On Refugees and Terrorists

By this point, we’re all familiar with the tragic terrorism in France, and the effect it’s had on our own American debate on accepting Syrian immigrants into our country.  There are plenty of opinions of every side of the issue, and like most important issues (and non-important ones, for that matter), it’s become very hard to discuss online without inciting anger and insults from one participant or another.

I think it’s good that we, as a nation, are debating these issues.  I think it’s good that we, as Christians, are asking these questions of ourselves again.  Perhaps most importantly, I think it’s good that these questions have, at least, shut everybody up about Starbucks.

The ideas we’re debating – what it means to be a compassionate Christian, how much credence should we give potential threats, are we becoming a people who live in fear, what responsibility does our government have – these are powerful questions, loaded with meaning.  I’m sure we won’t work them out soon, just as I’m sure that good people will come to entirely different conclusions on many of these matters.

(Incidentally, I’ve got a post on Starbucks and red cups that I need to publish soon.)

I’m not certain I’ve come to a conclusion on all these issues.  It’s taken me a couple of days to get to this point, though, and I think I’m ready to write about them.

First, I’m in no way convinced that accepting refugees into this country is a threat.  (If you want to know why, I’ll give some info at the end of the post.)

Much more importantly, though, is the fact that we’ve seen all this before.  Some of us see it every day.  This is nothing new.  We’re confronted, even in America, by suffering all the time.  And for many of us, it’s become easy to turn away.  We all know the routine.  We see a homeless guy at the intersection, or a panhandler heading towards us down the sidewalk, and for a minute we feel guilty.  Like we should maybe do something.  But that what happens?

“Well, you can’t give them anything, they’ll just spend it on booze.”

“You just can’t trust anyone – and you know they’re mostly criminals.”

“If she really wanted help bad enough she could get a job somewhere.”

And we walk/drive on, safe and happy in the idea that we’ve convinced ourselves that keeping our money and our time to ourselves was the right choice – in fact, it was the Godly choice.  I know we do it, because I’ve seen it done, and I’ve done it myself:

Years ago, I was telling the story of my first car accident – I ran my parents’ Crown Victoria off the road between my house and the mall.  Only African Americans stopped to help, while multiple white people just drove on by.  I was immensely grateful for the help and more than a little ashamed.  Would I have stopped to help them?  I’ll never forget expressing this as part of my Sunday School lesson, then hearing the concerned gasps of, “Well, I’d never do that!  They could be criminals!”  Thank God those other citizens of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, didn’t feel that way about me.

We’re just seeing the same thing today, only on a larger scale.  We see these pictures on TV of fathers and mothers and children stranded in refugee camps, far from their homes, and we start to feel like, “Hey, maybe I should do something.  Maybe, but for the grace of God, that could be me out there.”

But then that same thing starts to happen.  Like Pharaoh, we harden our hearts – and, let’s be honest, the echo chamber of social media that we live in, where memes and “gotcha” posts serve to convince us of our own righteousness and the stupidity of all who disagree with us? That only makes it easier for us to plug our ears and convince ourselves that we’re better off not helping.

“Bring in refugees?  But they could be hiding terrorists!”

“Hey, we’ve got homeless here!  We should fix that problem first!”

More excuses.  (Before someone gets agitated – do we have homeless here?  YES.  Do they deserve our help?  YES.  But in this country, with the most powerful economy in the world, I suspect we could solve both problems if we truly wanted to.)

Need more examples?  I seem to remember – from not THAT long ago – cries that our borders were overflowing with child refugees from South America.   Actual, real children.  What did we say to that?

“Bring in refugees?  But they could be hiding terrorists!”

“Hey, those kids could be carrying Ebola!”

Kids from South America.  Nowhere near ISIS.  Nowhere near Ebola.  Kids who just wanted homes.  And, for the record, I don’t recall hearing about any of them actually becoming terrorists or about any Ebola outbreak spreading across Texas.

I get that the world is a dangerous place.  Nobody wants to expose their families to undue risk, or pain, or fear.  We want our kids to grow up to be happy and safe and never have to know anything like the living nightmare these refugees are fleeing from.  I understand that nobody wants to leave this life any earlier than they absolutely have to.  Personally, I have a strong aversion to death, especially anything that seems painful.

