Syrian Refugees, Terrorism and Biblical Thinking


I’m conflicted. You should be too.

It’s human nature to search for easy answers. In fact, I’m sure your favorite political pundit already summed things up pretty well for you. Or maybe you’ve found that perfect Bible verse that seems to magically turn your opinion into a fact. Sorry to break this to you, but sometimes following Jesus is supposed to be way more challenging than you’d prefer. And the debate raging about whether to allow Syrian refugees into the United States serves as a perfect example.

Panic spread across the globe as French authorities revealed that a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers. It seems likely that at least some of the terrorists snuck into Europe in the midst of the flood of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. Authorities simply haven’t been able to perform adequate background checks at various borders. So America’s governors responded. As I write this, more than half of them announced they won’t accept Syrian refugees.

If you don’t know why 12 million Syrians fled their homes, and 4 million of them are refugees, you need to do some reading. The Washington Post shared 8 reasons. The Guardian has 6. But the fact that at least 250,000 Syrians have died in their civil war should be all most need to know to understand what’s going on here.

Followers of Jesus, let’s take a moment to process this a bit. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here’s a peek into the window of my conflicted mind where three categories of thought are swirling around:

  • Brian the Citizen – As Christians in America, we’re living under the Constitution. The President and Governors in each state have sworn to protect and defend us. If those in authority perceive there to be a legitimate threat of terrorism among refugees entering the country, it isn’t unreasonable for them to conclude that limiting the acceptance of refugees may be necessary. After all, it’s their job to protect us from terrorism. And saying this doesn’t point to any particular opinion here. Rather it simply points out that given their responsibility, it’s a legitimate course of action. And I would presume that most Americans wouldn’t want a terrorist attack in their city.
  • Brian the Critical Thinker – God gave us minds, and the ability to think critically. In my world, I like to explore complicated issues by asking questions. Here’s a few on my mind at the moment:
    • Are we comfortable abandoning tens of thousands of people in need because we’re afraid of a few terrorists sneaking into the country?
    • So far in 2015, the state of Ohio has accepted 48 Syrian refugees. Would it really be that complicated for us to perform extensive background and criminal checks on a few more?
    • Europe is struggling to process all the people fleeing the Middle East. We have lots of smart people. Couldn’t we send hundreds, if not thousands to Europe to help screen refugees as they leave the Middle East?
    • If an American citizen moves from one state to another, they have to jump through an impressive number of bureaucratic hoops just to get a new drivers license. If you want a mortgage, even more complicated systems are in place. So, couldn’t we develop a screening system to protect us from terrorists while also welcoming legitimate refugees?
    • Are we willing to risk being on the wrong side of history? The Washington Post recently covered some fascinating polling data from the late 1930’s. For a variety of complicated reasons, most Americans opposed allowing refugees fleeing fascist Europe into our country. In 1939, a shocking 61% of Americans opposed allowing Jewish refugee children asylum in the United States. Again, are we willing to risk being on the wrong side of history?
  • Brian the Follower of Jesus – His words were beautiful and direct. Jesus said In Matthew 25, “…I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me…I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” Then there’s many passages that call us to defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 82:3, etc). The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God and love our neighbor. Syrian refugees need food and water. They need clothing, care and a place to live. They’re oppressed, and need defending. They need love. These truths compel me to want to throw open the doors of this nation, and welcome them here. Isn’t that the Christian thing to do? On top of that, Jesus wants us to hunger and thirst for justice (See Matthew 5:6). So once the refugees are safe, I’d love to see the world come together and crush ISIS into tiny bits.

It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We need to sit in the conflicted reality of parallel truths for followers of Jesus. I think we can simultaneously desire to protect American lives, defend Syrian lives, and destroy ISIS. In the end, my soul admittedly leans toward the consistent message in Scripture of putting the needs of others before myself. So protecting Syrians and crushing ISIS is worth taking a collective risk.

photo credit: Refugee crisis in Europe via photopin (license)

24 thoughts on “Syrian Refugees, Terrorism and Biblical Thinking

  1. Brian, I hope you will have an opportunity at some point to watch the 1965 film “Ship of Fools” from the Katherine Ann Porter novel. Your 5th bullet point (you, as the Critical Thinker section above) plays directly to the adage about “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

  2. It’s not just the Constitution that says our government should protect us, but Romans 13. And wasn’t Jesus present in the Old Testament when God was giving instructions about foreigners such as in Judges 2:1-3 and Exodus 23:31-33? Where’s the commandment that required accepting foreigners? Isn’t one on one treatment of individuals in our lives different from national policy? (ex. conquering nations which was required by God wasn’t the same as murder by individual.).

    1. Romans 13 is definitely applicable here. “Where’s the commandment that required accepting foreigners?” I wouldn’t phrase it that way – but there’s a long list of them. Loving your neighbor and caring for the oppressed would be just two. And no, I don’t think national policy is distinctly separate from individual responsibility. I think they’re deeply connected.

        1. Agreed Jack – Piper sums that issue up well. Dr. Russell Moore shared similar thoughts as well. However, I think their topic is slightly different. They’re examining whether one can simultaneously pray for justice against their enemies, and salvation for them. I’m examining whether Syrian refugees should be allowed into the United States. Thanks for reading an commenting!

  3. Brian, much appreciation is due to you for taking time to carefully lay out your thoughts on this hot button issue. You’re certainly a critical thinker and one who desires strongly to align his worldview with what God’s word has said. I find your biblically grounded takes refreshing, especially in comparison to what secular morning shows are spewing.

    My issue is the usage of Matthew 25. I’ve seen several people appeal to this passage. What I don’t get from that passage is that we need to burden others with what may burden our hearts. That passage is about personal responsibility in caring for fellow believers or ministers of the faith and Jesus is rebuking non-Christians for treating Christians with disdain. It’s certainly a sin for us, as believers, to disregard the needs of anyone (saved or not) but the primary intent of that passage, at least as I see it, is to not betray true children of God (Galatians 6:10).

    The issue of personal responsibility is key as it puts the impetus on the one providing the care. For those who are burdened in their hearts by the refugees I would question what they are doing about it? Do they plan to go there, send money or what? Because it seems that most just want to sit back and let the government minister to these people. It reminds me of those who think the Bible mandates Communism because believers, out of their hearts, gave to one another. The ideas are certainly there but they aren’t there in the context of Christians outsourcing mercy work to godless governments.

    Regardless, it seems healthy for us to be conflicted on this issue.

    1. Tim – I’m grateful for your kind and encouraging words. Means a lot! Your comments are also articulate and thoughtful. And you get right to the heart of the issue related to personal responsibility vs. government action. In the end, I’ve had a hard time intellectually and spiritually separating the two. Often, large group action is required in order to make a tangible difference when defending the oppressed and seeking justice for them. In the end, grappling with the intricacies of these complicated issues draws me closer to Jesus. And like you, I’ve grown more and more comfortable with the idea that being conflicted is a healthy place to be for followers of Jesus. Blessings to you!

  4. Thanks Brian for giving me a direction from which to approach chapter 9 of Paul Nyquist’s book Prepare. Was having a difficult time deciding how to come at the letter from the persecuted church other than just discuss the chapter in Sunday morning small group. Your blog entry gave me the perfect context. See, that self-ordering principle in community I mentioned…

  5. Brian, thank you for this well reasoned, thoughtful piece. It reminds me of something Parker Palmer wrote years ago: “Truth is a very large matter and requires many angles of vision to be seen in the round.” You have explored many angles of vision here and we are the better for it.

  6. Did want to weigh on the issue that was discussed this morning about bias on social media in the reaction to terrorist attacks in various countries around the world. I agree with the other callers on the different reasons they gave. One that I think is a major contribution is also issues that have to do with the digital divide- access to technology etc- so for instance its obvious that there are more users in France who have access to the internet and who will therefore post their reactions on social media than there are users with internet access in Lebanon or in some remote village in Nigeria. In this case the attack happened in a big metropolitan place- Paris- most people will have access to technology/ internet. Even in the coverage- a lot of the media/ news channels actually had reporters covering these events in France- the chances of this being possible for a developing country are almost nil. The other issue is- because of this lack of technological ICT infrastructure- people just don’t know about it. I’m African and obviously care a lot about my continent and my people but I did not even know that there had been an attack in Lebanon and Nigeria till you mentioned it.

