Saturday, December 12, 2015

My thoughts on Refugees and Immigration

(A couple quick points to clarify before we begin.

1. I have spent multiple hours rewording this in an effort to ensure that my written tone is respectful, and doesn't carry judgement, condemnation or a 'holier than thou' attitude towards those who do not share my opinions. If I have still failed at some point in this post, I am sorry! It's not my intention to appear divisive - I intend to try to provoke thought on a subject that is extremely important to me, perhaps more so given my international upbringing.

2. I have a large number of friends and relatives who have past or present served with the US military. Again, my intention is not to belittle this service or the nation being served. I fully support both the concept and act of protecting the freedom of one's nation, and am very thankful for those willing to risk their lives to do so! However, as a follower of Jesus, my primary allegiance is not to an earthly nation or establishment.  I deeply love each of the countries on the four continents I have gotten to call home - flawed though they each are in different ways.  But this world is not my home, and the Kingdom to which I owe my first allegiance crosses the boundaries of nations.  My countrymen and brothers and sisters are those across the face of the earth who follow the same King, and I feel about this Kingdom the way I would imagine a soldier feels towards the nation they love and fight for: willing to sacrifice what it takes to remain loyal to its ideals, its leader and its people.
With that said, onwards!)

I've refrained from blogging on the subjects of immigration, refugees or Islam until now (and as I write I'm not totally sure I'll even post this) ... but I am so disturbed and saddened by so much of what I read and hear that I want to add my voice to those in disagreement with the majority public opinion.  Opinion which often seems so strongly and desperately held that I don't really write in an attempt to change anybody's mind - simply express my own.

I think what disturbs me the most is the climate of fear that is growing in our culture.  It's being fostered by the media, by Presidential candidates, it's causing an increase in targeted attacks against Muslim Americans , and it's causing us to forget that as followers of Christ, we are called to more than just self-preservation. (In fact, that is the opposite of what Jesus came to earth for!) Even after the Paris attacks, France is remaining committed to its promise to accept 30,000 refugees  over the next two years, with President Hollande citing "humanitarian duty" and France's status as a "country of freedom" as his motivating factors.  But we, with the luxury of the Atlantic Ocean that Europe is not afforded as a buffer between us and the refugees, are increasingly afraid.

Yes, the underlying reason that we as a nation are wearing fear like a coat is that legitimately frightening things are taking place around us.  Maybe if Muslim Americans weren't shooting their own co-workers at the Department of Health, white Americans wouldn't feel the 'need' to attack Muslim Americans.  Maybe if we could say with certainty that it's only young Syrian males known to to the UN and USCIS to hold extremist ideals who would carry out terrorist attacks, we could continue letting in families who are fleeing for their lives.  Maybe then we could stop being afraid.

However, I cannot with good conscience take up a position that closes doors to those who are fleeing a brutal civil war in their own country, many of whom have lost friends and family members in the fighting, simply because the risk of missing a terrorist in the screening process is too great.  

The Bible uses the phrase "poor and needy" 30 times in the Old Testament, and every one of those is either God's instruction to care for those in need (this included both fellow Israelites and foreigners living among them), or warnings about God's judgement if they failed to do this - for "precious is their blood in His sight." (Ps 72) The word "stranger" is used even more times in both Old and New Testaments, often within the context of God's command to welcome and care for them when they reside within Israel's borders.  In the New Testament, this sentiment is reinforced when Jesus answers the expert in the law with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Jewish leader asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied to love God and love your neighbour, and then told the parable when the leader tried to justify himself by asking who is neighbour was.  Jesus' concluding statement was that the man who truly loved his neighbour was the Samaritan man who showed mercy to his enemy at great personal cost - and exhorts us to "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10)

I think it is too easy to forget, in our fear, that those attempting to escape death at the hands of ISIS in their country's civil war are running from the same enemy we are afraid of.  The same enemy!  Refugees are experiencing the fear that we feel when we see news headlines describing shootings, violence and suicide bombers in their own country - but for them, the stories are not headlines.  They are the realities of daily life. 

So what if we do let in that one innocent-looking Syrian refugee who has managed to conceal their ISIS ties, and we pay for our neighbourly compassion? What if we allow another 9/11 or worse by opening our doors?
First of all, let's remember that America is no haven of peace even without the question of potential refugee terrorists. White American Americans are doing a more-than-adequate job of turning on each other in violence, murdering innocent children and adults because of their own personally held extreme views towards society at large or their targets in particular.
Secondly (and please understand that I do not write this lightly or without some measure of fear myself), as followers of Jesus, we are not called to a life of safety.  Obeying God's commands is inherently risky; God Himself chose to act in ultimate love, on our behalf even while we were His enemies, and sent His Son knowing that we would kill Him!  Yes, I do think there is a risk that a Muslim terrorist willing to live and die for the destruction of America might possibly slip through the net (even though only 9% of refugee applicants from Syria are actually allowed into the US and it takes an average of two years for them to arrive). Or, as in the the case of Syed Farook in San Bernadino, they might already be here looking like any other American of Middle Eastern/South-East Asian descent.  Like I do.  However, does that risk justify my choice to ignore God's heart and commands towards the needy of the world simply to prioritise my own safety? I can't answer yes.

Mark and I moved our family to Papua New Guinea, an island in the Pacific, nearly two years ago.  While the culture and people are truly beautiful in many ways, there is a deep layer of violence below the surface.  My children know that when they hear gunshots while they're playing outside, they run into the house and can't play near the back fence to our yard until tribal tension is resolved.  They have heard the sounds of domestic violence at night coming from the village nearby.  They make friends with our (excellent) security guards who are present day and night on our missionary compound.  They know that much of what Mark deals with in the hospital is a direct result of unrestrained violence between individuals, sometimes members of the same family.  We don't have access to any kind of advanced specialist medical care in case of an emergency in our own family.  And while we are certainly not in the most dangerous place we could live, this is the reality of our family and our kids' childhoods.  It is risky.  It is not always safe.  And we sometimes feel afraid.  But it is where God has called us.

Is the answer to stop opposing refugee immigration from Syria?  Is giving towards aid organisations directly caring for refugees, like the Red Cross or Samaritan's Purse, sufficient?  Or perhaps being more targeted in giving, and sponsoring a refugee family living in a micro-camp whose purpose is to foster hope, provide trauma counselling and offer spiritual care and job training?  Honestly, I don't know.  I have a nagging feeling that the change required is such a drastic cultural and individual paradigm shift that it may never come about.  In which case, truly, Lord have mercy on us.  What I do know, though, is that as followers of Christ we are called to a higher standard than we are currently attaining on this subject.  As a group of Christian college students wrote in an excellent Op Ed piece, "Even when our neighbours are violent, we are called to love as Christ did, to the point of death, for Matthew 5:43 says, 'You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I tell you the truth, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

Like the Jewish expert in the law in Luke 10, we seek to justify ourselves by asking, "But how do I define love? Must love mean letting Muslim refugees in??" I think Paul gives us the answer in I Corinthians 13:
"And now I will show you the most excellent way:
 ... Love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

May we be known as people who protect, trust, hope and persevere for those in need - because we ourselves are loved in this way by the One who calls us to follow Him.

**A note to Mom and Dad, if you ever come across this post: thank you for my upbringing. I love you!