In light of last weekend’s attacks in Paris and the subsequent debate that has sprung up in the United States over the admission of Syrian refugees to our land, it seems necessary to start a conversation about the role of the church in all of this. This isn’t a post about easy answers, nor is it one about solutions – it is solely intended to help us revisit what it means to be a follower of Christ, even in the face of tragedy and fear of the unknown.
You might be thinking that the church has no part to play in the debate over the refugee crisis, or that our voice should not rise above the rest. After all, it is not the role of the church to be political – while the body is comprised of people with multitudes of thoughts and opinions and the opportunity to vote and elect accordingly, in the end we serve our King, not our president. While we should obey our country’s laws and those in power to enforce them, we should never forget that we, as followers of Jesus, ultimately answer to a much higher power, a power that pays closer attention to our hearts and actions than to what boxes we check on the ballot.
Much of the debate about whether to continue allowing Syrian refugees into the US has been clouded by fear and occasionally racism. The overarching concern is that ISIS could potentially infiltrate the refugee ranks, which could possibly allow terrorists to enter the US under seemingly innocent pretenses.
While this could happen – and it cannot be guaranteed that it wouldn’t – it is worth noting that the process required to gain refugee status in the United States is quite extensive, especially when compared to other Western countries. The process takes up to two years and requires multiple interviews with multiple government agencies, along with incredibly thorough background checks and vetting. It’s not a foolproof process, necessarily, but it is a very rigorous one. And unlike those seeking asylum, refugees are not admitted into the country until they have been granted official refugee status.
Then there is, of course, the contingent of US citizens who equate Islam with ISIS, which is simply wrong. The majority of Muslims stand against ISIS and the extreme violence they are unleashing on the world. And we must remember who is fleeing Syria and Iraq – Muslims, largely, themselves trying to escape war and acts of terror. Choosing to deny admission to the US based on religion alone, or going so far as to institute some sort of religious test upon arrival, as some have suggested, is discrimination and racism, and should not be stood for.
So the issue facing American citizens, and Christians in particular, is this – what do we do? How are we to treat the people seeking refuge and safety in our homeland?
Though it is easier said than done, we must remember that above all, we serve a God of love and compassion, and furthermore a God who requires obedience. In that case, we must look to Scripture, to the words of Jesus.
With those words we are given a template not only for trust in the Lord, but also for compassion, a sentiment that echoes the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7. We must note that there are no amendments to this command, no condition. There is nothing that says we should love our neighbor when it is convenient, or that we should love our neighbor when we’re sure that we have nothing to fear. What does Jesus say? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Period.
Earlier this week, over two dozen state governors declared that they would not continue allowing Syrian refugees into their states, in the interest of guarding the safety of their citizens. Constitutionally speaking, they don’t have the power to do this, but the intent is clear – fear is trumping compassion. And just today the House of Representatives voted on a bill that would make the refugee vetting process – which, as mentioned earlier, is already extremely thorough – even more extensive, which could effectively stop refugees from entering the US for the time being.
What does this look like from the outside?
To the Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and terror, it must seem like we are incredibly dispassionate. We are letting our fear of a hypothetical attack dictate how we treat people who are in real need; or, put another way, we are letting the actions of a few define how we treat an entire group. Francois Hollande, the president of France, announced this week that, despite the attacks carried out in Paris, France would not stop accepting refugees – in fact, he said, they would take more, saying that the threat of more violence does not outweigh his country’s humanitarian duty.
For followers of Christ, we must remember that how we treat others is a direct reflection of how we treat Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks to his disciples about sheep and goats, or more basically, about the righteous and the unrighteous.
When we show compassion to those in need, when we offer help to those asking for it, we are inviting Jesus not only into our lives but into theirs. We are saying, come, let me love you as Jesus loved me – for I was not worthy, but still he loved me. And this is the best love I can give to you – the love of Jesus that neither of us deserves.
At this moment, we as a people are at a crossroads. We are being faced with the opportunity to love those who are truly in need, or to give into our fear and paranoia and think only of ourselves. But again, what does Scripture tell us about God’s love?
Even writing this, fear knocks at the door. We can’t be sure of what is being asked of us, for it is a great deal – we are being asked to love courageously and selflessly, without fear or reservation. While we have the ability to exercise discernment in the face of danger, and we should do so, we must also make a decision about whom we are living for. Are we living for ourselves, in the interest of our own safety and comfort, or are we living for God, who calls us to love and obedience in his power and by his name?
It is easy to sit in a room and type this by lamplight, when harm seems far away and there is no one knocking at the door. But as the church, the body of Christ, we are in a moment of trial and we cannot be silent in the face of fear, for we are the sons and daughters of the one who conquers fear and death.
Let us crown our King.