Since the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris last weekend, calls for stopping the proposed admission of Syrian refugees to the United States have reached a deafening roar. Over half of all state governors have released statements defending their right to refuse entry to any refugees the United States admits into its borders. Numerous Representatives and Senators have written the President urging him to reconsider allowing refugees to be resettled to the US. Congress is even working on legislation to legally prevent the admission of Syrian refugees into the US.
From a pragmatic and patriotic perspective, it is hard to make a case that such reaction against allowing Syrian refugees into the country is a bad move. After all, one of the primary responsibilities of government is to protect its citizenry against threats. This is made clear in the preamble to the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
-- Preamble of the Constitution of the United States
If the United States admits thousands of refugees, it is all but certain that some unsavory actors will find their way into our country. It's statistically quite likely that the multi-year movement of up to 100,000 refugees will bring with it a number of folks that we just plain don't want to have here. Criminals? Definitely. Terrorists? Probably. It is also undeniable that this stream of refugees will also bring countless men, women, and children who are suffering greatly as a result of the chaos in Syria resulting from years of war and the rise of ISIS.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of concern from American Christians about the Syrian refugee crisis. What give me pause, however, is that most of what I see, hear, and read from Christians is staunch support of the rhetoric and measures to prevent Syrians from coming to the US. Those voices include a number of governors and members of Congress.
Is this the proper Christian response? Clearly...no. Turning away those in need is definitely not the proper Christian response. From beginning to end, Scripture teaches and commands us otherwise. From Old Testament to New, the God-directed response toward others who need help is compassion, not withdrawal.
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.
-- Leviticus 19.34 (ESV)
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
-- Psalm 82.3 (ESV)
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
-- Isaiah 58.6-7 (ESV)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
-- Matthew 25.31-40 (ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
-- James 2.14-17 (ESV)
Pretty clear, no?
Is it risky to help others? Absolutely, but God has not given us a spirit of fear.
Might we end up being hurt, emotionally or physically? Of course, but we ought not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Might we be taken advantage of by a 'bad apple' now and then? Doubtless, but we are called to bear it if we are taken advantage of.
So what should we do when our patriotism and our theology conflict? Hopefully the answer is plain. We follow Christ. For all the benefits and goodness of our nation, no matter how great, are fleeting. But the benefits of Christ are eternal.