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I don't know how to fix the United States' broken immigration system, and I don't know how many Syrian or Turkish refugees should be admitted into this country. This is not to suggest that Christians shouldn't care deeply about both of these issues. It is to admit, however, that the issues are of such a complexity that they cannot be solved by good intentions and broad appeals to Christian compassion.

Since the horrible events in France have focused the world's attention on immediate immigration policy, let's set aside the question of what to do with those who have entered this country illegally and think about how to handle the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers who are waiting permission to enter prosperous, Western nations like the United States.

When faced with the sight of millions of men, women, and children from war-torn lands seeking a better life--or just plain life--most Christians will voice their approval for open door policies of inclusion, hospitality, and welcome. For example, in a recent Christianity Today editorial (November 2015), Mark Galli chides the United States for becoming "increasingly stingy about welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free." He considers our immigration policy "scandalous" when compared with Germany's generous decision to welcome 800,000 refugees this year. While Mark--whom I've met and whose writing I often appreciate--does not wish to deny "the real political, social, and economic challenges of welcoming more sojourners," the burden of his piece is that we not "let the gods of fear and security dictate how we respond."

My good friend Trevin Wax sounded a similar note in his Washington Post opinion piece over the weekend. With his typical readability and heartfelt sincerity, Trevin argues that one sure way to let the terrorists win is to allow ourselves to be gripped by fear. "Terrorism thrives on fear," he writes, "and fear--if left unchecked--can spread into the deepest, darkest corners of our hearts and lead to decisions and choices that, in normal times, would be unthinkable." Trevin's post is a stirring call to let compassion triumph over fear. Although Trevin acknowledges that "prudence" requires that we "enforce the strictest standards of security," his underlying concern is that fear will lead to hatred, hatred will eclipse compassion, and without compassion we will not have the courage to welcome the thousands of families and children who have been victimized by war and violence through no fault of their own. As many Christians have done, and not a few Muslims and secular writers too, Trevin cites the famous line from Thomas Aquinas in support of open-door immigration policies: ""Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts." The Christian response is compassion not fear, which means that Rick Snyder (my governor) is likely wrong, if not immoral, to suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan.

After reading Mark and Trevin, I find myself wanting to cheer on much of what they encourage. Our church has always had a vibrant international ministry and we've rallied around families trying to work through the labyrinth of U.S. immigration policies so they can stay in the country legally. I too am turned off by the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that sounds more like Pharaoh in Exodus 1 than the "love the sojourner" commands in Deuteronomy 10. It is a commendable response to see hurting people and think, "Let's do all we can to help."

And yet, this good Christian impulse runs the risk of taking an extremely complex geo-political, international crisis and reducing it to pious platitudes about showing compassion to the least of these and not giving in to fear. As I said at the beginning, I don't have a plan to fix our broken immigration system and I don't know the "correct" number of Syrian refugees to welcome into the country, but I do think there is more than one way for a Christian to approach these issues. As much as I respect my evangelical brothers like Mark and Trevin, I stumble over a few of their claims and conclusions.

First, I don't find the Aquinas quotation particularly helpful. For starters, I'm not sure he actually said it. I'm no expert on Aquinas, but after digging around my books and scouring the internet for the better part of a morning I couldn't find anyone anywhere providing attribution for this quotation. If someone knows where the line about fear and compassion comes from, let me know because I'd love to see the context. What I do know is that the Summa Theologica contains several chapters on the nature, object, causes, and effects of fear, and they present a much more nuanced picture (1a2ae, 41-44). According to Aquinas, fear is neither a virtue nor a vice, but a passion arising (1) out of love (i.e., we love someone or something that could be lost or destroyed) and (2) out of defect (i.e., our inability to overcome someone or something more powerful than ourselves). While fear--whose effects, Aquinas says, are contraction, deliberation, and trembling--can hinder our capacity for rational deliberation, it is often a motivation for seeking wise counsel and pursuing positive action. According to Aquinas, the opposite of fear is not compassion, but boldness or daring (audacia), which inspires us to meet danger head-on with the certain hope that we shall prevail (1a2ae,45). So what is the Aquinas-approved immigration plan? I don't know, but at the very least we should allow that the perfect love that casts our fear (1 John 4:18) is not the fear of terrorists entering the country and spraying a theater with bullets.

Second, the nod to security is appropriate but undeveloped. When Christians write about welcoming more refugees, there is usually some aside about the importance of taking every necessary security measure. True enough, but isn't part of the problem that the bad guys and good guys aren't always easy to distinguish? There is no way to do background checks on every Syrian refugee. I don't doubt that the vast majority of displaced persons are simply looking for peace and a new chance at life. But does anyone doubt there may also be a small number of extremists waiting in the same line? Is it unChristian to not want radical jihadists shooting people in our communities? That's hardly a far-fetched scenario. So how do we balance competing goods--the good of welcoming in suffering people and the good of keeping out those who want to inflict suffering on others? And how do we pursue these ends when it may be impossible to know if we are helping the right people? The answer is not as easy as fear versus compassion. Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away. It’s not unreasonable or unfeeling to think that in some cases supplying refugee camps with humanitarian aid or protecting safe havens elsewhere could be a responsible approach that avoids the risks of immediate resettlement in the United States.

Finally, the Christian impulse to make our immigration policy as wide as possible often fails to consider the importance of sovereign nation-states. In a timely essay entitled "Two Theories of Immigration" (First Things, December 2015), Mark Amstutz, a political science professor at Wheaton College, argues that a communitarian approach must take priority over a cosmopolitan approach. According to Amstutz, the communitarian embraces the moral duty to care for refugees, but also accepts "a concurrent obligation to maintain our own societies as stable and well-governed." The cosmopolitan approaches international affairs from a different perspective, viewing the world as a "coherent global society united by the simple fact of our common humanity, and often regard[ing] the nation-state as an impediment to international justice." While the universal ambitions of the cosmopolitan approach resonate with Christians, Amstutz maintains that good immigration policy needs to be balanced with communitarian insights about the positive goods that come from a strong sense of national unity, the realism which underscores the need for competing (and cooperating) powers, and the important role nation-states play in advancing human rights. In other words, while the cosmopolitan approach is admirable in its emphasis on inclusion and welcoming the stranger, it often fails to consider the social, economic, and security challenges which tear at the cultural cohesion necessary for human flourishing.

