refugees…

This weekend in churches across America, especially in New England, the Pilgrim’s journey to the new world will be discussed. We’ll hear things like “they were coming to simply escape persecution.. To be able to live free from the horror of families being split apart by a world turned against them. Fathers ripped away from families.” We’ll hear about the very real persecution faced by many as they first escaped to Holland and then to the new world. Looking for freedom, peace and security. You’ll hear words like Providence and a conversation about a sovereign God preparing a way. You’ll hear of the peaceful Thanksgiving dinner with some of the indigenous population (though they also were met with weaponry by others still). We’ll hear about the plights, hopes and challenges facing these people who were  forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.  (quick note… that’s the definition of a refugee from Google there in italics)…

Yes. So in many churches my fellow Christians will be speaking of God’s providence, the hopes and thankfulness of refugees who settled a land, formed a nation and received what they sought after fighting an uphill battle to get it..

Psalm 107 and Cognitive Dissonance

In many of these churches, Psalm 107 might be discussed, quoted or preached from. Some call this the “Pilgrim’s Psalm.” I suppose you could call it the refugee’s Psalm also.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.

He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;
they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
Psalm 107 33-42 (ESV)

Catch that! Yes. The Psalm is here referring to the happenings of His people, Israel – but there are a few key takeaways elsewhere in the Bible and here that should make us think. Should make us ponder and consider:

1.) Common Grace – throughout the Bible, the concept that grace exists to the benefit of all the inhabitants of this land, is not foreign. That doesn’t mean I’m a mushy humanist first or foremost. The chief end of man is to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are all rotten sinners who cannot do that apart from Grace. People are brought to salvation by God first so they can give Him the glory due to Him. The glory due to his name. So Christ can receive the rewards of his suffering – converted souls. But there is much benefit for us. And the fact that we all have any breath at all after sinning just once is grace. The hospitals, orphanages, charities and shelters started by believers is grace. The end should never be just common grace or social justice – it should be to honor God by caring for those created in His image – but the point remains… Common grace should drive us to ask the hard questions and care for people in the hard ways.

2.) See that bolded part? When the hard thing is done, when God’s people pull up their sleeves and let Christ show hope through them? The upright see it and are glad, and wickedness shuts its mouth.. That verse alone makes me want to weep for how we’ve missed this.

Where’s the cognitive dissonance?

This weekend fellow believers will be in church this weekend listening to messages speaking about how amazing God is. How much we have to be thankful for. They’ll hear or even give messages talking about the plight of a group of refugees who came to a land inhabited by others to try and get the space and peace and safety they needed to live freely. There will be Amens. There will be nodding heads. There will even be some pulpits slapped by the fists of men of God rightly proclaiming God’s sovereignty over everything and the security that comes from that.

Yet… Across much of  in name only “Christendom” and actual Christendom in America – by Sunday afternoon, eyes will be glued to the TV, the websites, the anger will boil and rise. And shouts against refugees looking for what the Pilgrims were looking for 400 years ago will crescendo and echo throughout the airwaves, houses and status updates.

Maybe those will be outright shouts. Maybe they’ll be what I’ve caught myself doing with fence sitting comments like “yes. we should help some, but…”

This morning sitting in a great message for Thanksgiving I wrote a lot of notes. I fully agreed with all the words of my Pastor – but I wrote some quotes he shared and questions I found myself wondering about when he was talking. His message was about the Puritans we call Pilgrims, but I kept going to the refugees. The thoughts below are thoughts I had about the cognitive dissonance:

“Is He Sovereign Or not?” – If he is? We should care about security and not be foolish – a sovereign God doesn’t mean we should jump off Everest. But it means that we can be rational and ask rational questions – and when they are answered and we learn the risks aren’t what we think they are – we should be willing to relent and not just say “fine.. let them come” but we should actually strive to be the body of Christ we are called to be! All the way. If he is sovereign – we should be willing to do the uncomfortable thing and the thing with a slight slight slight  risk of fearful outcome if it means doing what His clear and revealed will is in caring for others..

“Pilgrims – it was providence.. Refugees Today? GO AWAY!” – That seems to be what I see and hear a lot.

This quote – My pastor shared in the context of what the Pilgrims were trying to do. He attributed it to Swiss Psychiatrist Paul Tournier “…we long for a place to belong, a place to be home all our lives, and we are restless until we find it.” – Hear that? It’s a good quote. That’s what many of these refugees are looking for. They had that, by the way. But it was ripped from them.

The Mission Field Is Coming To Us – We often get excited about putting the money and prayer and time into sending missionaries. But right now? A mission field wants to come to us. And we are screaming and shouting at them and telling them to go back to the ruins they are fleeing… You could call these folks “the least of these” and if you did, then Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40 should haunt you. I got at this in my talk speaking about the Problem with The American Church in a post a year or two ago. Let’s take care of the mission field coming to us.

