It is hard to know how we, as a nation, will come through this present situation involving ISIS terrorism, Syria, and the refugee crisis. I loathe the fact that we are leaving my children and grandchildren such a frightening world. It makes my own Cold-War-hiding-under-our-school-desks-in-case-the-Communists-bomb-us childhood seem tame by comparison. However we emerge on the other side of this–and I have to believe that ultimately we will–I want us to still be America. How I hated the news cast tonight about the various state governors who have pre-announced that refugees are not welcome in their states.
As a Christian, I cannot come up with a scenario by which Jesus lets us off the hook on this one. Father Giles Fraser says, “the Bible is clear: let the refugees in, every last one.” As followers of Christ, how can we do anything but help the poor, the oppressed, the stranger in a strange land? Jesus never promised us that following Him would be easy and safe but rather that we would be persecuted and have trouble in this world: so the notion that we can somehow carry out His work while being rich and safe, living in gated communities away from the poor and needy is fundamentally flawed. It may well be that some of these desperate refugees may come here and commit crimes or acts of terrorism, indeed there is no way to prevent that whether or not we welcome the stranger. But Jesus admonishes us repeatedly, “be not afraid.” I’d actually be glad if someone could come up with a little-known sermon by Jesus that said, “Help the poor and needy as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you or put you at risk, or cost you any money, or raise your taxes, or take anything out of your 401k. or make you have to associate with dirty, smelly, or dangerous people.” But I just haven’t been able to find that version of the scripture yet.
As an American citizen, I draw a line between what the government should do and what we as individual citizens must do. And yet since we, particularly conservatives, insist that we are a “Christian nation,” then what do we owe the world’s “tempest-tossed, wretched refuse?” My own ancestors fled religious persecution in Europe and were welcomed here when they were huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. It is worth remembering that a fair number of the earliest colonists and settlers were convicts and mental patients that England wanted rid of. We somehow seem to have survived (and descended from) them.
Finally, as a father, I can’t get past imagining how frantic and desperate I would feel if I were trying to care for my own children and flee with them out of war-torn Syria: so desperate that I would plunge us into the Mediterranean Sea and try to keep them fed and warm and safe and dry as we sought refuge. How would I hope that Christians around the world would respond? How I would long to place my children’s futures in the promises of America’s Statue of Liberty? How fiercely would I cling to a belief in the goodness and kindness of the people of the world? When I see their desperate faces on the news, I can’t help but see my own children’s faces on them. Let’s keep the lamp burning at our golden door.