The issue of immigration--both for those inside the country already and for those wanting to get in--is bound to be a pressing political, international, and humanitarian concern for many years. We need Christian writers, thinkers, pastors, scholars, and activists to be a part of the conversation. My plea is that the conversation reflect the complexity of the situation and goes beyond the familiar dichotomies of love versus hate, inclusion versus exclusion, and fear versus compassion. There are too many important things, and too many human lives, at stake to move quite so quickly from solid Christian principles to simple policy prescriptions.

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108 thoughts on “Immigration Policy Must be Based on More than an Appeal to Compassion”

  1. Spenser Smith says:

    Yet, it must be chiefly, firstly, and primarily compassionate. Shame on all those who use the excuse that they love their next-door neighbor who can support themselves more than the refugee who is destitute and genuinely needs help.

  2. StevefromOhio says:

    To all of you who are busy shaming Christians who raise cautions about welcoming the Syrian refugees: it is easy to talk about the risk being small. OK, why don’t you volunteer to open your own home up to a refugee family? Call the State Department today. Can’t afford it? Too dangerous to your children? Not enough room? Hmmm. Yet you condemn others who raise concerns and cautions. Many of you are simply hypocrites. Jesus came to die to save others and we should follow his example. OK. quit your job, sell your house and move to Syria or Iraq. Until then, you aren’t really “doing what Jesus did” if you just advocate that “the government” should welcome some of the refugees, once they are “vetted,” then feed and house them (but not next door to you of course), and also send some drones to blast ISIS overseas. You want us to believe “that” policy is “like Jesus” but to suggest that we shouldn’t bring the refugees here is anti-Christian. Seriously? The Good Samaritan helped the hurting guy; he didn’t bring him home to Samaria to live with him. ISIS is at war with the west. They want to come here and kill as many people as possible. There is no sure way to “vet” every refugee. How is it compassionate to say you love your neighbor while you are putting your actual neighbors in danger by welcoming potential terrorists who have pledged to kill civilians, including women and children, while posing as refugees? I am not against bringing some of these refugees here under certain careful circumstances, but I don’t agree that bringing them to the US is the only way to be compassionate or Christ-like to them.

  3. Christian says:

    Thanks for the article Kevin. I’m very torn about this and am frustrated by the dichotomy that I’m see on this, and very nearly every, issue. I also see very little grace on either side. This is a complicated topic and I am glad to see some balance.

  4. Mark says:

    Thanks for the wise words, Kevin. I agree that we need to think thoughtfully and biblically about this.

    When I think about this situation and the response of those who want to refuse refugees until we can properly vet them, I can’t help but think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. There was certainly risk for those who chose to look in the other direction. What if the robbers came back? But the biblical picture of love is one in which we are willing to undergo risk for the sake of others.

    What people also don’t remember is that only one terrorist so far has tried to get in as a refugee. How many other thousands of terrorists have come in through other means? Should we limit immigration of Arabs or Muslims if most terrorists come from these backgrounds? Surely, no one would say so. Loving our neighbors means doing so even if it means risk. When I hear Christians say that it is not wise to let these people in until we can ensure that they won’t cause any harm, what they’re saying is we should not let them in, since there is no process that will ensure that these people are radicalized. Sitting around waiting until things are safe before we let them in reminds me too much of the priest and levite in Jesus’ parable who simply walked past the beaten man on the road to Jerusalem. Are we really willing to do that?

  5. netprophet says:

    I am really struggling to try to understand why so many Christians believe the United States is being “stingy on immigration”, “lacking in compassion”, think that “safety and security are not primary concerns of Christians” and that many of us have turned our “comfort into idolatry”.

    Between 2001 and 2013 the United States has permanently resettled 1.5 million Muslim immigrants on the heals of the brutal attacks of 911. The current rate is close to 200,000 Muslim immigrants per year. These legal immigrants are given automatic work permits, welfare access and the ability to become voting citizens. How is this being “stingy on immigration”?

    Further, the Center for Immigration Studies recently reported the fastest-growing area of immigration to the United States is the Middle East. Breitbart News reports that: “Arabic is now the most common language spoken by refugees,” and more than 91 percent of refugees from the Middle Eastern region are food-stamp recipients.

    God’s word says that the purpose of government is to promote good and to deter evil (Romans 13:3-6, I Peter 2:13-15). Letting borders be open to allow illegal criminals, drug dealers, felons etc. enter has gone on far too long and we are “not punishing those who do wrong” and not “deterring evil”. Shame on us.

    Within the context of our nation-state’s mandate to uphold Romans 13 and I Peter 2, let us be as compassionate as we can, offering the gospel, help, training, the articulating the historical fruits of Christendom – adoption, free enterprise, hospitals, education, care for the aged, science and other human services to those coming here.

    But, to suggest that there ought to be no criteria for letting people into the United States and that it is somehow “Christian” to open our borders to anyone and everyone and anti-Christian to the point of engaging in “idolizing our safety and security” violates God’s word, by putting in harm’s way the very people (those who already live here) that God says government’s are designed to protect. It is precisely the same idea of punishing wrong and deterring evil that propels Christians to abhor abortion and try to change laws that allows the killing of the unborn. Further, without the rule of law, economic liberty, security, etc., we won’t have the ability to offer the help we would otherwise like to offer.

  6. Cat says:

    I would like to appeal to the following remark: here is no way to do background checks on every Syrian refugee.
    This is a misinformed statement. All refugees go through an extremely tough vetting process. Please do a little more research. Check out the World Relief website, a Christian refugee relief organization.

