Fortress Press

Jesus the Refugee: Ancient Injustice and Modern Solidarity

Jesus the Refugee

Ancient Injustice and Modern Solidarity

D. Glenn Butner Jr. (Author)


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Images of modern refugees often invoke images of the infant Christ and the historical circumstances of the holy family's flight to Egypt in the face of persecution. But rather than leaving this association at the merely symbolic level, Jesus the Refugee explores Jesus's flight through modern legal conventions on refugee status in the United States and the European Union. Would Jesus and his parents be protected from refoulement? Would they receive rights to employment and civic engagement? Would they be turned away? Is the holy family a refugee family?

Jesus the Refugee argues that the holy family has a limited set of legal options for protection, but under current law is unlikely to receive any. This shocking claim stands or falls on legal details like the ability to demonstrate reasonable fear of persecution, or whether fleeing Palestine (but not the Roman Empire) affords protection for internally displaced migrants.

Besides introducing the basics of modern refugee law and processes, Jesus the Refugee aims to raise ethical challenges to our current refugee system by highlighting Jesus as one of the "least of these," indicting our moral failures and challenging us to make amends.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506479361
  • eBook ISBN 9781506479385
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 230
  • Publication Date January 24, 2023


"How would Jesus and his family fare as refugees if they fled from Herod today? The answer: not well at all. This hypothetical case allows Butner to educate us on the complexities and injustices of the current international refugee and asylum system. This is a thorough, provocative study grounded in our faith and attuned to the crises of global migration."

M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), PhD, Scripture Press Ministries Professor of Biblical Studies and Pedagogy, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"Christian ethics has a long tradition of looking to find the face of Christ in the faces of the most vulnerable. This deeply researched book accomplishes this with great sophistication and theological acuity, while challenging common misconceptions surrounding refugees. Those who read it will find their understanding of the topic enhanced and their compassion stimulated."

Fellipe do Vale, PhD., assistant professor of biblical and systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Too many accounts of migration ethics depend on affections or good wishes, but in centering his account of refugees through the story of the holy family, Glenn Butner offers us a refreshing, scripturally grounded, and politically informed account of refugee solidarity. For Butner, to care for refugees is to care for those bearing the image of Christ's own family. A crisp and accessible work for those looking to bring together Scripture and an ethic of migration."

Myles Werntz, associate professor of theology, director of Baptist studies, Abilene Christian University

"Butner's innovative idea to examine whether Jesus and his family would have been granted asylum today is a must-read for those who want to turn their compassion into concrete acts of solidarity on behalf of refugees. This well-researched book demonstrates clearly and compellingly that in this world, where the right to asylum is increasingly restricted, it is simply not enough to be deserving of protection in order to receive it. Thank you for writing it."

Danielle Vella, author of Dying to Live - Stories of Refugees on the Road to Freedom and director, Global Reconciliation Program, Jesuit Refugee Service

"Don't miss Glenn Butner's book, Jesus the Refugee. It will startle Christians who root for the holy family fleeing to Egypt, but are fearful of or indifferent to today's migrants. Using his considerable skills as a theologian, ethicist, and economist, Butner ably breaks down today's devilishly complex legal regime and then shows how the holy family would not likely have found safety from Herod if today's refugee laws had applied and how Christians today are called to solidarity with refugees because Jesus aligned himself with refugees. In focusing on how modern law would have treated Jesus, Butner also brings to life the dilemmas faced by today's migrants and the push-and-pull factors that drive their desperate journeys. He explains how the holy family likely faced the same obstacles and made similar choices that today would see them branded law-breakers, thieves, and someone else's problem. Butner's work presents fresh and compelling insights into our Christian obligation to all people fleeing danger."

Linda Dakin-Grimm, lawyer and author of Dignity & Justice: Welcoming the Stranger at Our Border