A family friend recently posted this video of a presentation made by Southern Baptist pastor David Platt on the refugee crisis. This sermon was delivered at the chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and was uploaded to YouTube on April 4, 2016. An article titled “How to Respond to the Refugee Crisis” by Platt was also published on The Gospel Coalition and basically covers the same information that Platt presents in the aforementioned sermon. Platt is the President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a Calvinistic Southern Baptist who endorses a “moderate” view of the charismatic gift of tongues.1 Platt and his wife have two children of their own and have also adopted two non-white children.2
In this sermon Platt aims to provide a biblical perspective on the recent crisis in the Middle East. He supports resettlement of refugees from Syria or other territories ravaged by ISIS into the United States as well as other Western countries. During this presentation, Platt lists “five truths from God’s Word to bear on the refugee crisis,” followed by five exhortations to Christians. The five premises are:
- God is sovereign over all things.
- God oversees the movement of all people.
- God generally establishes government for the protection of all people.
- God specifically commands His church to care for His people.
- Our God seeks, shelters, serves, and showers the refugee with His grace.
The five exhortations that follow are:
- Let us speak the Gospel clearly.
- Let’s pray to God earnestly.
- Let’s act justly.
- Let us love sacrificially.
- Hope confidently.
Before any criticism I would like to commend Platt’s impassioned presentation on a very important topic. A good deal of what he says should be agreeable to any orthodox Christian. I find Mr. Platt’s conviction with which he speaks to be compelling. I found myself challenged by what he says about the plight of refugees in spite of being annoyed with Platt’s preaching style in which he perpetually seems to be on the verge of tears. Platt’s compassion for those displaced by violence in Syria is motivated by a sincere desire that the legitimate needs of these refugees be met with Christian compassion. This begins with the Gospel message of hope of eternal life through the redemptive work of Christ. I also found myself agreeing with what Platt says about God’s sovereignty, as he is a Calvinistic Southern Baptist and his conviction of God’s control is certainly evident. I likewise share Platt’s optimistic outlook by believing that God accomplishes His purposes throughout history, leading up to the glorious consummation of all things in His kingdom. Platt also gives welcome exhortations to boldly preach the Gospel, pray fervently, seek justice, and love sacrificially.
All of that being said, I have some serious reservations about several comments of his. Platt mishandles the Scriptures and has a flawed understanding of justice and charity. Though correctly stating that God is entirely sovereign over His creation, Platt misapplies Acts 17:24-27 to support his argument that all movements are therefore intended for the salvation of the nations. This passage in Acts is not about all movements of people in general, but about the formation of distinct nations and national boundaries in particular. Careful analysis of this passage bears this point out. Acts 17:26 specifically mentions ethno-national boundaries being set, which are the very means whereby God blesses the nations – that they will grope for Him and find Him. Is God sovereign over the confounding of national and ethnic distinctions? Of course, but only as much as He is sovereign over all events that occur, whether good or evil, and in any case this is not what Paul is saying in this passage in Acts. The blurring of ethnic distinctions through the mass influx of foreigners or the emergence of empires is a judgment sent by God (cf. Deut. 28:43) to punish those who have rebelled against His authority. There is simply no scriptural basis for the modern idea that God blesses Christian nations by flooding them with non-believers so that they can “easily” fulfill the Great Commission and convert the foreign hordes en masse.
This leads to Platt’s misapplication of the Great Commission to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. Platt places undue emphasis on the directive to go make disciples of the nations. This is evident in Platt’s other material, particularly his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. According to one review of this book, to Platt “you’re either on an airplane to the Third World, or you are selfishly indulging your materialistic appetites. There is no room for real American Christian life in this.” Platt insists that Christians are required to evangelize in foreign lands. In the words of Platt we are to “go to another context.” For American Christians this means going “anywhere outside the U.S.” This misconstrues the Great Commission as a universal call to foreign missionary work instead of a universal call for spreading the Gospel and making disciples.
Paul teaches that there are “diversities of gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4), and that the Spirit has made “some evangelists” (Eph. 4:11) in a formal sense. The apostolic church appointed Barnabas and Paul for the special work of spreading the Gospel abroad (Acts 13:2). Everyone is called to proclaim the Gospel, but relatively few are called to participate in foreign missions. Most Christians throughout history have remained in their countries of origin and proclaimed the Gospel to their countrymen. Christians can and certainly should pray for the spread of the Gospel all over the world, but most of us are called to have families and raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Throughout Christian history, the birth of covenant children has been the major way in which the Church has grown (cf. Mal. 2:15).
Finally, Platt misapplies Jesus’s statement to the rich young ruler in Radical, distorting his conception of Christian charity. Jesus tells this rich man, “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matt. 19:21, cf. Mk. 10:21, Lk. 18:22). This rich man was inquiring as to what good thing he could do to have eternal life. The man believed that he could earn his salvation through his own righteousness. Jesus knew his heart, and was aware that this man’s money was an idol in his life. By calling on this man to give up his money, Jesus exposed his undue love and forced the man to make a choice. Unfortunately, this man made the wrong decision. Platt treats this passage as though Jesus was teaching on stewardship generally, when the context makes it clear that Jesus is teaching about salvation. Good stewardship certainly involves generosity for the poor and less fortunate, but there is obviously no universal requirement to give away all of our possessions beyond mere subsistence. Many men in the Bible such as Job, King David, Solomon, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea were all righteous rich men.
David Platt has built his understanding of Christian responsibility on a foundation of quicksand by misappropriating different passages of the Bible. Likewise Platt’s understanding of justice and Christian charity lacks a biblical foundation. Platt is very concerned with justice for refugees. Platt views government as established by God for the purpose of promoting justice “for the protection of all people” and he exhorts his listeners to “act justly” in seeking the welfare of refugees. The problem is that when the concept of justice is severed from God’s Law as revealed in His word, the concept of justice becomes more about feeling than objective morality.
Platt mentions America only in unsympathetic derision: “It is a sure sign of American self-centeredness that we would take the suffering of millions of people and turn it into an issue that is all about us. . . . flowing from a view of the world that is far more American than it is biblical and far more concerned with the preservation of our country than it is with the accomplishment of the Great Commission.” Platt implies that American Christians ought to be perfectly content to see our nation destroyed the way that European nations have been destroyed in order to fulfill his warped understanding of the Great Commission.
In truth the God-ordained duty of government (Rom. 13:1-4) is to secure justice and protection for its particular people, just as domestic household government’s prime aim is to support and improve a particular family. When dealing with this text, Platt suggests that it is the duty of each individual government to secure justice for all people everywhere. It is obviously impossible for every national government to secure the existence and protection of all peoples all over the globe. This is not to say that there are different standards of justice for different nations, but simply that any particular government is specifically tasked with protecting its own people. Whether he acknowledges it or not, Platt’s argument becomes an easy justification for universal, one-world government.
Platt disregards any concern for our own people’s safety: “But where have we gotten the idea that Christianity is devoid of risk? Security in this world should not be prioritized over proclamation of God’s Word. As followers of Christ, self is no longer our god. Safety is no longer our ultimate concern.” This is a dishonest appraisal of the refugee crisis. It is ludicrous to suggest that those concerned with the consequences of the importation of tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants are worried about the loss of mere creature comforts. The refugee issue as it is currently framed is about the prospect of permanent resettlement for tens of thousands of Muslims into Western countries. Presumably the goal of the Left is to turn them into a new voting bloc that will faithfully support the state’s agenda that resettled them. The result of Muslim “refugee” resettlement in Europe is clearly a disaster. Muslim “refugees” have a track record of rape, murder, violence, and living off of the government as tax parasites. The problems of Scandinavia have been greatly exacerbated by the mass importation of Muslims to the point where these countries have been virtually destroyed.
To follow justice, concerned Americans must to do everything within our power to avoid these consequences of Muslim immigration in our own country. The Law certainly accommodates legitimate refugees from oppression into Israel (Deut. 23:15-16), as well as other peaceful resident foreigners. These resident sojourners were afforded the full protection of the law as it pertained to justice. The problem is that many 21st-century American Christians equate what has become known as “civil rights” with justice. This is not the case. There were many privileges reserved for ethnic, native-born Israelites. The just treatment of refugees must always take into account the rights of those native-born citizens of the host country. Not only is the resettlement of Muslim refugees in the West inefficient and ineffectual; it is also unjust. The massive redistribution of wealth from natives to foreigners, even foreigners who have legitimately been victimized by evildoers, is not the prerogative of the government. Charity can and should be extended through private initiative rather than through the state, because the wealth of the nation is not theirs to give, even for worthy causes.
This brings us to Platt’s understanding of Christian charity. Platt considers all Christians as refugees and migrants by alluding to 1 Peter 2:11 and Hebrews 11:16, wherein Christians are called strangers and pilgrims who look for a better, heavenly country. Platt states that God Himself identifies with the refugee, since the young Jesus fled with his parents from Herod. Finally, Platt sees the example of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz as an outworking of Christian love towards refugees.
Christians in a sense are pilgrims en route to permanent union with God in His kingdom. However, it is a mistake to apply this metaphor to the political context of national identity. One can be both an American national and a Christian pilgrim just as one can be both a man and a Christian. They are not mutually exclusive, nor is the spiritual identity meant to mitigate or weaken the physical one. Platt implies that national identity is entirely unimportant to a person’s intrinsic identity, the natural consequence of which is that national identity can be deconstructed or outright rejected: we should instead be “Gospel-focused” or “missional” and fulfill a warped understanding of the Great Commission. The actual Great Commission is given to the Apostles to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:19), but this means that national identity and the fulfilling of the Great Commission are in perfect harmony rather than conflict.
That God identifies “personally” with refugees due to Christ’s flight from Herod is dubious. But this analogy is poor, since a disproportionate number of “refugees” resettled so far in Europe are young and male rather than helpless women and children, as we are often told. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were temporary refugees – i.e. refugees proper – in Egypt and likely went home after only a few months. Platt also appeals to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, encouraging his listeners to meet the needs of others in a similar fashion. The misapplication of this parable turns it into but another example of the Parable of the Good Cucktian, as it is commonly understood in our pulpits today.