  7. Kevin R. says:

    “StevefromOhio”, thank you for your wisdom, and for speaking the truth. I am awarding you the comment of the day. 100% serious. You are dead on. All of these “neighbor” and “good samaritan” commenters would never bring in a refugee into their own homes. Like you said. They don’t have room in their homes. Or not enough money. Or they don’t want a middle aged man living in the room next to their daughter.
    Oh wait.

  8. Cat says:

    I would encourage anyone who reads this article to check out World Relief’s Facebook page where they have a video that explains the LENGTHY vetting process that every single Refugee goes through when they enter our country. These are Christians who understand refugees better than any of us. This is not a new thing. Refugees enter all the time. And they all go through security checks.

    And check out this link.

    Remember to research and pray before making sweeping statements.

  9. Mark says:

    Kevin R., why do you assume that no one would bring in a refugee into their home? So Christians in America don’t welcome in the wandering strangers? They don’t welcome in refugees? Don’t know what kinds of Christians you know. I know Christians who live in poor communities with their families where many Muslim immigrants live so they can reach out them. Is there risk? Yes. You seem to assume that since there is risk and so few Christians around you are doing anything, this justifies not reaching out to these people in love, the vast majority of whom are poor families struggling to get by.

    Also, it’s not hypocritical to say we should welcome refugees to America while we don’t take any refugees in ourselves (though I’m not saying we shouldn’t). That’s like saying it’s hypocritical for someone to say we should send missionaries to those who have never heard the gospel around the world when we don’t go ourselves. Really? Every single Christian who believes in missions is called to give up all they have and go overseas? No, we are called by the Lord differently. Some are called to go, but not all. Some in America may be called to accept refugees into their home, many won’t be. I just think your negative attitude and suspicion of a huge group of people is not Christ-like. Where is your desire to share the gospel with these people? What greater opportunity than this is there for the church in America to love these people and share the gospel with them? They are coming to our doorstep. Especially the CHURCH and not individuals should partner together to welcome in these refugees that we might win them to Christ. Your response and the response of so many others seems to be, “It’s not worth it if 1 out of 100,000 is potentially a terrorist.”

  10. Kevin R. says:

    I think it was Piper – in one of his books – who said that with regards to global missions you are either going, sending, or disobedient. I agree.
    I’m addressing the people on this post who are shaming Christians for not wanting our sovereign nation’s borders overwhelmed by middle-aged men who have no skills, don’t speak English, likely have no desire to work, invent, or contribute. Rather they are seeking handouts (social services). I’m speaking in generalities, but you and I both know that is true for the bulk of these illegals.
    Ok, so back to your comparison to global missions. Let’s not be naive and call this a “missional” opportunity. Are you honestly going to house them? Ok, no. Now are you honestly going to be seeking out relationships with these men? With the intention to convert them to the Gospel? If you are, fantastic. My point is that MOST of the “christian blogger” types are talking-the-talk in a Pharisaical fashion. They have zero intention of doing anything in reality.
    Ok, so with missions we are either going, sending, or disobedient.
    With refugees, we are either housing/feeding them, funding someone else to house/feed them, or disobedient.
    Could you agree w/ that?
    My issue is putting the burden of housing/feeding illegals on the TAX PAYER. Our country simply CANNOT afford it. Plain and simple. We cannot afford to give adequate care to our own vets at the VA hospitals. Why in the world would we ever entertain such a economically insane notion?
    ****** Remember, the Good Samaritan used his own cash. He didn’t put the cost of the inn on a tab, and wait for the other tax paying citizens to take care of it.

  11. Victora says:

    Thank you for your balanced view on this very serious problem. I do believe that some of those who are shaming others because they want their families to be safe from terrorism are not genuine. It’s cool to say “do not fear”, and it’s very easy to say it while sitting in the comfort of home sipping coffee.

    My family history from WWII is that my mother, grandmother and uncle were overtaken by the Nazis, had their home burned down, were sent to the trains to be imprisoned in a labor camp in another country for three years, and then were liberated with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Is that what people want for their families? Of course not, but that and worse is what could and probably would happen if terrorists are unknowingly allowed in our country because we must let every suffering person in. We as Christians must have compassion, but we must also use the brains God gave us. If the jihadists take over the US, where will we go? Jesus said in MATT 24 to head for the mountains, when the abomination of desolation comes. Doesn’t that show that He is allowing us to protect ourselves? There are no easy answers. I am praying that the Lord would lead me to think rightly about it all.

  12. Michael Neterer says:

    “… pious PLATITUDES about showing compassion to the least of these…” ?! Brother, these words are not a platitude, but obedience to them is the difference between the lake of fire and the Father’s kingdom according to our coming King Jesus in Matthew 25. Yes, immigration policy is a complex issue for our state and national leaders, but let us ministers of the Gospel of the Coming Kingdom of Jesus Messiah help our disciples be on the right side of HisStory when He comes back to judge the nations. It’s only a platitude when it’s mouthed by those who don’t obey. For those of us who have pledged allegiance to the King of kings, let’s seek His Kingdom first and consider our national security a lower priority. All that can be shaken will be shaken, but His is the unshakable Government, amen?

  13. Michael says:

    Has anyone seen what’s been going on in Germany?

  14. Jayson says:

    I hear some of you saying that we Christians calling for letting in the refugees wouldn’t allow them into our homes. I hear the same argument about pro-choice people saying no one is adopting the unwanted children. We as Christians know that to be a lie, and many of us have and are willing to adopt, for we too are adopted. The same holds for me, I will gladly let a family stay with me, and sleep in my home, under my roof – and I would give it all for Christ…each and every time! I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but we should struggle to do all we can to love others as ourselves.

  15. Eric says:

    This feel like a commentary by someone who isn’t really an expert or even educated on the issue of imagration. TGC isn’t the best source for every subject.

  16. Of course there is the other side of the coin. The west unites, builds decent refugee camps in safe eastern countries, then sends in a allied force stops the fighting, replaces their horrible governments with compassionate ones, we pay to rebuild their smashed countries and send them home. Based on history it will last a few years and then it will revert back to the way it was. Afghanistan is a great example of this. So where to now? Back to what to do with refugees.

