17 November 2015

Refugees, Terrorists, and Christ

The governor of my state recently signed an order preventing any state agency from helping to resettle Syrian refugees here. Weary after a long day and frustrated by American politics, I posted this on Facebook:
When Jesus said to love your neighbor, he clearly wasn't talking about those with names like "Sanchez" or "Abdullah." It's pretty obvious he was talking about people with safer names. Like "McVeigh," probably.
As you'd expect, a lot of people "Liked" my shallow snarkasm. Others accused me of inviting hordes of terrorists into my neighborhood. They warned that I'd better be ready to help sort out the dismembered body parts of children in the aftermath of the inevitable suicide bombings. Some posted pictures of Jewish refugees from WWII. One posted a picture of a refugee's dead toddler on a Mediterranean beach.

Predictably, flame wars erupted between my friends and loved ones from different contexts who don't know one another from Adam. They do, however, share one important trait: They're mutually appalled by what they perceive as one other's arrogance and ignorance.

The most helpful comment came from a dear professor of mine:
Micah, the comment you make has the power to remind me that I'm not a good Christian, and it also reminds me to try and think carefully about the situation, but the comment does not carry with it any knowledge about how to determine which people might not be refugees but instead may be terrorists. I do not share the confidence that you apparently have in our government's dealing with this question.
This comment went right to the heart of the matter. (And right through my heart, if I'm being honest.) I get irritated with this old world. When I do, I throw out some negativity, then withdraw, Jonah-like, to my shady hillside to watch them all go to hell. The problem is that Jesus doesn't want me to be a Jonah.

So I want to do a few things in this post:

  1. Apologize to those who I've offended with my flippancy.
  2. Outline what makes me think how I do.
  3. Summarize my conclusions in a less sarcastic way.
  4. Invite anyone who disagrees to sit down and chat with me about any of this. (In trying to understand someone's position, face-to-face communication always trumps e-conversations.)
So, here we go!

1. I'm sorry. I know this is a weighty topic, and I knew that my post was likely to offend. At the moment, I cared more about my superiority than I did about adding light to the world. This attitude displeases Jesus, so I'm ashamed of it.

2. Here's where I'm coming from. I want my life to be a reflection of Jesus Christ's life. I want to love the things He loves, hate the things He hates, live the way He lived, and die the way He died. In short, I want Him to be my controlling force.

Here are some things that the Bible says and I believe:
  •  “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” (John the Baptist, on what it meant to live a God-honoring life - Luke 3:11)
  • "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And [the lawyer] said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (After Jesus's story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:36-37)
  • ...practicing hospitality... (Romans 12:13, in the middle of a list of commands to Christians)
  • "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20, ibid.)
  • Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
  • If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:15-17)
  • “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." (Jesus, sending the disciples out to preach in Matthew 10:16)
The one that I think informs my ideas most is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in Luke 10:30-37. Its entire purpose is to demonstrate that the lawyer can't call himself righteous if he's complacent about the suffering of the those around him. The hero of that story is a Samaritan, who would have been despised by Jesus's hearers, yet proved himself more righteous than both a priest and a Levite, who did holy service in the temple.

3. Here's what I think about the refugee crisis. I think the United States ought to be doing all it can to bring relief to refugees. Many of them have lost their homes, their businesses, their families -- they have sacrificed everything fleeing from the evil deeds of evil men. They are, in a very real sense, the ones "without clothing and in need of daily food." 

I think that leaders like Governor Brownback, who basically want to make this someone else's problem, are firmly in the camp of the priest and the Levite who crossed to the other side of the road rather than helping the man in need. Do they have the right to do it? Sure. Are there good reasons for them doing it? Certainly. Does that make it the God-honoring thing to do? I'm not so sure about that.

I think that hospitality is more than a suggestion in the New Testament; it is an absolute mandate. This is certainly the case for Christians helping fellow believers, and I think a good argument can be made for it also applying to non-Christians. For example, in Romans 12, Paul tells the Romans (who are, after all, living in Nero's Rome) to give their enemies food and drink.

I do NOT think that the United States should simply give an unqualified "yes" to anyone claiming to be a refugee. I recognize the importance of serpent-like wisdom, as Jesus did when He sent His disciples out to preach the good news. But I also recognize how vital His accompanying command was: Be as "innocent as doves." So by all means, yes, let's have a vetting process. Let's do whatever background checks we can. Let's use the intelligence we have to try to make good decisions. I'd even be open to taking in fewer refugees, or delaying the schedule for taking them in. But whatever we do, let's not allow fear of a "maybe" to blind us to the people suffering right in front of our faces.

I think that pursuing Christ's love is important enough to risk all the doubt and terror and death that ever existed. And I think the outpouring of that love is the one thing Christians are called to more than anything else.

4. Those are my thoughts... and I'm probably wrong about some of them. I'm not claiming to be infallible here. But I do think it's wrong-headed to give a knee-jerk "No!" to showing love and sympathy for some of the people who need it most.

If you want to talk, let's talk. I have a house with couches. I have a coffee pot. You're welcome to come over and help me use them.

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