Platt also appeals to the case of Ruth marrying Boaz, calling Ruth a “forbidden foreigner” with reference to Deuteronomy 23:3-4 which states that Moabites were permanently excluded from the congregation of Israel. The issues that arise from the account of Ruth and her marriage to Boaz have previously been unpacked in greater detail. There are different plausible explanations for why Boaz would be allowed to marry Ruth given the exclusion of the Moabites from the congregation of Israel, but one of them is not that Boaz simply flaunted the law of God in the name of justice and mercy. Regardless of all the issues with the standard alienist interpretation of Ruth, it should be obvious that Ruth is a poor analogy to the current refugee crisis. Ruth was a single woman who had a desire to worship the God of Israel before she came to Israel (Ruth 1:16). She was not a heathen woman who insisted that she be given the right to publicly worship a false god, but this is precisely what many members of Platt’s Southern Baptist Convention are advocating.
Pastors such as Russell Moore insist that Muslims be given the right to worship their false gods as though this was foundational to the Gospel itself! Moore has even gone so far to advocate for the construction of mosques for Muslims in America under the guise of religious freedom!3 This is nothing short of idolizing the concept of religious freedom. Platt is a strong supporter of Russell Moore, and Moore has also stated his support for David Platt. Both David Platt and Russell Moore advocate for the resettlement of scores of non-Christian refugees in America under the guise of spreading the Gospel. Whatever we conclude about how apostates and those who encourage apostasy are to be handled by a Christian society, it ought to be clear that the Bible never endorses the modern abomination of state-sponsored religious indifferentism known currently as “religious freedom.”
A true Christian perspective on charity acknowledges that every one of us has limited time and resources. There are limitations to our responsibilities, and our priority must be our own people and families (1 Tim. 5:8). I admire Platt’s passionate appeals on behalf of the poor and needy, as well as his zeal for the spread of the Gospel message. I only wish Platt and other Southern Baptist leaders would exhort those at the Louisville seminary to spend as much time evangelizing the rural whites of backwoods Kentucky as they do encouraging refugee resettlement and expensive short-term missionary work.
What is the Christian response to the refugee crisis spawned by the ISIS terrorist attacks? First, Christians must have a solid understanding of what has caused the situation in Syria to become so chaotic. The truth is that ISIS is the creation of American military intervention in Syria in which our government has tried to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad at the behest of Israel. ISIS was created by the willfully (and perhaps intentionally) ignorant policies of the Obama administration in their quest to destabilize the Syrian government. The result of the ensuing chaos has been a justification for more American intervention, with blame being placed on anyone but ourselves. This is essential for Christians to understand, because most conservative Christians are entirely ignorant of the harm that has been caused by American foreign policies.
Most Christians attracted to the resettlement policies that Platt champions are equally committed to the destructive interventionist policies of the past several American presidential administrations. Many Christians are reacting in sheer horror at the prospect of the Trump administration achieving even modest reductions in immigration, deportations of criminal illegal aliens, and a civic nationalism that places the interests of America first. I know from personal experience that many of these do-gooder Christians shrieked in outrage when Ron Paul suggested that continued terrorist activity was the result of an overly aggressive American foreign policy fueling anti-American sentiment among the peoples of the Middle East. How many of these same Christians supported and continue to defend interventionist policies in the Middle East, such as those pursued by the George W. Bush administration, which have decimated many of the Christian communities in the countries that American troops have invaded?
A truly Christian response to the current refugee crisis most certainly does not involve the resettlement of large numbers of Muslims into Western countries, as David Platt and other Christians demand. There are a number of things that we ought to be doing instead. First, we ought to pray. There is no limitation to the good that can come from prayer. We ought to pray for peace to return to the countries of the Middle East and give thanks to God that peace is already being re-established, since the Syrian government has retaken control of much of the country. We also ought to pray for the conversion of all the people of the Middle East to turn away from their sin and seek forgiveness through the merits of Jesus Christ. There will be no peace in the Middle East without the Prince of Peace.
American policy should be to do whatever we can to help the lot of the Christians living in Syria and in the Middle East in general. If Americans as individuals or a nation decide to lend aid to those who have been harmed by ISIS terrorist activities, then it should be for the temporary resettlement of these people in the Middle East until they are able to return home and begin the process of rebuilding their country. Finally, Christians must become more attuned to the very real suffering of our fellow countrymen that are here already. If Christians were to follow these principles, then the Gospel would truly flourish as David Platt and other Christians so desperately desire.
- For a rebuttal of the position espoused by Platt on the matter of tongues, see “The Problem of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14” by Robert Zerhusen. ↩
- This is stated on Platt’s Infogalactic page as well as verified from his family photos online. ↩
- For more on Moore’s influence in the Southern Baptist Convention, see “Baptists Join Diverse Faith Groups to Support Mosque Building Effort,” “SBC Loses Funding Over Mosque-Building Effort,” “Worshipping Religious Liberty: SBC Joins Mosque Building Effort,” and “SBC Mosque-Builder Russell Moore Defends Rendering Unto Caesar What Belongs to God.” ↩