  17. Nathan Walker says:


    Refugees are taken in every year from a multitude of countries, and have to be approved by the United Nations among other organizations as a part of a lengthy background check. The process can take months, even years.

    The government is deciding to stop accepting Syrian refugees only, a people group who ISIS has specifically targeted. And there have been zero verified ISIS members infiltrating society through refugee programs. One *single* Syrian was possibly associated with the attack in Paris. For half of our country to *stop* taking in an entire nation just because of this fact is absurd, as though the variable “nationality” is massively more important than the fifty other things on their refugee application.

    So – No, I believe it is veiled Islamophobia / Middle-easterner-phobia if you will, that is behind this. There is simply no justifiable reason other than the illusory correlation that people are grabbing as low-hanging fruit.

  18. Jax says:

    During WW2, Christians and others risked everything, including their lives to hide Jews from the Nazis. They knew the risks they were taking and they did it anyway. Out of compassion for others. SMH. We have fallen so low. We are so weak and so selfish. Nobody should ever refer to America as a “Christian” nation ever again. Our enemies have won, because we have been conquered by fear.

  19. WoundedEgo says:

    Michael, the Nazi propaganda you posted is just that – Nazi propaganda.

  20. David says:

    So I see a car broken down on the side of the road, do I stop to help?
    It could be a trap, it could be a thief or a murderer and I have my kids in the car with me! What to do? Besides I’m a pastor and I’m on my way to church and I’m not sure I have time.

    Stopping might put me in danger and my kids in danger and make me late for church… so I should at least love my kids and fulfill my responsibilities to others before I stop and help.

    Fear and insecurity that are masked in the terms “wisdom” and “responsible” keep us further away from acting on Jesus’ words and rob our kids and congregations from a visible radical faith that trusts God relentlessly beyond just this life.

    Jesus’ words are painfully clear that we not fear those who can kill the body.

    ““Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭10:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬

  21. Rebecca says:

    We should see Jesus in the face of every Syrian Refugee. End of debate.

    Matthew 25:31-46New International Version (NIV)

    The Sheep and the Goats
    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  22. Scott Roper says:

    Rebecca, that passage is about helping Christians (these brothers and sisters of mine). Certainly there are Christians among the refugees, but there are other passages that better address our obligation to the sojourner in general.

  23. Rob says:

    There is good data on refugees in the US. From an article in The Economist, “Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq”

    There’s good historical data about WW II and refugees summarized in this Washington Post article.

  24. Rebecca says:

    Prove to me this passage only requires us to help fellow Christians?

  25. Joe M says:

    “The Christian response is compassion not fear, which means that Rick Snyder (my governor) is likely wrong, if not immoral, to suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan.” Most of your piece I appreciate, but this line, not so much. Some policies are immoral, but I would argue very few. Slowing down immigration is no more immoral than regulating food stamps. We can’t afford to simply “fix” the world, even if we actually could.

  26. Marta says:

    Kevin DeYoung, always staying on the surface…

    For starters, Kevin fails to acknowledge how the numbers of refugees that come to the US are (surprise) proportionally related to the US international politics messes. We did not think about the “political, social, and economic challenges of welcoming more sojourners” when we sent the CIA in a covert operation to screw up a country because we wanted a piece of their national produce. We pretend we can go all over the place doing whatever we please and pretending that’s not going to have an impact on our own soil. Next time we invade a country, that’s when we should have in mind “the security of our next-door neighbor,” and not when the people of that destroyed country asks us for asylum. He argues for a realist approach instead of a cosmopolitan approach. Is this realist enough for Kevin?

    Also, he baits into the debate of refugee screening, when nobody who’s arguing for open doors, is arguing for no-screening.

    He also fails to challenge the church’s assumption that this land is ours to manage, as if we didn’t steal it in the first place, making this conversation as illegitimate as our country is.

    He approaches the subject as if the impulse of “let’s do all we can to help,” as he puts it, it’s like we’re going an extra mile, and not our plain responsibility, the very minimum acceptable nobody should thank us for because it’s just our job, regardless of what Aquinas said (I’m assuming Kevin also believes Deuteronomy has more authority than Aquinas?).

    Finally, Kevin shows a great deal of ignorance of the refugee acceptance process, by saying that he’s “not sure that they can run background checks on all Syrian refugees.” It makes me wonder, why is he even opening his mouth about something he knows nothing about.

    While we don’t have any moral problems with the way we treat other countries, we suddenly become so morally picky when it comes to reaping the effects of what we sow. Too late.

    Kevin is right when he says this is a complex issue. And this are all the complexities he’s too blind to consider.

  27. Cody says:

    You do know, David, that there are a great many more refugees than there would be people in the car? More people=greater likelihood of dangerous people. I’m not saying there isn’t a good argument that countries should try to help more refugees, and be less suspicious of Syrians. I’m saying your argument wasn’t it.

  28. R says:

    Kevin, as a pastor with the kind of platform you have, I encourage you to write and speak on sin-issues only. Immigration, helping refugees, etc. are personal preferences. Christians can be on both sides of the debate, and that’s okay. With posts like these, you’re just fomenting misunderstanding and anger (as the comments section shows). Worse, you are influencing people who may not have informed opinions on these issues yet. This is an irresponsible use of your presence on the internet. I am happy to read about your thoughts on God’s laws and the gospel message, but immigration??? Will your hubris lead you to write a post on which presidential candidate we should vote for too? You are leaving very little freedom for Christians to form their own opinions on things that are outside of God’s law.

