Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
Whatever else I may have thought about Franklin Graham (the Christian leader who prayed at the President’s recent inauguration), I’ve always respected his charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse. (My wife rode in one of their planes when she visited Africa some years ago. Thanks, guys!) SP’s “About Us” page begins, “The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) gives a clear picture of God’s desire for us to help those in desperate need wherever we find them.”
So my jaw dropped when I read the following from an interview Graham did with the Huffington Post about immigration to the US:
“It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue,” Graham told HuffPost. “We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.”
Graham is completely wrong: helping refugees most certainly is a “Bible issue.” Graham should look no further than the story he cites on SP’s website.
Here’s the parable. But instead of just taking verses 30–37, I’ve added verses 25–29, which explain exactly why Jesus told this story.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Graham contradicts the message of this passage in several important ways. First of all, according to Jesus it doesn’t matter whether or not we “want” to love people, or “want” to be kind and compassionate. Loving other human beings is not optional; it is a command. In verse 26, Jesus uses the word “law” to refer to God’s law as taught in the Old Testament. So when Christians discuss law, we must begin with the words of Jesus in verse 27 (see also Matthew 22:36–39), commanding us to love God and to love people. If we do not get these laws right, we will be wasting our time talking about others.
Only after Jesus establishes that love is an obligation, does he get to Graham’s concerns: countries, laws, safety. The priest and the Levite of verses 31–32 are citizens of the country of Israel, subject to its laws. (Yes, Israel was a province of Rome, but Jews still made their own laws regarding worship.) The law of the day said that priests and Levites were not permitted to touch injured people. Touching a sick person would make them “unclean,” and therefore unable to perform their important temple duties. According to the law, they had to pass by.
What about Graham’s reference to “dangers”? There is a risk that some Muslim refugees will become terrorists, right? Yet statistically, the risk is incredibly small. Consider: 15,000 people were killed by guns in the United States in 2016. Exactly zero of these deaths were caused by “Muslim” immigrant terrorists. (Last year’s Orlando shooting was committed by a native-born American citizen). Americans are far, far more likely to be murdered by native Americans than by immigrants. The “danger” rationale for not helping refugees has more to do with irrational fear and prejudice than with facts.
Nevertheless, Jesus does address “danger.” As most Luke commentaries will tell you, the road “from Jerusalem to Jericho” of verse 30 was notoriously dangerous, given its many hiding places for thieves. The priest, Levite, and Samaritan had no way of knowing whether the robbers who had beaten the victim were still near, ready to pounce! This risk was surely another reason for the decisions of the priest and Levite to pass by. But Jesus clearly expects us to help the needy, even in the face of apparent danger.
Graham’s position is “love for others is nice, but we should put country, law, and safety first.” Jesus, however, says, “even if it means violating law and risking safety, you must show love!”
Are we willing to obey the commands of Jesus? If so, then we are obligated to be “the one who shows him mercy.”
A Christian blog and podcast by Ray Burns.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts