Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What would Jesus do in response to the Syrian refugee crisis?

A few decades ago, as you may remember, some Christians wore bracelets marked with the letters WWJD, meaning, What Would Jesus Do? Although no one can claim to know what Jesus would do in every situation, the Bible does tell us much about what Jesus said and did, and that should be enough to guide us in determining what Jesus would do in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Yet why are Christians so divided on the issue of Syrian refugees? Even before the Paris bombings, people were already divided. The flood of refugees fleeing the war in Syria made many people, especially those in Europe, apprehensive. There were too many refugees and not just Syrians. Thus, some pleaded for the borders to be shut while others wanted to welcome the refugees with open arms.

After Paris, the division became even worse. Apprehension crossed the Atlantic and intensified during the crossing. In the US, the two sides are readily apparent in a video put out by The Young Turks. If Fox represents one side of the debate, TYT is clearly on the other about what to do with Syrian refugees.

Fox accents security while TYT advocates love, yet both claim to be Christian. Politically, however, they find themselves on opposing sides. Thus, it  is not surprising that they would give diametrically opposing answers to the question of whether Jesus would take in Syrian refugees. They certainly do.

Fox represents a conservative brand of Christianity, the latter that of a more liberal/progressive form of the Christian faith. While there is room for Christians to disagree on many matters, love ought be central in what drives us in living the Christian life, not fear and certainly not hatred.

Most Christians would lean to one side or the other in the Fox-TYT debate and, therefore, answer this question very differently. In discussions with friends and acquaintances since Paris, I have heard both positions presented eloquently and passionately.

Many are concerned with security. They are genuinely afraid of terrorists gaining admission to their country by concealing themselves among this flood of refugees. It is not that they are lacking in compassion; many have become increasingly concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, although often their compassion does not extend to Muslims since many equate terrorism with Islam.

But fear seems to trump love, even when that fear is disguised by appeals to delay the admission of refugees. However, I found that I was able to refute some of those who were concerned with security. They were open to my arguments that their fear was misplaced and that they should, instead, place their trust in God.

My position is no secret to those who follow my blog. In the two previous posts, I have argued that as Christians we must welcome the stranger and not be afraid of the refugees/strangers in our midst. Everything we do should be motivated by love, not tolerance but genuine, heartfelt love. Love of God and love of neighbor canot be divided, and neither should we be.

According to President Obama, the US will accept only 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. Even this number is too many for the Republicans in Congress who, in response to what happened in Paris, have voted to make it more difficult for them to enter the country. I would ask them where their love is.

In addition, more than half of the US’s governors have stated they will no longer provide placement for Syrian refugees, arguing that they pose too great a risk to national security. New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said that his state will not take in any refugees,"not even orphans under the age of five." Similarly, I would also ask them where their love is.

The American backlash against refugees is based largely on the fear that a Paris-style attack could be replicated in America if the US began to shoulder its burden of the refugee crisis. But they should first become aware of this important fact: of the 784,395 refugees admitted by the US, only three have ben arrested on terrorism charges.

Another article uses an even larger base figure but arrives at the same conclusion: three. It also argues that we should distinguish carefully between refugees, who are vetted extensively while still overseas, and asylum seekers, who are vetted only after they arrive. Terrorists are not likely to wait in a refugee camp for three years while waiting. Instead, they will find other avenues to enter a country.

A similar backlash exists in Canada, where newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by December 31. One premier of a Canadian promise has articulated the mood of many Canadians when he urged the federal government not to bring in refugees to hastily out of fear of the threat of terrorism.

But such a fear is misguided because the process of relocating refugees to North America is very different from the way that refugees currently arrive in Europe where vetting takes place upon admission. The Syrians who are flown to the US and Canada will be the most heavily vetted group of people that are currently allowed into both countries.

Even then, a majority of Americans do not approve of more Syrian entering the US. The breakdown by parties is very revealing. Republicans by a wide margin disapprove. They also support the use of overwhelming military force to fight terrorism.

The extent of the division among Christians is apparent in another poll conducted earlier this fall which showed that 42 percent of Protestants in the US approved of admitting more refugees into the country while 54 percent disapproved. Fifty-nine percent of Catholics approved while 38 percent disapproved. America is divided politically, a division that is reflected in many denominations.

In the US, the entire vetting process is expected to last from 18 months to two years. The Canadian process will be much shorter if these refugees are to arrive by the end of this year. Both countries want to vet the refugees while they are still overseas.

Many Canadians have already said that they won't complain or hold it against Trudeau if the process takes a month or two longer, as long as the necessary security measures are in place and the refugees have been properly vetted. Security is their main concern. Note: the Canadian government just decided to admit only 10,000 by the end of this year; the rest will arrive by February. Loud applause!

The Canadian government has already decided to admit only women, children, and families while single males will be excluded because of security concerns, While this seems like a reasonable tradeoff so that both compassion and security can be rightfully expressed and dealt with, it is not since these single men are also fleeing war and very few, if any, are potential terrorists.

Many Christians in Canada will be pleased that their government is committing to bring in 900 refugees per say from Syria. These refugees are currently in camps in Lebanon, where the vetting process is taking place. These exiles will then be flown primarily to Montreal and Toronto.

The cost of resettling them is estimated to cost 1.2 billion Canadian dollars (about $900 million) over six years. This cost is reasonable, at least considering the large number of people who need to be processed, airlifted, and resettled. Canada has already resettled 3,089 Syrian refugees between January 1 and November 15 of this year.

Those who do arrive will immediately receive the health benefits that all Canadians enjoy. They will not be labeled refugees but newcomers and made to feel at home. Canada is a country of immigrants and it enjoys a good and longstanding reputation for showing hospitality for people from many countries, notwithstanding the actions of the previous Conservative government.

Yet even the 25,000 Syrians coming to Canad is only a drop in the bucket as compared to the number of Syrians still in the Middle East. Nearly 80,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the EU so far this year, but this does not yet account for the large number who want to move to Europe. So far this year, Germany registered the arrival of 243,721 asylum seekers from Syria. That country expects to receive more than a million asylum seekers by the end of 2015.

What most people in Europe and North America are unaware of is that Syrian refugees are generally afraid of exactly the same thing that Americans are: Islamist terrorism. Many are fleeing areas held by the Islamic State, and they are doing so in contravention of ISIS which has repeated condemned refugees for fleeing ISIS-controlled areas.

So, I urge not only Canadians but also Americans as well as citizens of other countries to urge their respective governments to do even more so that many more Syrian refugees can find new homes where they can feel safe.

These refugees want security as much as we do. But their security must not become the price they have to pay for our own security. That would be selfish. Jesus was anything but selfish when he became one of us so that we might be united with him. He emptied himself of his heavenly glory so that we might inherit that glory together with him our brother (Hebrews 2:9-11).

There are at least twelve verses from the Scriptures about loving immigrants, refugees, and displaced people. These are verses that all Christians should take to heart when confronted with the issue of Syrian refugees. From the verses alone, it is clear how Jesus would respond to this refugee crisis, or any other for that matter.

We are commanded to love our neighbor, but what does that mean?  Galatians 5:14 explains: "For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself."  If we ask, as the teacher of the law did in Luke 10:29-37: "And who is my neighbor?"  We read that Jesus responded by saying:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise." 
If you disagree with Jesus, please let me know. Of course, you may disagree with my interpretation of how he would respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, but you may not disagree with him. For me, the answer is crystal clear.

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