  29. Christina says:

    These issues may be personal preferences, but upon what are personal preferences to be established? They are not separate from the whole counsel of scripture. By Kevin providing his careful, humble perspective on this extremely difficult issue, we are able to use these points to contemplate the attitude and actions that God is directing each of us towards. Immigration and helping refugees are personal preferences only so far as our individual thoughts and actions. My father was director for a refugee organization for 20 years, so I certainly don’t come from the perspective of blocking their entry, but refugee entry has become far more complex.
    God’s Word is to shape all other matters, including immigration. I find it very helpful that Kevin would share his thoughts with us as he depends on the counsel of the Word. As 2 Peter 1:3 reminds us, Jesus’ divine power has granted us all we need for THE MATTERS OF LIFE AND GODLINESS through our knowledge of Him.
    How do we love our neighbors YET protect our families–even against only potential threat? Clearly, there is no simple answer, but wise counsel based on God’s word is what should shape the perspective.

  30. WJR says:

    I find R’s request that the author not speak out on this issue very telling. It is as if “R” were attempting to silence dissenting voices. “R” even admits to being afraid that “uninformed” people might be persuaded. It seems “R” would have the ‘uninformed’ informed only by his own perspective.

  31. From what I can see a blog is a blog and can canvass diverse topics. However, some topics will attract more robust responses than others. Fair mind people will be informed by the total thread of contributions. This is good, scripture calls on us to renew our minds daily through scripture, which then helps us to weigh up what we encounter daily. In this case it would seem when you break something like a countries government expect ramifications like a refugee calamity. The coalition of the willing broke a number of countries by waging war (for what seemed like good reasons) but with very bad outcomes. Now the middle east is falling to bits. No surprise really.

  32. CHRIS. C. says:

    Dear Kevin, …… In Revelation 21:8 (kjv) ….. It lists those heading for the “2nd death” …… top of the list is the “fearful” ……. would anyone therefore really like to accociate themselves with that group ……. after that verse what more can be said about fear ??? What Tommy Aquinas says may be interesting but surely, for the Christian, what Jesus says is of More interest ???

  33. Jon Stolpe says:

    This is a topic that is stretching me for sure. I agree that we must be careful to rush to judgement on the issue, but I’m concerned with the overall rhetoric on both sides that is either bashing the conservatives or calling for immediate, unvetted entry into the United States.

    As I ponder the topic, I choose to wrestle first with the meaning of refuge. In my blog post yesterday (Refuge – ), I took a slightly different angle. We are all in need of refuge, and there is One who can provide the safe haven we all need.

  34. Tim Cunningham says:

    @ Rebecca – The words “brothers of mine” suggest believers not the world.

  35. Carolyn Putney says:

    Kevin, Thank you for your research, both Biblical, and from the perspective as an American citizen, on this topic that seems to have as many opinions as there are words in Webster’s word book! I live not far from MSU and know you are exposed to students from all over the world in your church, and given your congregation, that exposure reaches even further. We don’t live all that far from Dearborn, which has a huge Muslim population, and we have a sizeable number in the Lansing/East Lansing/Okemos and Haslett communities. Locally, we have managed to live quite well side by side. We don’t hear much about demands to change how we live, and we don’t seem to say much about what they do. So, when you offer your perspective, I am listening, because there is more you know about what God’s Word says than I do. You and those in your congregation know these Muslim neighbors better than I do. Thus, you present a knowledge I can seek wisdom from, apply it to the wisdom I ask the Holy Spirit to share with me in the Word and through prayer, and come away with what I can be sure is God’s will for me in response, whatever form that He guides me.
    For people, especially Christians, to accuse one another of only one absolute answer to this complex matter, it quite pious in my opinion. To accuse another of fear and no compassion, is wrong. To accuse one of foolish compassion without seeking wisdom, is wrong. Any extreme is wrong, and foolish. Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” It was intended to lead us to serious prayer for God to guide His people in living faithfully; by the right priorities.
    It is this wisdom that seems remarkably absent from so many comments. There was another time when my heart and mind was overwhelmed with seeking His will for a very serious problem in our family. I searched and prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me to what God had to show me in the Word. I prayed for a answer, and after a long while, where I was nearly on my face to God seeking His will, in his timing he gave it to me. This whole matter has affected me in similar fashion, probably because my daughter, whom I love dearly, and I are on opposite opinions in this matter. It is not comfortable. You see, she says they should come without reservation, and has used the quote by Aquinas about fear driving g out compassion. By the way, I posted your two blogs regarding that. Thank you. I am older and tend to be more cautious, exercising a search for wisdom.
    In the process, I have been accused of hating Muslims. Of having little compassion for the innocent people killed in the wars our government has “perpetrated against these people, and that is okay because the lives were Muslim, right?” Told I am not trusting God for my safety. That if they were to come and turn around and kill us that would be helpful in showing them Jesus because we loved them unconditionally, as Jesus loved us. Furthermore, they would gladly sacrifice their life, and those of their childrens’ for the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. .That if they ended up destroying this Western nation, nothing was going to happen outside of God’s will, anyway, and if it happened sooner than later, how bad would that be? One person even hinted that perhaps it would hasten Christ’s return!
    There is another part of this that some seem to politically correct and afraid of offending someone, but I don’t go there….. There has been a lot of unsteady groundwork laid by the Obama Administration leading up to this, which makes a open door policy for these refugees foolish, in my opinion. I remember a time when there was a lot of pride in this country of ours. And it was hard fought for! There is American blood that has seeped into the soil of nearly every continent on this earth, and a great deal of it was to help a whole lot more people there than here. Whenever there was trouble, we were the first ones called to help, and American men and women did it willingly. No other country has made that sacrifice for us. But, in the last seven years, under Obama’s leadership (?) we have regressed from world leader to a laughing stock. Our military is weak, with not even enough ships to deploy our Marines. He makes apologies for us for whatever transgression he thinks our men and women have died for in keeping many of these Afghan, Iraqi, and others safe and alive from the very terrorists that are killing them! Interesting when it is Christians who are being killed, but only make up less than 50+ of the refugees coming. He has opened our southern border to drug dealers, killers, etc., and given them sanctuary cities. He has set racial tensions back decades. Our job situation is worse than ever. We have a people who have an entitlement mentality, that is already being supported by tax payers, and Christian social programs such as food pantries. My point? Our country can’t continue to do this until we decide wisely where our money is going to go! Obama hasn’t just taken the lock off the door, he has taken the door off the hinges. Wise? NO! Foolish? And then some! Until our country is in better shape, our enemies know their killing agenda will not be tolerated, then the result will be like throwing pearls (our children) to swine (terrorists/ISIS/Muslims with ties to evil. This is the reality behind this situation that makes our response complicated.
    But people, PLEASE, do not assume those on whatever side of the fence they are on, don’t care. They they don’t have compassion leaking out of them. That they aren’t wanting to do Christ’s will. That they don’t recognize the mercy Christ showed them and desire to share His love with others, refugees or someone else. Quit judging them because by the same measure you judge them, you, too, will be judged. I’m referring to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not Muslim refugees. Jesus did not tell us not to judge, but gave us instructions about how we are to judge: with wisdom based on His Word!
    Jesus is going to return. We were told to expect prosecution. As Christians we are going to have to be strong, building one another up, not tearing each other apart! It is that which the terrorists want, what the enemy wants. Because when we are focused on that, we aren’t focused on the redeeming work Jesus is accomplishing in us. We aren’t focused on his Word. And, when we are called to stand for Jesus or be killed, we will fall. When Jesus returns our lamp will have run out of oil. No more than it is wrong to be compassionate, no more than it is wrong to be prudent, it is not wrong, either, to love this country God has blessed us with, to honor those who have fought for the freedoms we all enjoy, and to want to keep her strong. If she goes down, God will decide when and how. We should not hasten it along. THAT is foolishness!
    Could I encourage you all to read I Thessalonians 5? Verse 11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Are we?

