The Syrian refugees. It is probably a pretty safe assumption that those three words almost immediately make people tense. Either they have a definite opinion on the crisis, or they don’t want to walk anywhere near the subject because they know it is an issue with lots of passion on both sides. Well, there are two words in those three sentences I have issue with, crisis and issue.
Those words that seem relatively harmless as themselves are also impersonal and cold, lacking in concern for the human lives involved. When we reduce the refugees to objects of a “crisis” or “issue”, we fail to recognize them as people. I want to be clear that I am not implying that we have no obligation to, or do a good job of caring for those in our local communities that are suffering, in fact, that is something I am very passionate about. And yes, unfortunately, there are risks, lots of them in this world. I also want to be clear that I do not claim to understand every detail of every argument and fact concerning the debate. But rather, that those things do not change the fact that there is human suffering, real people with faces, names, lives, hopes, and dreams that as a world community we must respond to. That as Christians, if we reject and refuse to take in refugees, we are rejecting and ignoring scripture and Jesus’ teachings.
What is it that evokes such intense reactions from individuals, groups, and various levels of government? Is it only because we are not taking good care of the human needs present in our communities now, something I would agree we definitely could do better at, or is it something else? Is it out of fear of those with different beliefs? Is it the perceived risk to our own safety? Is it because we have lumped all into one category because of the actions of some? These are people, people with names and faces fleeing their homes, not by choice, but because of violence and terror. Victims of the same evil and terrorism that many are fearful of, and reacting to.
Where do these fears come from? Satan, Satan is the source of fear, he uses our fears to divide humanity and stop the continuation of Jesus’ ministry through us. We must remember that because of our faith, we are filled with the Spirit that gives us power and fills us with LOVE, not fear (2 Timothy 1:7). And that perfect love, drives out the fears meant to divide us (1 John 4:18). In The Freedom of a Christian Martin Luther writes that with the love that flows from faith “there proceeds a joyful, willing and free mind that serves the neighbor (refugee) and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss. Nor do we distinguish between friends and enemies.” How can we as Christians refuse to extend mercy and love to the refugees and still profess that we are people of faith? When we do not take action our faith becomes passive, no longer an active faith from which love flows.
Maybe you would prefer to hear what scripture says about our responsibilities as Christians to those such as the refugees. Scripture does speak of our obligation to care for the poor, oppressed, homeless, persecuted, widows and orphans, the least. (Oh and by the way, Jesus was in the same category!) In Matthew 25:31-40 while speaking to the disciples about the final judgment, Jesus states that in caring for the stranger they have cared for him, saying “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” So if we reject the refugees are we not rejecting Jesus himself? Need more? How about Hebrews 13:2, “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Or Isaiah 16:4, here we are told to care for the outcasts, letting them settle among us and provide refuge from their destroyer. In Jeremiah 22:3-5 we are told to “act with justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” A final one for you, in Zechariah 7:9-10 it says to “show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor.”
Unfortunately, despite these teachings and scripture, we have a history of failed hospitality here in America. One need only remember the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II that was driven by fear after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Despite the fact that more than half of the Japanese Americans were American citizens they were forced to relocate into government camps. The sad thing is that today although forced relocation and internment may not happen here, the American tendency is to send in troops or aid in situations of injustice, keeping it away from our own homes and safely at a distance. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which terrorism is a reality, but it is not only from those who enter our country, it also comes from within. We cannot stand by and let the fear Satan hopes will divide us stop us from living our faith, extending radical, countercultural love and mercy, willingly, freely and joyfully taking no account of our own comfort and vulnerability. If Jesus were to have the same conditions for extending love and mercy we do what would the Gospel be? Instead of being driven by fear of those that are different than us we must focus on hope and the promise of the redemption for every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. Failure to act as our faith compels us to do will only allow Satan to continue to divide us and interfere with God’s redemptive mission.