Pastor Andy Stanley addressed the hotly debated issue of refugees and religious liberty during his Sunday sermon, which was not livestreamed and was only released to online viewers on Thursday.
In his sermon — which the church wanted to present "responsibly" and thus chose not to broadcast it online as it usually does — Stanley pointed to the political divide in the country but noted that at the end of the day, everyone believes in human dignity and agrees that nobody should be mistreated or discriminated against.
Moreover, "we all agree that what's best for people is what's best."
"We may never all agree on how you flesh that out but at the the end of the day, that's where we agree," Stanley told thousands at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, in his "The (Not So) United States of America" message. "As long as we're together on that agreement, we as a nation can figure anything out. But if we lose that, then we're in trouble."
But the inherent dignity and value of a person is a uniquely American assumption, the pastor noted. And he emphasized where that assumption came from — Christianity.
The United States is without question a "Christianized" nation, Stanley said, while being careful not to say "Christian" nation. And contrary to nations where the government says that it itself or a particular religion is the source of dignity and human rights, both of which result in forms of repression and discrimination, the founders of the United States struck the right tone, he stressed.
While declaring that God is the source of freedom, the U.S. founders stopped short of identifying a specific God — such as the Jewish or Christian deities, Stanley pointed out. Instead, they used terms such as "Nature's God" and "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence.
The belief that every individual human being is made in the image of God and has dignity no matter his or her station in life is a distinctly Christian value, he added. That ethos is so embedded in our society and is among the reasons why "people flee to countries with a Christian heritage" like European nations, the U.S., and Canada, "and away from countries where that has not been the case," he said.
Addressing the recent protests over President Donald Trump's Jan. 27 executive order temporarily suspending refugee settlement and the entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, Stanley recognized that there was a lot of "anger" out there. But he asked where the outrage was five years ago.
In reality, "the average person in America doesn't give a flip about refugees," Stanley said. When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011 and millions were being displaced, nobody in America knew or cared about it. In the first three years of the war, only a few dozen were admitted to the United States as refugees. Yet there was no outcry then.
"You're about five years late to the protest," Stanley said to those protesting Trump's executive order.
The Atlanta pastor also noted that along with the humanitarian crisis in Syria, most Americans, himself included, were not aware that in 2016 the country from which most refugees were resettled in the U.S. was the Central African nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But the lack of understanding about the plight of refugees and those seeking political asylum is due in part to the politicized debate centering on national security and compassion. Today, much of the political discourse surrounding refugees involves whether or not they pose a threat to national security.
Stanley's response to that question: "Possibly."
He noted that refugees do not threaten security when you consider that the 9/11 attackers and Boston marathon bombers did not enter the U.S. as refugees and the refugee vetting process is already very stringent.
However, "about 40 refugees have been arrested in this country for planning or plotting some sort of terrorist activity," he said, noting those persons came in as refugees and were then radicalized after arriving here.
He went on to state that while America is a nation of immigrants, it is "first and foremost a nation of law."
What role does compassion play in this? "Compassion and religion inform our legal system," Stanley said, "but we must not allow them to undermine our legal system."
"We must not tolerate what can't assimilate into a framework that provides dignity and justice for all."
As both U.S. citizens and Christians, "we must have low to no tolerance for a worldview, religion — even our own — or version of religion — even our own — that undermines individual dignity," he emphasized.
"Everyone deserves respect not because government requires it but because God made it that way."
With all that said, Stanley insisted that the Church is uniquely positioned in that it is the institution that stewards the message of human dignity and thus it must play the crucial role of reminding the world that everyone is made in the image of God because no one else is going to do it.
North Point Community Church has partnered with organizations that help refugees, including Friends of Refugees, over the past few years. So far, the megachurch has given over a million dollars to support refugees around the world.
Sunday's sermon was not livestreamed as their services normally are. On their Twitter feed, North Point Church mentioned that this was because Stanley has been "misquoted a lot by people with agendas" and they were trying to avoid that. The sermon was eventually posted on Thursday.