  36. John Wallace says:

    Reminder: It is generally considered good practice to ignore trolls in comment streams.

    Thank you for your thoughts, Kevin. I do think governments have a responsibility to keep an orderly society which necessitates exercising reasonable control over our borders. Yet I also believe that we have a responsibility to show compassions to victims of persecution. I am not and expert on the vetting process for refugees; my understanding is that it is as thorough as is possible. What deeply concerns me is that Christians in our country have embraced attitudes that essentially dehumanize the victims of ISIS. Many seem unwilling to risk our security one iota for the welfare of victims who have been persecuted, stripped of their possessions, and driven from their homes. I cannot imagine that Christ would endorse such an attitude.

  37. Natalie Williams says:

    Author and speaker Jill Briscoe recalls:

    In Croatia I was asked to speak to a church gathering for about 200 newly arrived refugees. Refugees from this area of the world are mostly women because the men are either dead or in camp or fighting. This group of Muslims, Croats, and a few Serbs had fled to a seminary on the border of a battered Croatian town. The town was still in danger of sniper fire and bombing, but the church had escaped because there were apartment buildings between it and the guns. Attackers had tried to fire shells over the apartment buildings to the seminary, but they hadn’t managed to do it, so it became the refugee receiving and feeding place.

    We worked all day visiting with the refugees. At night a service was held in this huge, old church, and I had to speak. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had prepared seemed totally inadequate, so I put my notes away and prayed, “God, give me creative ideas they can identify with.”

    I told them about Jesus, who as a baby became a refugee. He was hunted by soldiers, and his parents had to flee to Egypt at night, leaving everything behind. I could tell the people began to click with what I was saying. I kept praying like crazy.

    I continued telling them about Jesus’ life, and when I got to the cross, I said, “He hung there naked, not like pictures tell you.” They knew what that meant. Some of them had been stripped naked and tortured.

    At the end of the message, I said, “All these things have happened to you. You are homeless. You have had to flee. You have suffered unjustly. But you didn’t have a choice. He had a choice. He knew all this would happen to him, but he still came.” And then I told them why.

    Many of them just knelt down, put their hands up, and wept. I said, “He’s the only one who really understands. How can I possibly understand, but he can. This is what people did to him. He’s the suffering God. You can give your pain to him.”

    Citation: Jill Briscoe, “Keeping the Adventure in Ministry,” Leadership Journal (Summer 1996)

  38. Scott Roper says:

    Rebecca, Tim already answered your question to me. “These brothers and sisters of mine” clearly refer to Christians, those for whom Christ was made the firstborn among many brothers. But you imputed more meaning to my words than is there. All I said is that this passage is only about helping Christians, not that we shouldn’t help unbelievers.

  39. GP says:

    If nothing else it is interesting (and eye opening) to see the wide range of opinions expressed here, some coming from a one-liner, single verse mentality to others that are more systematic. I appreciate Kevin’s systematic theology approach of looking at this issue. It is the correct approach, as opposed to single verses and one-liners that hardly approach things biblically or logically.
    I am commanded to love my neighbor and sojourner just as I am commanded to love my enemy. I am not sure if the majority of these refugees fall into the latter category or not. I can easily believe they do, because our government has been dropping bombs in their country for something like 5 years now, killing their families, their friends and destroying the infrastructure they depend on to live their lives.
    It is folly to believe these economic refugees don’t have a political and religious opinion about us and our government, which they will view as essentially the same thing. I am quite sure it is not a positive opinion, and without a Western or Christian ethic as part of their philosophical world and life view, I am not encouraged about peaceful outcomes in the long term.
    These refugees may or may not fall into the category of enemy, but if so, does scripture mandate that I would want our government to allow a potentially violent enemy to live next to me? I just don’t see it. I do not want to sow the seeds of an Islamic, violent, terrorism plagued America for my children and grandchildren to live in 20 years from now, a la France and the rest of Western Europe. Not all fear is sinful or irrational.
    Assuming they could all be vetted as peaceful (which is impossible), are we then called to allow anybody that falls under the moniker of “refugee” to be dumped onto our shores like cattle from a box car? Does this truly love my neighbor? These are people who are not employable, don’t speak the language and will go immediately on welfare, a slow acting poison from which they will very likely never return.
    Is this loving my neighbor, compared to all the other possibilities such as relocating them to other Islamic nations and helping with those logistics of travel, food, medicine, etc.? Wouldn’t we want economic/political refugees to be settled in a country in a region nearby with similar customs, religion, work ethic, etc., for their sake as much as ours?
    If we are going to allow refugees, it should be strictly controlled. As with all immigrants, their presence should benefit our nation as much as it benefits them.
    Scripture does not mandate that we as Christians demand our (ungodly and evil) national government to police the whole world or solve its numerous problems. Indeed, when we (we the U.S.) attempt to do so, it usually gets worse.

