A former Muslim-turned-pastor who came to the U.S. during the Iranian Revolution told those gathered at the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference that he feels some evangelicals are misguided in their rhetoric on immigration.
Pastor Afshin Ziafat of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, gave an impassioned sermon at the annual gathering hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and North American Missions Board on the eve of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Ziafat, who was born in Houston but moved with his family to Iran at age 2 and then back to Houston four years later toward the end of the 1970s, warned that some Christians in the United States today seem more concerned about their comfort and safety rather than the missional opportunities that come from welcoming immigrants and strangers.
As issues of illegal immigration and border security funding are at the heart of the partial federal government shutdown, Ziafat assured that he does desire there to be government protection in the form of screening and vetting to decide who can and cannot come into the country.
But he stressed that some of what he is hearing from evangelical believers of Christ on the immigration issue seems to indicate that they think “America is the Kingdom of God.”
“People say, ‘You know what, Nehemiah built a wall,’” Ziafat explained before the audience gathered at the McLean Bible Church last Thursday. “Guess what, America is not the promise land. [They’ll say,] ‘Well, Heaven has walls.’ Guess what, America is not Heaven.”
“Sometimes I think evangelicals mistake America for the Kingdom of God,” the pastor reiterated, adding that he’s a proud American who loves this country. “But before I am an American, I am a Christian. I have got to think not just ‘America first’ in everything. I have got to think ‘Kingdom of God first.’”
Last month, Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas argued in support of President Donald Trump’s border wall plans by citing biblical references to walls in heaven.
Ziafat’s remarks come as a poll last October found that most white evangelicals feel that immigrants are a “threat” to American values and see the country’s increasing racial diversity as a bad thing. However, a study released last year suggests that white evangelicals support immigration more when they’re active in church and theologically conservative.
In his message, Ziafat cited numerous biblical passages showing that Jesus Christ demanded His followers show love and care to the stranger, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan and the widow.
One passage was from Matthew 25.
“I don’t know how you could miss this. Jesus says when the son of man comes, He is going to separate the sheep from the goats — those who belong to Him and those who don’t,” Ziafat said.
“And He is going to look to the sheep on His right and say, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you for I was a stranger and you welcomed Me. I was naked and you clothed Me and I was hungry and you fed Me. I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink. They are going to say, ‘When did we do these things for you.’ And He says, ‘When you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.’ It proves you belong to his sheep when you love the least of these and your welcome Jesus when he was a stranger.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith