Thinking Through Refugees

American’s are divided. In light of the recent tragedy in Paris, many conservatives (and some liberals) are calling on the president and their governors to put up road blocks to stop Syrian refugees from entering our country. The fear stems from the possibility that ISIS could plant their soldiers in the masses of refugees fleeing into America, and a similar attack could happen on our soil. There now is a tension between Americans appealing to compassion for victims, and security for our nation.

I will quickly admit, I do not know the correct immigration policy, nor am well versed enough in the policies or history of immigration in our nation, or across the world. What I have noticed, however, is something I am finding strange happening across Evangelicalism in America today that I want to ask us to reconsider. This is an over-generalization, but for the most part, what I have seen are older Christians calling our president crazy for welcoming in refugees and risking our country’s safety, and younger Christians calling those older Christians unloving, cruel, and selfish for what they see as a blatant denial of one of Jesus’ most fundamental commands: “Love your neighbor”.

Let me begin with saying that I think both of these positions are wrong, and I think have grown more out of cultural influences than Biblical wisdom. My critiques, again, are not aimed towards our nation as a whole, but Christians in particular.

For Older Generations:

I think a big part of the older, conservative generations who are doing everything they can to block refugees from entering our country are doing so because they care about our nation’s safety – which is a good thing. I too want to protect our country. However, may there be some hesitancy that is motivated by self-centeredness and racial prejudice? Not wanting to put themselves at risk, not wanting foreigners in their country, people who practice a different religion in their community, etc.

A few weeks ago I was doing homework at a coffee shop, sitting next to a table of six or seven older gentleman, meeting for their weekly morning get together. I overheard their conversation, and quickly found out that they were all asking whether or not we should put troops on the ground to fight ISIS. One especially leathery faced man quickly retorted, “We should just bomb the living daylights out of that god-forsaken land till nothing moves anymore.”Sadly, not a single one of the other men disagreed with him. In fact, most of them laughed and said “Amen”.

That is wicked. That is the same vilification and pride that fueled the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews, the Hutu’s Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis, and ironically, ISIS’ entire blood-drenched ideology. These old men, much like ISIS and the Nazis, have transformed people they are unfamiliar with into nothing but a cartoonish caricature of a villain. All muslims or Arabs are essentially bad guys, so let’s just kill them and make the world a better place.

What would have happened to you if Jesus treated you the way you treat Syrian refugees? How would you fare if Jesus adopted your own immigration policy for His Kingdom? Was it not risky to let a screwed up sinner like you into His Country? We all are spiritual refugees who have been brought into His Kingdom by the grace of God (1 Pet 2:9-10; Eph. 2:19). In fact, we weren’t just refugees, we were rebels who were waging war on God and killed His Son, but were transformed into citizens and children (Rom. 5:10). And to push it even further, wasn’t it actually costly for God to bring in a bunch of refugees? Wasn’t His blood shed? Jesus was killed by religious extremists and renegades, so that they might become his brothers and sisters in His Kingdom. That’s our story, and if we have received such a grace, we too must extend it (Matt. 18:21-35).

Middle-Eastern muslims, like all humans, are just as much made in the image of God as you and I are, and are therefore deserving of our love, care, and respect – even if it costs us our comfort, norms, or our very lives. If you cannot see that, then you have sinfully believed that you are somehow more deserving than they are, and have rejected the fundamental tenets of our Christian faith. We all are equally deserving of dignity as fellow image bearers, equally sinful, and equally in need of the grace found in Christ.

To Younger Generations:

Have you thought through the implications of your view? I whole heartedly agree that the Christian’s obligation is to care for the sojourner and the alien (Deut. 10:19) and to provide for the least of these (Matt. 25:40), however, it seems somewhat reductionistic to look at the command given explicitly to Christians, and assume it should absolutely apply in the same way to our government. Now this is complex. I do believe that Christians should strive for legislating Christian commands in our government (i.e. “Do not murder”), however this particular instance is not so simple. I found Kevin DeYoung’s piece to be right on the money: “Immigration Policy Must be Built on More than an Appeal to Compassion.” I strongly recommend you to read through it.

Here is the biggest question we must wrestle with: How do we make the jump from being willing to risk our own life to care for the refugees, to being willing to risk our neighbor’s life as well? Especially if our neighbor is not a Christian. If America was filled with nothing but Christians, then this would be a very simple answer. But it isn’t. America, as “Christian” as it is, is full of people who will go to hell if they die. If the question was whether or not Christians should travel to Syria and risk their lives to help the refugees, I would give a hearty “yes” and “amen”. We should freely lay down our lives, knowing that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) because when we die we will be “with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). But for a non-Christian dying, it is not far better – it is an eternal tragedy.

So, what moral calculus have you ran to decide that life of the Syrian refugee is more important than the life of the lost American? How do you quantify that?

Now, I think there is an answer to that, and I still would lean towards accepting the *potential* risk of harm to Americans, over allowing the *actual* evil that is happening to the Syrians. Statistically, there is a smaller chance of harm being done to Americans if they welcome Syrians, than Syrians being harmed if they stay in Syria. But, statistics aren’t fool proof. All it takes is one incident – thousands and thousands of planes flew by the World Trade Center for years, but it only took two to destroy it.

Other things to consider:

  • What security measures would we have in place to screen the refugees that France didn’t?
  • What would we do with the remaining refugees if there was a terrorist attack? Obviously our original security screenings failed, so how do we know there aren’t more?
  • Have you considered there could possibly be more damaging effects on the refugees themselves in being resettled?
  • Have you considered that there could be other options our government could be doing to protect and care for the innocent victims in Syria?

Bottom line: this is a complicated issue. The Middle-East is a jumbled mess of problem after problem, all tangled together. I, for one, am grateful that I do not have the responsibility of making that complex choice and trust and pray that the Lord will sovereignly work in the heart of our president to make His purposes be fulfilled (Prov. 21:1).

But I am shocked at the seeming arrogance that so many Christians, young and old, seem to have in discussing this problem. There is this kind of a, “No duh, of course my opinion is right” swagger and confidence they have, when we are talking about one of the most intricately complicated problems our world has seen. Are we really that wise? Are we really that well versed in the political issues, cultural stories, and problems in the Middle-East? Or do we just want to give pithy answers, yell at each other and feel superior to those we disagree with? Do we want to just ride the tide of what is normal, celebrated, and comfortable in our culture?

Read, study, pray, and think, more than you post snarky comments on people’s Facebook posts.

I still believe that America should welcome refugees in, and the Church should be the one leading the charge to make them feel the most welcomed and loved, but I want to hear concrete steps, not just promises, but detailed plans of how our government will keep the American people safe.

2 thoughts on “Thinking Through Refugees

  1. Why leave out the Christian refugees being slaughtered who have not been allowed in this country for rescuing? They are not among the ones being taken in and they have been refused, even after killing of over 140 students last April. Think through that discrimination.

    1. Marie, did you read what I wrote? I am not discriminating against anyone; I am critiquing the arrogance of overly simplistic, brash answers to a highly complex problem.

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