  40. Nicole says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for making me feel not quite so alone in my quest to seek out what should be done here! I feel completely disheartened and misunderstood by the oversimplifications being made on both sides. People are missing each other in the back and forth. I am all about being radical for Christ WHEN I am sure the Holy Spirit is leading me there. But if not, then good intentions can be disastrous. Would we coach a battered woman to stay with her husband in the name of compassion? No, not always. Probably never. The point being, there are times when compassion is not really the heart of the issue. I love Jesus when he says in the Bible that no one TAKES his life from him but he willingly lays it down. This is so significant. This means Jesus had the authority to CHOOSE to lay his life down for others. It wasn’t simply taken from him. Proper boundaries that promote freedom set in place an opportunity for willing Americans to embrace their neighbor and lay their lives down willingly out of love. Poor boundaries defeat that freedom and ultimately self control and actually extinguish the opportunity for willing self sacrifice. This is a complex issue. Love is a delicate blend of truth and there is never a one size fits all answer when it comes to love. Sometimes love is tough…sometimes love must show restraint. Sometimes love is overwhelming grace, sometimes love is speaking hard truths. LOVE is complex. So I would have a lot more faith to take a leap if I knew my Christian bothers and sisters were acknowledging this truth. I am still stuck in the middle on this issue. Wrote a blog post yesterday appropriately titled “I don’t know” :) And I still don’t.

  41. Nicole says:

    Sorry that is supposed to say Love is a blend of truth AND grace :)

  42. William McPherson says:

    When I look at the conflict with this issue, I cannot help but see how are society and our Pax Americana, have colored our perception of what a “stable” society is. It is fascinating that the very Europeans who are most at risk for further acts of terrorism, who many are not Christian, are willing to take in far more than the measly 10,000 people the United States plans to take in. If they have the courage to risk “destabilizing” their societies to show outrageous love and compassion, why don’t we? When I read scripture I see a Jesus who was willing to do just about anything to declare and demonstrate the character of God: holiness mixed in with overwhelming love. I just can’t fathom the idea that Jesus would tell us to prefer the peace of mind of our middle-class, comfortable neighbor over a refugee who is fleeing from the horrors of war. Some people have said quick quips like, “Well, let one stay in your house!” First, I think there is a confusion among us concerning “housing” refugees and granting refugees asylum. This is not the pre-Revolutionary War, no one is forcing you to keep a refugee in your house, though we have to ask the question of why that sounds so crazy and offensive to us. Refugees who come would be assisted my the government into settling into neighborhoods just like anyone else, and Christians should make such people feel loved and welcomed, opening the doors to the Gospel. As DeYoung mentions, we already have Muslims in the United States, and may I add sort of committing atrocities like violating freedom of religion or internment camps, that is not going to change. You don’t have to be a radical, fundamentalist Islamic- nihilist follower of ISIS to be a terrorist; we have plenty of those shooting up schools and movie theaters ourselves. The argument that we need to protect ourselves is undermined by the very way the world works: most of the world is fearful for their lives every day…why are we the exception? Jesus calls us to live a life that is not afraid of the death that consumes the minds of the rest of our world…because death does not have the last word for us. I think it also reveals that we may be way too attached to earthly existence; I love my wife, my church, my family…but if those things become more dominant in my life than being an ambassador of the kingdom and my King, then that is idolatry no matter what good “common sense” arguments I throw out there. Yes, it is terrifying to think about being sprayed with bullets, blown up, or beheaded in the fashion of ISIS’ executions. But at the end of the day, the rest of the world who follows Christ goes through it, why am I the exception? Why is my family the exception? Do I really believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain…even if that death was horrible and brutal. Its not that safety and security is wrong, its that they are illusions that do not exist. I could die of an aneurysm while typing these words, I could go out to town and get hit by a car, I could walk through my own neighborhood and abducted and murdered…there are so many ways that I can die. Our lives are not our own, God decides when we live and die and there is nothing we can do about that. Do we as one person put it “lean into risky compassion,” or do we lean toward taking care of ourselves, our wealthy neighbor, or our affluent society at the expense of the poor, the broken, and the marginalized? It is the same argument used by people who wanted to avoid “the ghettos” of the inner city; soon to be the suburbs; if we can’t see that maybe we ought to give it a second glance. Jesus said if you try to gain the whole world, you will lose it; but if you lose the world, for his sake, then you will find it. The stronger we cling to our comfort, safety, security, affluence, or whatever fills in the blank, the larger the crowbar God uses to pry our hands off. So, do we believe him? Our government may keep every single refugee completely out; that’s their prerogative. But it is our prerogative to fight for their welfare, their chance to live in the safety we feel entitled to; even if it is at the expense of ourselves or even the ones we love. Is God sovereign and is God good? If so, let’s seek to be like Christ reckless abandon, giving him the opportunity to speak to our dying, sin-soaked world with truth and holy-love.


  43. RCO says:

    I have been so disappointed and offended by Christians in America over the past 3 weeks. I, at some level am embarrased over what is happening. Christian authors writing articles implying our faith is not genuine if you are not “for” bringing the Syrian refugees here. It’s like they aren’t even using their minds or their God given intellect to think this through. It’s all about evangelism and converting Muslims in the future America. When I ‘ve even dared to challenge them/or their readers with “what if’s” or “fiscal facts” or constitutional concerns i’ve been told I may not even be a true believer. I am amazed at how American Christendom has suddenly become a free for all to see what Christians can be devoured for their daring to think the issue through. These authors and pastors in my opinion are opportunists and have lost my respect in the past few weeks. This article is extremely well thought out and addresses the issues I have been thinking through myself. Thank you for being an island in this midst of the carnage of Christian opportunists in America 2015.

