In the United States and elsewhere, the refugee crisis has become a political issue. A journalist’s photo of a 3-year-old Syrian boy washed ashore after drowning in an attempt to reach Greece sparked international outrage at the plight of Syrian refugees. Equally passionate responses came after the massacre of 130 people in Paris when a Syrian passport was discovered near one of the bodies of the killers. Countries like Germany, which is expecting 800,000 refugees this year, are calling on the international community to open their borders. At the same time, Donald Trump is encouraging the U.S. to shut its borders to all Muslims following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.
All of this has sparked an international debate involving politics, yes, but also philosophy and theology. Whether or not to open our doors to refugees involves answering questions about who we are, what kind of country and people we want to be. We are witnessing the best and the worst of human nature. And we, as people of faith, are called to look to our scriptures for guidance and reassurance.
We are guided by the Law of the Old Testament which commands us, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In the New Testament, God incarnate, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, becomes a refugee fleeing from Herod’s massacre of Hebrew children. Jesus tells his followers that those who welcome strangers welcome him.
We are reassured by our scriptures, which tell us 43 times, “Do not fear.” The first letter of John has some very strong words about fear and love:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We love because he first loved us.
Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” 1 John 4:18-21
The fear that drives us to want to close our borders to refugees – whether it is fear of terrorism, fear of economic consequences, or simply fear of the “other” – is simply not a part of the Christian faith.
As a society (not necessarily a “Christian nation”), how we respond to this crisis will communicate to the world who we are as a people. The incendiary rhetoric of a few has sparked conversation, debate, protest, and even a front-page op ed from the Detroit Free Press. This is a defining moment in history, and all of us can sense it.
My dad, whom I mentioned in the last post, worked for a defense contractor. The safety and security of our nation and our world was his JOB. You would think he’d be the first on the bandwagon to close our borders against any potential threat. And yet, he tells me that “we’re humanitarians first, and that implies some risk.” This is an identity statement about our nation. Before we are Americans, we are humanitarians. The Statue of Liberty says that we take in "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This implies some risk.
Statistically, we put ourselves at greater risk of death and harm by getting in a car or eating the wrong food than by allowing refugees of the Muslim faith move in next door. But the events in Paris and San Bernardino can’t be ignored. They make us fearful. They imply some risk, however slight, improbable, or unpredictable.
So, what do you think? Are we humanitarians first, or do we have some other primary responsibility? How does our faith call us to respond to this crisis?
We’ll discuss these questions and MANY more with my friend, Serene Zeni, an American woman of Islamic faith, at our next Untapped Questions. Serene will share with us helpful and important background information on how the situation in Syria developed over the last decade. She is hoping you will bring all of your tough questions about Islam, the Middle East, and the refugee situation. No question will offend her!
This promises to be a large gathering, so you can find us in the private dining room in the back of Bagger Dave’s at Maple and Telegraph.