On Thursday, my friend Jane and I drove to Chicago to welcome a refugee family. Jane’s van was loaded with supplies: linens, towels, pots and pans, dishes, and more—the basics needed to set up home.
Jane has been serving refugee families for more than 20 years. She collects household items at garage sales, estate sales, the dollar stores, wherever she can find them. Spending her own money, volunteering her time, even opening her home to those who need a place to stay. When a new family arrives, usually with only the clothes on their backs, she brings them what they need to set up house. Resettlement agencies, which often operate on a shoestring budget, rely on people like Jane to help provide household supplies for arriving families.
The little family we met were sweet and friendly: a husband and wife, in their early 20s (about the same age as my own children), and their adorable one-year-old daughter.
They didn’t speak English, so we communicated using Google Translate on our phones. It appears that the one phrase they’d learned so far at English class was “I do not speak English.”
They arrived here less than a week ago, and will be moving into an apartment this weekend. They have just three months of support, during which they must get a job, learn English, and adjust to life in a completely different culture. Eventually, they must pay back the government for their travel expenses.
Like most refugees, they did not come straight to America from their home country of Syria. They fled, fearing for their lives. They’ve been in a refugee camp in Jordan for three years. Their little girl was born in the camp.
So much fear, so much false information, about refugees. Refugees are the most carefully vetted immigrants who come to our country. It is not the easiest or most efficient way to immigrate. Refugees are subject to intense background checks by multiple agencies, long waits (three years is typical), living in a camp of tents in primitive conditions.
Did you know that the most often repeated command in the Old Testament is “welcome the stranger”? The second most repeated command is “do not be afraid.” Brothers and sisters, I see fear. I see refusal to welcome the stranger. It makes no sense. We are called to radical hospitality, to trust God, to welcome strangers, to love our enemies.
The next morning, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, (proving he is tone deaf to irony) Trump signed an executive order halting all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen are also included.)
On the day we remember the Holocaust, we forget that we refused to admit Jewish refugees to America, fearing for our national security. In other words, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we forget instead of remember.
Oddly enough, Saudi Arabia (home of most of the 9/11 hijackers) was not included in the ban. Nor was Egypt, Lebanon, or the United Arab Emirates, home countries of the other 9/11 hijackers. So for those of you posting videos of the 9/11 attack: yes, the attack was horrible. But Trump did not ban people from the countries where our attackers lived. He banned refugees who are fleeing violence similar to what we experienced on 9/11.
Imagine living in a country where bombing and attacks happen every day. Imagine your children, sleeping in their beds, awakened by bombs falling on your home. You flee for your life. You end up in another country, where you have to live in a camp, waiting. Waiting. Depending on the situation, you might be sent back to your home, if it is still there and no longer dangerous. Or, you wait a bit longer. Finally, after a thorough vetting process, you get cleared for resettlement. You might be sent to the United States, you might be sent to another country. It just depends.
Refugees are a specific group of immigrants. They are fleeing our common enemies, specifically, at this time in history, ISIS. In fact, “In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.”
I’m shocked by the president’s action, even though I know it is within his power to take it. But I’m even more appalled by the response of people who claim to be Christians, applauding the ban.
A few posts I’ve seen on social media remind us to never forget 9/11. They seem unaware that immigration from the home country of the hijackers has not been banned. And that the hijackers were again, extremists. Separate group from refugees.
Other posts claim that all Muslims are required to hate non-Muslims (Non-Muslims trying to teach on the Koran. Really?). ISIS, a radical extremist group, is violent and dangerous. They are killing people, bombing their homes, etc. Which people are they killing? Um, that would be everyone—including Muslims who don’t agree with their extremism. They don’t think those who are not as extreme are even “real Muslims.” So there are extreme Muslims, and there are other, more moderate Muslims.
Just as Christians interpret the Bible differently, and hold different theological positions, so do Muslims. Some Christians are extreme (such as Westboro Baptist, which pickets the funerals of military personnel because of the military’s position on gays, proclaiming that “God hates fags”)
I’m a Christian, but I don’t have the same theological position as the folks at Westboro Baptist, nor the same theological position of Christians who hate others. I certainly don’t have the same theological position of those who support the ban. Heck, I don’t even have the same theological position as Christians who don’t believe in equality for women in the church and family.
Not all Muslims are extremists. Just as not all Christians are extremists. But we have the privilege to live in a place where we can “agree to disagree.” Refugees do not have that privilege. They are fleeing for their lives.
But what’s odd to me is that many Christians have become more and more extremist—hating in the name of their faith. If you are hating anyone, you are not following Jesus. Go and read the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ listeners would have seen “Samaritan” the way that some Christians today see “Muslim.” Read the parable, and insert “Muslim” each time you see the word “Samaritan.” Samaritans, and Muslims, are our neighbors.
When we treat them with hatred, it only fuels the fires of hatred that keep ISIS marching forward.
This page of FAQs is very helpful. Here’s an excerpt: “Will the ban make the U.S. safer?”
“No. According to the Cato Institute, the chances that a U.S. citizen will be killed by a refugee are one in 3.6 billion; an American is more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist attack executed by a foreigner.
Refugees are already the most vetted group to enter the U.S. and the bans outlined in the executive order will not improve national security.
In fact, barring certain groups from entry because of their religion or country of origin could have the opposite effect: Far from protecting America from extremism, a ban on Syrian and Muslim refugees is a propaganda gift to those who would plot harm to the U.S.
Also—we must remember that support for refugees is not charity; it is a contribution to the global stability on which all countries depend.” (Source)
God calls us to love. He commands us to love, not just our friends, but our enemies. We are to be known as people who love. So this year, I will love. I will welcome strangers, because Jesus said that when I do so, I’m welcoming him. And when I refuse to welcome the stranger, there will be consequences.
“43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:43-46)