A “crisis of belief” has broken out in America. We’ve been assured by “experts” for years that Islam is a peaceful religion. Then Paris happened and we awakened to the fact that the promise and the reality don’t seem to line up. So, our culture is having a crisis of belief: it may well be true that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it sure seems that overwhelmingly, the vast majority of terrorists are Muslim. Just look at Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS, the Taliban, etc. And there are bunches and bunches of terrorists.
In our culture’s crisis of belief, two main lines of argument have broken out: one that advocates national security and one that urges compassion and hospitality to Muslim refugees. These two arguments are not just taking place in American secular culture, but among Christian evangelicals as well. Among NEHBCers as well. Some of us are expressing a lot of concern about national security. Should we let Syrian refugees into the USA and unwittingly provide a way in for terrorists? Others of us are advocating compassion and hospitality for refugees, victims of a terrible war.
Here are a couple of guiding thoughts I have in an effort to help us as a church family.
1. Let’s think well. A passion for national security and compassion for the refugees are not at their core, opposing ideas. In the world of debate, two people working side by side on the same project, each on their own ladder, is used as a teaching metaphor. For debate to be constructive, the two people have to be standing on the same rung level on their respective ladders; otherwise, they aren’t really talking about the same thing. While national security and compassion for refugees certainly overlap in terms of practical application, at their root, they are two different rungs on the ladder of “what should we do about Muslim refugees?”
I have major concerns about Muslim refugees in terms of national security. I am a husband and a father of four small children. I have aging parents. I have a church full of members for whom I’d die. I have travelled extensively throughout North Africa and the Middle East. I have encountered many kind, friendly, warm, hospitable Muslims. I’m talking about American southern hospitality awesome. I thoroughly enjoy traveling North Africa and the Middle East, and I’d love to live there. But, I have had personal encounters with Muslim radicals in Iraq, the West Bank, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. I’ve also encountered them in London, Paris, and Marseille. I’ve been told not a few times, “when we get done in these countries, we will come to America and the blood of your children will flow.” You wouldn’t believe the threats I’ve been told about America and Christians. I’ve been to the large sections of London, Paris, and Athens where the police are very nervous to go due to radical Muslim residents. I’ve also read large translated portions of the Quran and there is clearly talk of violence as a means for the enforcement of Islam as the one true religion. I can assure you, this is no video game or movie. The threat is very, very real. I have major concerns about our national security. I want refugees and immigrants of any kind to be thoroughly vetted. I think those who want to be considered for asylum in our country should recognize that terrorists are hard to detect and practice the same religion as the asylum seekers, and therefore understand and accept our desire for asylum seekers to be properly vetted. And I say all this as an immigrant myself. My family was vetted by the USA and I’m grateful. I do not think it is at all un-Christian to protect my wife, children, aging parents, loved ones, and the nation to which I’ve pledged allegiance. I think it’s Christian.
I am simultaneously very concerned about the welfare of the refugees from these war-torn lands. There are countless victims of horrific atrocities committed by ISIS and Boko Haram. As a father of small girls, I am still sick to my stomach every time I think of the many little girls kidnapped and trafficked by Boko Haram in Nigeria two years ago. Many of them are still somewhere in captivity being raped repeatedly; even right now as you read this. Ten and eleven years old. There is no Liam Neelson on his way to rescue these girls who’ve been taken. I’ve stood on a mountain overlooking Syria and heard the ka-boom of a bomb and I’ve watched the mushroom cloud rise in the air. Women and children were murdered by that bomb. Men trying to provide for their families too. I’ve stood in a room full of students in a special preschool in Iraq for kids whose normal physical development has been stunted due to the trauma of the war zone in which they live. I’ve sat in an underground room with a pregnant widow and her preschooler that were in hiding from Hamas who killed her husband simply for printing bibles. My point is that almost all the refugees showing up at our borders are literally running for their lives from a very real evil. They have lost everything. They are blessed just to be alive. If my mind has been conformed to the mind of Christ, I am, like Him, going to look at humans suffering and feel lots of compassion and grief and be moved to do something about it. I think it’s Christian. What does it look like to love our neighbor like we love ourselves?
Our nation is at war. Just because the war is being fought overseas doesn’t change this fact. And in war time, there are difficult and complex situations. One of them is the refugees. National security and compassion are not mutually exclusive. They are both different aspects of the same matter. Both deserve serious and careful deliberation.
2. Pray well. National security is a responsibility given by God to the government. It isn’t the church’s role to decide how to secure our nation’s borders. Pray passionately for the government to be wise and discerning and to make the very best decisions possible to look after us. Enjoy the freedom to express your opinion about how our government should protect us, but keep in mind, you are a Christian-American, not an American-Christian. Huge difference. As you pray relative to compassion for refugees, remember it is the church’s role to love humanity and care for the hurting. Ultimately, by sharing with them the Good News of the once and coming King, Jesus Christ. We must pray passionately for the welfare of the war victims. Regardless of one’s personal position on national security, each of us and our churches must be open to the Spirit’s leading to minister to refugees and immigrants amidst the decisions our government is making about national security. Those from the Middle East are as much “the world” as anyone else in our holy mandate from Jesus Christ–Matthew 28:18-20. NEHBC is actively seeking to minister to Muslim refugees in Houston.