The news out of Paris over the weekend was horrifying. Deliberate and brutal killing of innocents by terrorists is something that will never make sense to me. I can’t get my head around it.
One of the results is that fear of refugees, particularly those from Syria, is growing. The fact that one of the people suspected of being involved with the mayhem in Paris apparently entered Europe as a refugee is giving American governors pause.
What is the correct response?
Roughly half of Syria’s population, 11 million of 22 million, have felt the need to leave their homes due to civil war over the last four years. That’s an awful lot of displaced people to find homes for, and the United States takes just a tiny percentage. (Read a story of one Syrian refugee here.)
My instincts tell me that America should not be fearful of Syrians, but instead should offer them assistance. Of course, due diligence is required and reasonable. According to World Relief of the 800,000 refugees resettled in the United States since September 11, 2001, only three have been arrested for participating in terrorist activity and they were picked up before any harm was done. I find it amazing, and evidence of God’s mercy, that the screening has been so successful.
But that’s just my reaction to the situation. For a more authoritative response, let’s find out what the Bible says.
The Old Testament begins with the story of God’s people as aliens in foreign lands. Abraham was told by God to leave his home, which he did, and he was promised the land of Canaan, however he never owned more land than the burial plot for his wife Sarah. Isaac didn’t do much better. Jacob lived for 20 years in the home of his father in law, Laban, then he too wandered in the land of Canaan. Eventually, Joseph was sold to Egyptians, and became second only to Pharaoh making way for the whole family to go to Egypt. And that’s just Genesis.
When God gave them the Law, 400 or so years later, it is clear that God had protective feelings about aliens, foreigners. “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
There is quite a lot of difficult violence in the Old Testament. God gave the Israelites control of their promised land, Canaan, by defeating the nations who lived there. Israel, huge by this point, was a force in Canaan, but their Law hadn’t changed. They were still to take care not to oppress a foreigner who lived among them.
I imagine that Muslim terrorists think that they are fighting against godless infidels, Christians, other non-Muslims and disobedient Muslims, like Israel was 3500 years ago.
That isn’t the way God calls his followers to live. Jesus, himself a refugee, modeled a life of mercy, of welcoming everyone, and of compassion. Instead of killing others for their sins, he took the sins of the world to the cross and paid for them with his death. Jesus did not live a life devoted to self-protection. He lived a life of service and sacrifice.
If you, like me, are a Christian, then you are called to follow Jesus. That means that we should behave mercifully, compassionately, not with self-protection as our first priority. Yes, we might pay a price for that behavior. Christians may suffer.
Terrorism isn’t going anywhere. I’m an idealist, I admit, but the best way I can think of to lessen the reach of terrorism is to screen very carefully and then welcome Muslims into this country. Maybe they will meet Jesus, and He makes all the difference.
What do you think? Do you agree with the governors who have said they will not accept Syrian refugees? Any thoughts on what the Bible says about refugees?