The Vatican recently released Pope Francis’ message for the 104th Day of Refugees and Migrants. As we’ve seen from this pope in the past, his messages contain a variety of moral imperatives. So what does the Holy Father think constitutes the proper treatment of refugees and migrants?

The Pope’s message can be boiled down to 4 verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.

  1. Welcome, “ offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally.  This calls for a concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families.” Pope Francis goes on to say that, “[c]ollective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.”
  2. Protect, is an extension of the first imperative: to welcome. He argues that the welcoming process “must be ongoing, as far as possible, in the country of migration, guaranteeing them adequate consular assistance, the right to personally retain their documents of identification at all times, fair access to justice, the possibility of opening a personal bank account, and a minimum sufficient to live on.”
  3. Promote, “ a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator.”
  4. Integrate, “concerns the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees.  Integration is not “an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, contact with others leads to discovering their ‘secret’, to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better.”

Each of these four verbs share, in the Pope’s explanation, an assumption that the refugee’s burden falls on the society to which the refugee has fled. If refugees flee to Poland, Poland must carry the burden by welcoming them, providing for them financially and otherwise, without the expectation that they will assimilate to their new home.

Why should this burden land solely upon the society to which refugees go? Where is the guilt laid upon the dysfunctional societies and governments from which these people flee? Why not lay the burden of reintegrating their own people on them?

The Pope has ignored a few things that fundamentally undermine his case.

Biblical Views on the State

It is true, as the Bible says, that the faithful are to accept strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware. The Torah commands us to not oppress the stranger and sojourner in our midst. The Gospels command that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves, as the Good Samaritan did. But all of these commands are given in the personal sphere of life, to persons. Individual Christians and their churches are to keep these commands, as they come from God.

Where is it found in the Bible that the State must enact these biblical commands via secular law? The State and the laws it declares are essentially coercive instruments. Laws are designed to deter us from actions which we might otherwise take and to compel us to do things we might otherwise avoid.

Coercion of this sort is not an act of Christian love. Philosopher Ronald Nash tells us, “The State’s required use of force is logically incompatible with the nature and demands of love.” Christians are called to live under the State, duke, king or emperor, in peace, to the best of our ability.

Thankfully not all churches have followed Pope Francis on this issue. Members of Reformation 21 and the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada have given decent responses to the migrant crisis. The Canadian Baptist Loren Balisky reminds his fellows that incoming refugees are persons, made in God’s image, and that the Christian is to treat individuals as beloved by Christ. Nowhere does he declare that refugees have a right to a Christian’s property. His reflections are a reminder that, no matter how we may feel politically, God’s command to welcoming the stranger still holds.

What is a Conservative to do?

Conservatives, some of whom are Christian, share a similar goal. Neither group asserts the desire to coerce others into life as we live it. Our aim is to live in peace with our fellow citizens. We can allow some to join the life of our nation, as citizens equal to ourselves, but that citizenship is not a right. If it is a right, then an unjust burden falls on the receiving society. This burden forces us to welcome people into our midst who may or may not be willing to adapt to life among us, people, who may prove a threat to us.

Pope Francis and other open-borders enthusiasts share a common error. They all assert the primacy of the rights on the part of refugees and migrants, over their host societies. They also ignore the duties of those migrants, which are associated with rights of any kind. If a new migrant to the United States has a right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ then he also has a duty to honor and respect the nation which has granted him citizenship. He should live peaceably, grateful for his new opportunities, not disrupting the harmony of his new home.

I have lived as an ex-pat in Asia, and in Asian societies there was an expectation that I, as a foreigner, would cause no trouble in their lands. It was incumbent upon me to adapt to the host society, obey its laws, and respect its ways.

When Pope Francis promotes policies like open borders, he can scarcely be held to be acting as a Catholic or a Christian. He acts more like an apostle of global humanitarianism. It is hard to doubt that Pope Francis truly cares for the suffering of refugees and migrants. But he holds their needs higher than the rights of the occupants of historic nations, and that is where Pope Francis and conservatives must part ways.