Posted by: Philip Rushton | August 24, 2010

Refugee Status

“I want the American dream – a wife, a dog, a house, a bathroom.” Laotian Refugee

The big story in the Canadian news right now is the recent arrival of a boat full of Tamil refugees on the shore of Vancouver Island. It has sparked a lot of controversy. The Canadian government knew about the ship for the past 2 months and was aware of its intention to enter Canadian waters. Many are saying that the government should not have allowed them to enter the country. This position is supported by a concern that the reception of this boat will set a precedent for future migrants to pour into the country. There is also fear that there are potential terrorists from the Tamil Tiger rebel gang aboard the ship. However, the Canadian government allowed the boat to land in BC and is now housing these refugees in a temporary prison, while they sort out who the legitimate refugees are.

The presence of these immigrants on our shores gives us a lot to think about as North Americans and as Christians. While our world has become increasingly globalized in recent decades, it is still easy for us to remain oblivious to what is going on outside of our sphere. One interesting statistic that I came across this week is that only 2% of Americans claim that they are in the upper class. This statistic suggests that we normalize the luxuries we have. We surround ourselves with people in a similar demographic and see it as the norm. However, the arrival of these migrants in our backyard forces us to view our wealth and freedom from a different perspective. Here we see a group of people risking their lives for the chance to have just a taste of what we have. The fact that they crammed themselves into rusty boat for 3 months is a powerful indicator that they were fleeing something pretty horrible back home. In comparison to these immigrants we are all upper class.

Another thing I think we need to recognize as North Americans is that the only thing separating us and them is a birth certificate. That’s it. The only reason we are living in luxury and they are fleeing terror on a boat is because we were born here and not there. The freedom and the wealth we enjoy is in many ways due to factors that are totally out of our control. We ought to remember this before we bring judgment on the poor.

Lastly, I think it is important for us as Christians to recognize that these refugees have a very high status in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says in Luke 6:29 “blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” Right now we find ourselves in a privileged position. We are all living in wealthy and free countries debating whether these people deserve refugee status here. From God’s perspective, however, it is the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned who hold the status of His kingdom residents.


  1. “Right now we find ourselves in a privileged position. We are all living in wealthy and free countries debating whether these people deserve refugee status here. From God’s perspective, however, it is the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned who hold the status of His kingdom residents.”

    Very well said, Phil. Thanks for this.

  2. Free Phil and Julie! Free Phil and Julie!!!

    Yaaa. Free Phil and Julie. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Canadian Government has know about you for a year. It is time to: Free Phil and Julie!!!!!!
    Randy and Mary 🙂 (:

  3. Hey Mary,

    Feeling the love!!

    I guess one thing that has made me grateful when reflecting the recent Tamil migrant situation is that I am so blessed right now. Even in the midst of some of our immigration set-backs, we still are living with more then adequate provisions and freedom. It is sort of humbling to juxtapose our situation with the situation of these refugees.

  4. Good post Phil. We’ve been through some terrible trials the last few months and it’s so easy to say “poor us” but then we just have to look around at all we have even in our worst of times is better than most.

    Have you seen Rob Bell’s “Rich” episode from Nooma? It’s pretty thought provoking.

    • Really good thinking. But how does this play out on sunday morning? Do you think the average pew sitter wants to hear this? I happen to love the Nooma series ( even if I resist change) but Phil, maybe you can help me understand why he is held in such low regard by some conservatives.

      • Gil, sometimes what they “want” isn’t what they need!
        I like Nooma too, my son really enjoyed.

      • Oh yeah, re -video:
        women in Honduras selling the coffee, that we drink, live on the cost of the one cup that we buy, for the entire month! So in one day, we pay $3.50 or $4, for our 16 oz or 20 oz enjoyment, and they are trying to survive on that amount all month. Who is the “inbetween” who stole their living from them?
        How is this different from Blood diamonds?

  5. I try to impart to my kids how “well off we are”…I think Mariah finally got it this summer. I told them how I grew up “middle class” but always felt rich, looking at other countries, not just material wealth and ownership of items, but space in our homes, the ability to walk on the street, the idea to go where I wanted to, choose my school, because there were choices! Some kids just lucky to “attend” any type of school without books, paper or pencil. Life is all about Perspective.

  6. Welcome to the blog Shannon – I appreciate your thoughts. You point out some other important examples of economic disparity. Regarding the coffee situation – I think it is true that there is a lot of oppression of the poor that goes unseen and that is caught up in complex economic systems that we are not aware of. I think we need to have a discussion about the morality of food consumption and shopping patterns.

    Gil – I think Bell has a lot of great things to say. I think one of the reasons conservatives are concerned about the Nooma series is because there is some historical baggage we need to deal with regarding the role of Christianity and culture. Back in the 60’s there was a great divide between conservatives Christians and the Social Gospel movement. The Social Gospel movement was very liberal and used Christianity to primarily deal with issues of social change. Because of this, some conservatives continue to be nervous whenever Christians talk about Jesus in relation to cultural and social issues.

    However, the current dialogue that evangelicals are having about cultural engagement is a different dialogue than what was going on in the 60’s. Evangelicals still maintain a conservative view on salvation and Jesus. They are just starting to wake up to the fact that Jesus had a lot to say about caring for our world. The new dialogue is rooted in a strong theology of the kingdom. We are starting to take seriously that Jesus wanted his kingdom of justice to start to take root in the here and now. We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” The new evangelical dialogue is also rooted in a rejection of some of the gnostic excesses of our fundamentalist ancestors. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy that views creation and matter as evil and the spiritual realm as good. This is not Christian – it was rejected from the beginning by people like Irenaus. However, Evangelicals used to frame their theology in a gnostic way – the world / matter was evil and all we were to care about was saving souls for eternity. This overlooked the concept of new creation in the New Testament and Jesus desire to restore and redeem all creation.

    What we need to recognize is the the current discussion in evangelical circles about cultural issues is a different conversation. Some people, like Glen Beck or James Dobson are still viewing things in terms of the old dialogue. That is why Beck recently said that if your pastor talks about social justice he is a liberal. This is not necessarily true anymore.

  7. You’re right Phil about the disconect between conservative Christians and social gospel but I think there’s more than that with Rob Bell.

    Bell has deprioritized the Bible in his books. He does not believe in, or at least questions, sola scriptura which was a foundational principle of the reformation. Which can be kinda scary. In the wrong hands this is very dangerous.

    I think he also uses some terms that are misunderstood by older generations. When he speaks of there being truth in Buddhism and Islam I understand what he is saying but I don’t think my parents can accept it because it’s so foreign to the mindset they were brought up with.

    I really admire Rob Bell as a speaker, thinker, and writer. I don’t know how comfortable I would be with him as a pastor. The problem with his type of thinking is that because it’s not based as strictly on something it can be flexible enough to mean anything. In the right hands this is great, in the wrong it’s terrible.

  8. Thanks Bruce,

    I appreciate the perspective on Rob Bell. I actually haven’t read enough of his stuff to give a well thought out response. So I’m glad you are able to give us some insight. I went to his church when I lived in Michigan and heard him speak once.

    I think you are wise to voice concern about the deprioritization of scripture which you have found in his writing. Perhaps I’ll read some of his stuff soon and we can continue the conversation.

  9. Also, I’m glad you figured out a way to post videos in the response section!

  10. Some of my response to Gil turned into a new post today. Sorry for the repetition for those following this discussion.

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