Christian Response to Syrian Refugees

I love Facebook. I know I shouldn’t – it’s filled with a lot of nonsense. But it’s been great connecting with friends I haven’t seen in decades and I actually enjoy some of the banter.

In the past couple days, though, I’ve seen a lot of comments about how we should deal with Syrian refugees fleeing terrorism in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. As a Christian and former Defense Department intelligence officer I have a unique perspective I’d like to share.

As Christians we are commanded by God to care about these people – period. Let me share some scripture with you:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34

“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…” Matthew 25:35

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:20

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:43-48

You get the idea. God is very clear about two things: Take in those who we now would call immigrants or refugees, and love your enemies.

Now I’ll be honest and tell you that as a former intelligence officer whose job it was to help find bad guys around the world so we could either capture them or kill them this can be a conundrum for me. The question comes down to this:

How can you do what the Lord commands while at the same time protect your people from those who would take advantage of your hospitality to slip into your country to kill the very people you are charged with protecting?

The verse many use to turn a blind eye to the danger is Luke 6:27-30:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

In this passage, Jesus is teaching his disciples not to be offended – it’s not a dissertation on how one should allow others to physically abuse them. In Jewish culture, being slapped on the cheek was an insult not an attack, kind of like in those old movies where a guy would slap another guy with his glove and challenge him to a duel. Having your cloak taken was not an act of robbery in this culture, it actually was a judicial penalty for wrong doing, so if you have your cloak taken by someone – mostly likely for payment of a debt – give him more than you owe! This whole passage is about being humble not being a victim!

Which leads us back to the question: How do we protect ourselves from evil while still showing love to those in need?

I’ll be honest and tell you it is VERY tricky. Our intelligence services at this point cannot really track the backgrounds of all the Syrian refugees. And yes, bad guys will mingle within these groups to gain access to western countries. In fact, one of the master minds of the Paris attacks was boasting on the Internet how he could freely move between Syria and western countries. It’s happening and to claim otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

The second problem is America is not a police state. We don’t have the will or manpower to watch the 10,000 refugees we plan on bringing into the country. Less than 10 terrorist committed the acts in Paris – it doesn’t take a lot of people to cause major mayhem so the chances of a cell of terrorist coming into America as part of the refugees is highly likely.

But do we as Christians turn away people in need because we worry about a handful of bad guys? Many are saying yes out of fear and worldliness. But I believe our God is bigger than that and I believe we as Christians should keep our minds on things above not on worldly things. So here’s the hard answer we Christians should embrace:

Yes, we should help Syrian refugee. Yes we should vet them to the best of our ability. And yes, terrorist will get into our country and people will most likely be killed. And YES, our God is in control so we don’t have to worry about any of this other than what we are commanded to do by Him: Love our neighbors as ourselves even if there is a cost.

I’m the first to admit I struggle with the advice I am giving. I’m a military man and very martial in my thinking. My first response to terrorism is a more secular approach. Yet, I also am a man of God who understands that His commands come first – He is my commander and chief and I must follow what He says. And in this case He is clear – care for those who are seeking shelter, but do so the way Jesus taught His disciples: “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 16:10

Friends, we need to pray – pray for the persecuted, pray for God’s protection, and yes, pray for our enemies who have embraced a false religion that tells them it’s okay to kill people with whom they disagree and to do so in God’s name. Pray that Jesus meets them in their dreams as has happened with many Muslims as of late and that Jesus can transform them from killers to followers!

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