    There is alot more to this issue than a simple one dimensional perspective of “you either love your neighbor or you hate your neighbor(ie refugees)”. This is wayyyyy more than a Christian issue. This is way more than a “neighborly” issue. This is a constitutional, governmental, security issue and the evangelists are practically drooling all over themselves to make this about them and their need for converts.

    I am truly disenchanted with our Christian authors and leaders after all of this.

  44. Mitchell says:

    Of all the blog posts I’ve ever read from The Gospel Coalition, this may be the only one that doesn’t cite Scripture even once in favor of its position.

    The only mention of the Good Book is a confession that Deuteronomy 10 is… well, pretty much an immigration policy based on an appeal to compassion (specifically, imitation of God’s past compassion toward Israel).

    I’m less than impressed, especially coming from a guy who wrote a book called “Taking God At His Word.”

  45. DWK says:

    While I agree that security concerns are valid, I would like to push back on two points you made above.

    1. “There is no way to do background checks on every Syrian refugee.” This is just blatantly false. Several government and non-governmental agencies have described the stringent vetting process given to *every* refugee applying for status and the *extra* precautions that are being taken with Syrian refugees. Now, are they perfect background checks? No, of course not. No one can guarantee perfect safety, but they’re record shows almost perfect success.

    2. “It’s not unreasonable or unfeeling to think that in some cases supplying refugee camps with humanitarian aid or protecting safe havens elsewhere could be a responsible approach that avoids the risks of immediate resettlement in the United States.” We have been supplying camps with humanitarian aid, but they’re running out of space. The U.S. has offered safe haven for 10,000 Syrian refugees. There are over 4 million in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan right now. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s asking too much to take in the small number we’ve agreed to. Also this notion of “immediate resettlement” is incredibly misleading. The average wait time for a refugee to get status in the U.S. is 18-24 months; for a Syrian refugee it’s 24-36 months. That’s 2-3 YEARS. Hardly immediate by anyone’s standards.

  46. Greg Rogers says:

    Pretty good article my brother. This is such a complex issue indeed. I agree that my having concern about jihadists entering disguised as a down and out refugee is not a lack of courage. I would add that approving the immigration of these refugees to be assimilated into the US should not be immediately classified as “compassion” either! There are some in this country who would like to see America having more reflections of Islamic faith than Christian and there are some who believe the religion of tolerance of all religion…and both of these ideas are coupled with the belief that they are better implemented by increases of the assimilation of other faiths including the Islamic faith in this country. So am I automatically “compassionate” to go with a plan that undergirds such ideologies? And who is to say that a muslim moving into this country is more likely to come to grips with their sin and the need of our Savior than in their own country? Am I compassionate to wish they come here not knowing what conclusions they make about Jesus in such a move? And the US is not the church, is it? A country makes laws to protect its people. I have to think on this a minute but I believe we not only need to be careful about equating church with a country, but in addition to be careful about cornering leaders making decisions for a country into the same parameters which the institutions of the family and individuals within it are guided by the words of Jesus in His Word for compassionate courageous living. Loaded topic. God please guide your Bride through these times!

  47. Chris Erwin says:

    I’m seeing in this debate a fundamental problem — a false assumption that the commands of Christ to individual believers are also binding on civil government. This is a fundamental logical and biblical error. Civil government is not obligated to “show compassion” — individual Christians, and Christian churches, are. Civil government is tasked with doing justice (Rom. 13). That means treating people as they deserve. This, by implication, means the government needs to know who people are, their circumstances and their actions, and then to act accordingly. And this means our nation’s immigration policy must be careful; vetting must be vigorous. If (and notice the word “if”) the civil government is confident a person is not here to do violence, then the just (and the compassionate) thing to do would be to permit them in. And then Christians could do what they’re commanded to do — show mercy and compassion.

    If an American Christian truly feels compelled to show mercy and compassion to refugees, and believes their civil government is in the wrong by not letting in large numbers when there’s open concern about potential terrorists being let in, they have the option of themselves going to these war-torn regions and serving in refugee camps. There certainly is great need, and no one should violate their conscience.

  48. GP says:

    Excellent points from both Greg Rogers and Chris Erwin.

  49. James M. says:

    Yes, Chris Erwin. After reading through comments awash with improper conflation, your having taken the time to enunciate what needs to be said is welcome to these eyes. Thanks for that.

  50. Yva says:

    According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350.
    In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S. and found that between 2001 and 2013, there were 3,030 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism.* This brings the total to 3,380.
    Using numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2001 to 2013, 406,496 people died by firearms on U.S. soil. (2013 is the most recent year CDC data for deaths by firearms is available.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide.
    *Includes the following domestic terrorism incidents:
    September 11 attacks (NY, DC, PA) 9/11/01
    2001 Anthrax attacks (DC, NY, CT, FL) Oct., Nov. 2001
    El Al counter shooting (California) 7/4/02
    Beltway sniper attacks (DC, Mid-Atlantic) Oct. 2002
    Knoxville church shooting (Tennessee) 7/27/08
    Pittsburgh police officers killed (Pennsylvania) 4/4/09
    Tiller abortion clinic (Kansas) 5/31/09
    Holocaust Museum shooting (DC) 6/10/09
    Fort Hood shooting (Texas) 11/5/09
    Plane crash into Austin IRS building (Texas) 2/18/10
    Fort Stewart Army base killing (Georgia) 12/10/11
    Sikh Temple Shooting (Wisconsin) 8/7/12
    St. John’s Parish police ambush (Louisiana) 8/16/12
    Boston Marathon Bombing (Massachusetts) 4/15/13
    LAX Shooting (California) 11/05/13

    Check out how many of those domestic terrorism acts were carried out by white American citizens. Then reflects…

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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