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.