  7. On the Syrian Refugee Issue:

    The problem with us here in the US is we over politicize everything. I like your simple question- on the Ohio situation:
    So far in 2015, the state of Ohio has accepted 48 Syrian refugees. Would it really be that complicated for us to perform extensive background and criminal checks on a few more?

    When God commands us to love our neighbors or even respond to those in need he is not asking us to take on the whole world with it’s problems- but the truth is we can at least help one person or in this case as a nation- a few more people- Even Europe- France in particular after being attacked, they still said they’re going to still take in refugees- and over here we are declaring that we cant take in any refugees? Really? Why can’t we even just start by saying we will give priority to Christian refugees and then take in some? This is a practice that is already in place- the US gives asylum to anyone from any country if they can prove that living in their country puts their life in danger- it could be due to political reasons or religious reasons (persecution). They can even start with Christians from Iraq- in this case the onus is on the refugees to prove their religion. I think in this case it’s totally justifiable to discriminate based on religion.

    It is complicated- but doing NOTHING about it is NOT the answer. I listened with dismay as one talk show host of a Christian radio program kept on and on emphasizing that France has closed it’s borders, as if to say the US should to. Well now, they have re-opened those borders they are not letting the attack deter their compassion. Why can’t we do the same??????

  8. Heard you this morning on the way to work. Here is a very good reason to give to Samaritan’s purse or another worthy charity on a regular basis.
    They statistics put 70% of the refugees as being healthy men under the age of 40. These men need to be making there place of birth a better place. God said we are to be wise. If a man won’t work, neither should he eat. If he doesn’t take care of his own, he is worse than and infidel. Even if we took in a million strong men who could earn money to send back to their families, where are the jobs for them here, would they be taking jobs away from those who are struggling here. God wants us to show the love of Christ through our actions as individuals.
    Thanks for reading this. – Barb

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! The ministry of Jesus is compelling to me. Time and again, he taught us to be focused on others over ourselves. This is a difficult concept to consider in the midst of individualistic American culture. Admittedly, putting others first is a struggle for me sometimes. While I see the point you’re making about protecting American jobs, I don’t think that dilemma exempts us from defending and loving oppressed Syrian refugees. I trust that if we put the needs of others (Syrian refugees) first, God will work through American ingenuity and creativity to solve the problems you addressed.

  9. Thank you for speaking so openly, Brian. I appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness. Your concerns are stated so succinctly! I want to share with others what you have written and might even raise it from my pulpit. God bless you! Elaine

  10. Brian,
    I do appreciate your comments. But I would point put to you that I do not believe the Bible points us in the direction of having differing opinions, one being worldly and one being Biblical. Of course compassion should be shown here, but compassion does not necessitate foolish hide your head in the sand type of reasoning. Does Paul not say “Be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.” We as Christians need to understand the nature and underpinnings of evil in this world. The Syrian refugee crisis was created because world leaders in formerly Christian country of the West no longer have Godly wisdom. They are creating the circumstances which are eventually leading up to the crisis of the seven year tribulation. We cannot forget this as Christians, we act as though our American brand of Christianity is the end game. Revelations and the anti-Christ are real, they are going to happen, and the more our Western cultures separate themselves from God, the more we are influenced by the spirit of the anti-Christ. (1 John 2:18). Yes it would be wonderful to screen these refugees and give them a place to escape persecution. However, if we pay close attention, no one is really suggesting that. Our president is actually suggesting that the Muslim terrorist are motivated by who we are, not by who they are. Many so called modern thinkers are suggesting our support for Israel and our “Christian” heritage is the reason Muslims want to kill us. Interestingly enough, the book of Revelations suggest that those tribulation saints are beheaded for their faith. (Revelations 20:4) It is interesting that the Muslim fighters demand 1. an end to the nation of Israel, something the Devil has always tried to do throughout history, and 2. conversion or lose your head. If we are not careful here, we as Christians run the risk of being deceived the way our leaders have.

    1. I appreciate your comments, Joseph. It sounds like you’ve thought through this a lot. While I disagree with your interpretations, I’m glad to know important conversations like these are taking place. Bottom line – I don’t believe that international politics, or domestic politics exempt us from Biblical commands to care for the oppressed, welcome strangers and love our neighbors.

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