But I cannot get past one thing.  Jesus calls us to love others, even our enemies.  Especially our enemies.  In fact, he makes a pretty clear point that, “Hey, EVERYONE LOVES PEOPLE WHO TREAT THEM WELL.”  Seriously.  Everybody does that.  Our call is to do something more.  To go the extra mile.  To love the people who hate us.  To forgive the people who kill us.

That all sounded perfectly reasonable, growing up on a Sunday morning in south Arkansas, where I couldn’t even conceive of having real, serious enemies.  When people are blowing up innocent civilians, murdering men and women and children who had families and dreams and loved and laughed and lived just like the rest of us?  When we see that sort of unrepentant evil on our TV screens, loving our enemies becomes a LOT harder.

And when those issues get tied in with the idea of accepting refugees?  When half the talking heads on TV seem convinced that behind every refugee lurks an ISIS bomber?  When people are screaming about the chance that you, and your family, and your children might be in harm’s way?  Oh, that tends to make this question of “how can I love these people” more difficult.

But ultimately, those concerns pale in the light of what Jesus asks from us.  He said some hard things, things that make it terribly difficult sometime to follow him.  Things that you can nod eagerly along with on a comfy Sunday morning when there’s Mexican food and a long nap ahead of you.  Things that get a lot harder when you’re confronted with the pain and brokenness of the world we live in.

For example, someone reminded me earlier this week that Jesus himself said that we should be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in our dealings with unbelievers, suggesting that meant we didn’t have to actually try to help anyone if it meant any risk to ourselves.  For a modern American, that’s a wonderful way to look at the issue.  The problem is, in that exact same passage (Matthew 10) Jesus says a few other things, much like:

Matthew 10:37-39 –  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

That’s a hard one to hear – but he means exactly what he says.  When it comes to worldly concerns, we’re to put his will first.  When it comes to our families, even to our children, we’re supposed to put his will first.  When it comes to our own lives, we take up our cross and follow him.

He doesn’t promise we’ll be fine, just that God will be with us.  In fact…

Matthew 10:24 – A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.

What’s good enough for the teacher is good enough for the disciple – and we all know how they treated Jesus.  We shouldn’t expect better.

Here’s the unfortunate part about following Jesus.  At no point does he ever promise that it’s easy.  He knew exactly how harsh the world was that he lived in, and he called his disciples to love it.  To give without asking anything in return.  To go the extra mile for those who oppressed them.  He knows exactly how harsh our world is today, as well, and he still calls us to love it.  He offers no other option.  No, “Well, love them only if they love you.”  Or, “Love them, but only if there’s no risk.”  Just, “Love them.”

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If you read that entire thing, maybe you’re nodding your head.  Maybe you’re spitting mad.  I can’t say, one way or the other.  Hopefully, though, you’ll agree – our world is full of people who need help.  Refugees.  Whether they’re running from the chaos and terror of Syria, or fleeing from the pain and hurt of their own pasts, or maybe even they’re running from suffering they experienced protecting us from the enemies out there who do want to cause us harm – whatever it is, this world is full of refugees from one painful situation or another, and they need our help.

So whether or not you agree with settling actual refugees in America, please consider doing something to help with all the refugees out there:

Refuge Coffee Co – The UN settles many refugees in Clarkston, Georgia.  These guys help them find jobs and build a thriving community.

Community Outreach – My own hometown of Nevada, Missouri, has a large homeless population.  Community Outreach helps meet those needs.  Alternatively, check out the New Life Homeless Shelter, where they’re trying to help people with many of those same problems.

Help a Homeless Vet – America has a homelessness problem – and many of those homeless people are our veterans.  The VA has resources for you to help them with their mission of ending veteran homelessness.

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Wondering why I’m unconvinced that resettling refugees here represents a threat?

Syrian Refugees Are Not a Threat

US Governors are Wrong: Syrian Refugees Are No Threat to National Security

3 Facts About the Syrian Refugee Crisis Many Christians Overlook

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If the comments get funky, I’ll lock them – although, the real surprise would be any comments at all, I guess.

 

 

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