Of Refugees and Christian Duties
Last week, I posted a reflection on the Syrian refugee crisis. It quickly became on of my most shared pieces--as well as one of my most controversial. To be honest, this surprised me; but it also reminded me of the importance of healthy dialogue. In that vein, I've asked my friend, Eve Marie Barner Gleason to offer perspective on how Christians must navigate the calling to be faithful citizens of their earthly countries and as well as citizens of Heaven.
As a director with Care Net, a network of crisis pregnancy centers offering alternatives to abortion, Eve faces this dilemma everyday--how do we promote Christian values within the framework of a highly bureaucratic and often, less than transparent, government? How can we tackle tough questions without resorting to either pragmatism or sentimentality? How do we pursue truly Christian solutions in both policy and practice?
If you are like me, the Syrian refugee crisis has dominated your news feed. In the days since the Paris bombings, I’ve actually learned a lot through the debate on blogs, social media and between friends. But these debates haven’t impacted me as deeply as the stories of people suffering in a region torn apart by war: 200,000 killed, roughly 11 million displaced, 60 percent of the population unemployed.
The arguments themselves can be overwhelming. Here is a brief summary of comments from my news feed alone (I offer these as examples of the debate; I haven’t independently verified all the statements cited as facts in these comments):
Christians should be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. Just because we care about displaced Syrians, doesn’t mean we should bring them all here. Wouldn’t refugees be better off nearer their homeland than adjusting to a new culture after such trauma? Maybe we should try to make them a safe space in the Middle East.
Jesus would welcome displaced people, so Christians should be filled with compassion and even willing to risk our own comfort and safety to love and share Christ with those who are suffering. Anything else is selfish and xenophobic. Even if some terrorists slipped through, shouldn’t we trust God’s protection instead of being fearful, cowardly, and hateful?
Refugees have committed acts of terrorism, including Bosnian immigrants charged with conspiring to fund terrorism.
Syrian refugees from the current war have not committed acts of terrorism.
Our screening process is woefully inadequate. ISIS is smart enough to train a terrorist posing as a refugee to defeat any screening measure we can come up with. And it only takes a fraction of a % to slip through screening and cause mayhem.
It already takes 2-3 years to enter the U.S. as a legal refugee. The process includes a background check and detailed personal interviews. In fact, the screening may be too strict, leaving refugees languishing in squalid camps vulnerable to the influence of terrorist recruiters. Besides, terrorists have easier ways to get to the US: across our southern border or with a student or tourist visa.
Since January, only 30 (1.6 percent of) Syrians who arrived on American were Christian, compared to 1,833 Muslims (97.8 percent).
Christians only make up 10% of the population in Syria. Very few now live in ISIS controlled areas of Syria because if they didn’t leave, they have likely been killed or enslaved already. This makes it hard to know how many Christians are even applying for refugee status.
We should prevent Muslims entering this country as refugees. Islamic faith condones violence and atrocities so we can never trust them.
We should welcome Muslim refugees. Because they are fleeing horrific violence and atrocities being committed in the name of Islam, they understand the evils of extremism more than anyone.
ISIS wants us to take in refugees so there will be more Muslims, who even if they aren’t terrorists, will eventually be loyal to an established Islamic state and caliphate.
ISIS wants us to refuse to take in refugees so they can show the world how selfish and inhospitable we are, and so they can continue to rape, torture, and kill them.
And then there are pictures: A boy washed up on a beach, a bloodied grandfather, bombed out homes, grieving widows and widowers, children sleeping on the ground, orphans trying to protect their younger siblings.
How do Christians process so much suffering? How should American Christians think about displaced people and how many we should allow into our country? Long ago, St. Augustine spoke of believers as having dual citizenship in the city of God and our earthly countries. So, how should our roles as both citizens of heaven and citizens of the United States inform this issue?
Our Duties as American Citizens
American citizens are in a unique position. Not only will the leaders we elect make decisions about how many refugees to accept, from where, and with what restrictions, we can also influence our elected representatives through letters, phone calls, and social media.
Citizens in many countries have no duty except obedience (or civil disobedience if asked to violate their conscience). But it is our duty and privilege as American citizens to think deeply about public policy issues and to pray for and seek to influence those who make policy decisions.
On the complex issues surrounding refugee resettlement, it is important to remember that government does have a responsibility to protect the country. Romans 13:4 refers to civil authorities as God’s servants for the purpose of punishing evildoers. Citizens and leaders alike are called to be just and impartial by Scripture (Leviticus 19:15; Jeremiah 22:11-17; Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
Each elected official in the United Sates takes an oath of allegiance that includes a promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Because the duties of rulers involve justice, wisdom, and restraining evil, it is entirely appropriate for Christian citizens, policy makers, and Christian citizens who are also policy makers, to carefully examine the conditions under which refugees are resettled in the U.S., to identify where security vulnerabilities may exist, and whether the risks of resettling certain people within our borders are acceptable related to the intended outcome of justice and compassion.
Our Duties as followers of Jesus Christ
What about those Christians who are not policy makers (which is most of us)? We may not have a particularly large say in the resettlement of refugees from Syria or elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have clear duties and privileges: to love our neighbor, to speak up for the defenseless, the foreigner, the stranger in our midst.
“Love your neighbor as yourself...” (Luke 12:33)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . .If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
We remember that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt as his parents fled from Herod’s slaughter of innocents. So, we love our neighbor: our immigrant neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our refugee neighbor, our unborn neighbor, our unpopular neighbor. And, yes, even those who hate us and would do us harm.
Such love must be intensely practical. We must start by praying for displaced Syrian people, but we must not stop there. We may post opinions about the refugee crisis, but opinions aren’t life-transforming love.
How do we love? If you have a refugee or an immigrant in your community, welcome them with respect and kindness, rather than suspicion or judgement. Listen to their stories, offer a meal or a cup of tea, or invite them to a community gathering.
And if you have been moved by the stories and pictures of those caught up in what has been called the “greatest ongoing humanitarian crisis”, resolve to show Christ’s love, whether from near or far. One way to help is to give as generously as you can to organizations who are already helping in Jesus’ name, such as Operation Mobilization, World Vision, or Samaritan’s Purse.
Together with her husband, Ryan, and their dog, Coco, Eve makes her home in Loudoun County, VA. She serves as Director of Center Best Practices at Care Net. Eve and Ryan seek to grow in grace in fellowship with other believers and service to their community. Eve would also like to thank Ashley Trim for her skillful editing of this post.