While driving home on Friday, November 13, radio stations were airing minute-by-minute updates on the terrorist massacre in Paris. Ironically, while listening to horror stories of innocent people being gunned down, I passed a church that, in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day, had a sign in its yard saying, “Be thankful at all times.” What a contrast—hearing of dozens and dozens of people murdered and being reminded to remain always thankful.
How to remain thankful in such a world as we live in is only one of the challenges people are faced with today. For many, the Paris attacks have ushered in a new wave of fear about our safety here in the U.S. and uncertainty about how to best protect ourselves. Though some (Bernie Sanders, for example) still claim that the greatest and most urgent threat of all to America today is so-called global warming, many are becoming convinced that religious terrorists likely pose a greater threat than the 8/10 of a degree temperature increase on the earth’s surface meteorologists say has occurred since 1850.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the thought of America taking in more Syrian refugees has become an increasingly controversial topic. It seems like everyone has an opinion about the refugee crisis. Is welcoming refugees to the U.S. merely setting up America for a terrorist attack like the one seen earlier this month in Paris? Or is it a Christian duty to welcome the stranger, including those fleeing for safety from the Syrian civil war?
First of all, we should consider the Biblical admonition about being “quick to listen” and “slow to speak”. Shortly after her conversion in the late 1940s, Joy Davidman said, “Since becoming a Christian I’ve been slowly teaching myself not to form opinions on matters which I know nothing; a new experience for me.” Prior to becoming a Christian, Joy was actively involved in the Communist Party, viewing the world through the lens of Marxist propaganda, apparently feeling the need to take a “position” on all the controversies of the day. Her newfound Christianity liberated her from having to form political opinions (or opinions in general) on things she wasn’t informed about.
Davidman’s humility is admirable. Truth be told, most of us who have taken to social media to express dogmatic beliefs about the Syrian refugee crisis aren’t really all that informed about all the ins and outs of this admittedly complicated topic. Davidman’s willingness to leave matters unresolved, at least until she was fully educated about the matter, is something we ought to emulate. Let us be willing to be “slow to speak”.
That’s not to say we all have to be “experts” before we can express opinions. We mustn’t let the “experts” disenfranchise us from expressing our convictions just because our credentials are lacking. Often times “laypeople” have as much, if not more, to offer by way of insight than the alleged experts do. Common sense and education are not synonymous.
Welcoming refugees is, according to the Obama administration, a humanitarian thing to do. To Barack Obama’s critics, welcoming Syrians here is yet another example of his naïveté regarding the dangers of Islamic jihadists. More than half of the 50 governors in the United States have spoken out against welcoming Syrians in their states, including Mississippi’s governor. Of course, if the U.S. admits thousands of Syrian refugees, it’s possible, and even likely, that some of them will be jihadists. That said, it’s also possible and extremely likely that some of them will be persecuted Christians who are literally fleeing for their lives. As Janet Parshall explained this week on Moody Radio on her program, In the Market, Syrian Christians live under constant fear of martyrdom. Can our fear of terrorists immigrating to our shores cancel out the empathy we should rightly have for those whose lives are one episode after another of unmitigated terror and constantly fearing for their lives?
Even people who are sympathetic about welcoming refugees are arguing that the “vetting” process be stepped up. It’s only possible to do so much vetting, though. Current laws prohibit violent extremists from claiming refugee status, but, as Parshall pointed out, terrorists aren’t necessarily going to answer passport questionnaires truthfully. In the 1930s when British journalist G.K. Chesterton first visited the U.S., one of the questions his paperwork asked was, “Do you plan to seditiously overthrow the American government by force?” Chesterton, seeing the absurdity of expecting someone who did in fact have such intentions to answer truthfully, replied, with his typical wit, that he would prefer to answer that question at the end of his tour of America, not at the beginning.
It all boils down to whether we are viewing the Syrian civil war merely from a pragmatic, political point of view, or from a “What would Jesus do?” point of view. If one is an American first, and a Christian second, then the hard-nosed, conservative approach of “Let’s close our borders” makes sense. However, if one is a Christian first, and an American second, then it’s unconscionable to turn a deaf ear to persecuted Christians who are fleeing for their lives. If our own safety is our ultimate concern, of course barring Syrian refugees is a no-brainer. However, if other people’s safety is as high of a priority to us as our own, barring Syrian refugees is, of course, not an option.
All that said, I’m not an expert and feel sorry for the supposed experts out there, as it is they who will be making the tough decisions in the days ahead. As we form opinions, let’s not presume to know more than we do. Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak. Most importantly, let us always remember to pray for the persecuted church, in Syria and wherever else it is found.