Closing Thoughts

No. We shouldn’t just open the borders and not enforce security. But we need to understand that the refugee process is perhaps the vector least likely to be used by terrorists. The vetting process is crazy there. Meanwhile visa waivers, overstayed student visas, an unsecure border, etc are far more threatening.

Many of my conservative friends hate it, just like I do, when the refrain of “DO SOMETHING!” comes up about guns after an incident and irrational legislation starts. We get uncomfortable with the statements that start with “if just one life can be saved”  yet we use the same here. If we were serious? Then we’d want to use that logic to stop a lot of other causes of terrorism that some of the liberal policies speak to. We can’t use the logic we hate being used against things we care about. It’s dishonest of us.

This year I’ve come back to this verse in Isaiah a lot. And it works here also. Are we going to do Christianity? Or are we going to do Politics Infused Christianity? It’s a choice we have to make. Let’s wake up and look at the suffering in front of us. Let’s look at the extras we have. Try and imagine ourselves in their shoes. Even just for a second. What will we do?

Isaiah 1:17 says “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” –  Oppressed? Check. Fatherless? Often. Widows? Often. Their cause? To survive and maybe provide a chance for their family to thrive..

They may look different. Many of them may even believe differently and worship a false God. Many are confused. Many don’t speak our language. And a couple bad apples could be mixed into the throngs of scared and hurting families.  But this verse doesn’t talk about these things. It just says learn to do good, seek justice and correct their oppression. So what are we going to do? Obey? Or yell and push away?


6 thoughts on “The Pilgrims were Refugees…

  1. Steve Jones

    Nice. Good thoughts. Missed a bit in that plenty that are saved or believe what you believe now were greeted by open arms or preached at to save them, without hatred. I think it’s easy to forget that our compassion should not just extend to those we like, or are like us.

    1. Mike Walsh Post author

      I am not sure I follow your comment – I think you are saying that many who are Christians were not and they were greeted with open arms even then. And if you were saying that and making that point, I agree with you. And my entire point here is – Common grace is common grace because of that common word. We should treat all others with it – and as a believer who believes in sovereign election – a quote from Spurgeon comes to mind “If God would have painted a yellow stripe on the backs of the elect I would go around lifting shirts. But since He didn’t I must preach “whosoever will” and when “whatsoever” believes I know that he is one of the elect.”

      It’s not that we preach and hope they are elect and then move on. Or serve in hopes they are and move on. It’s that we may never know. It’s that we should treat all others with compassion and kindness. Part because they may be the elect of God. Part because they are human beings created in the image of God. Part because we are here for a short time sharing this small sphere together and it’s right.

  2. Jim

    Dude, great post. Although the getting process for the Syrian refugees is and will remain almost nonexistent (we’re not going to get much if any information about them from the Syrian governmen, followers of the King should be the first ones to welcome those who have been sent to us by God. Thanks for the reminder bro.

    1. Mike Walsh Post author

      Agreed jim. Though I’m not sure I fully agree on the vetting process. I think for asylum seekers it is far different, and there certainly isn’t one for folks crossing the border in TX or staying over on Student visas. And for sure, fake Syrian passports are legion – actually not even fake though – I mean they are fake – but made by the government officials on the government printers and with the government information systems – so they are fake but impossible to tell the difference often – but I also know the vetting process for refugees is even more stringent than what our daughter had to go through before adoption from Ukraine. And it is all done before they head over here.

  3. Mike Walsh Post author

    To add a point of clarity – even when the risks ARE what they appear to be? Sometimes we do the thing anyway. If God’s will makes it clear, if He is leading you to do it? We shouldn’t let a little fear dose the flame.

    Whether it’s the missionary feeling like God is calling them to preach the Gospel in a place where certain death could result, like even Saudi Arabia. This isn’t jumping off of Everest. There’s no point to jumping off of Everest. But there is most certainly a point to preaching to souls in hopes you are reaching the elect of God. There are countless examples in history of people who assessed the risks, agreed that it was dangerous and then jumped in. Whether that was the missionaries to the Auca Indians, the missionaries who went behind enemy lines, the ones who sneak into North Korea or the two young men who were willing to become slaves simply to get to the Dutch Indes to preach to slaves.

    My point above was that taking in the refuges isn’t quite so risky, and it is okay to be rational in how we deal with things and there can be security and refugee intake – but my point here is to just clarify, sometimes? The world things we are jumping off of Everest when we really aren’t – if we are doing what God wills and not being callous and trusting in ourselves.

    There are ends worse than death for the unbeliever. And there are things to be gained greater than another second of life for the believer.

    That Jim Elliott quote scrawled in his notebook and found by his wife and friends who recovered his body after he was killed with friends for witnessing to a hostile people is what I’m going for here. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *