What to do about Refugees?

refugeesRecent events have once again thrust the values of compassion, life, safety, and responsibility into the forefront of our conversations. After the most recent events in France, the issue of immigration and refugees is at the center of conversation.

To be clear, America has not always been kind to the immigrant or refugee, be it Mexican, Irish, Jewish, Catholic or Sudanese. We are not unique in our circumstances – fear, compassion, and safety have forced many generations to face their ideology. As a nation, we have an ideology that touts compassion, but when faced with the reality of perceived safety vs. ideology we, the people, often choose perceived safety.

I see many posts and statuses (thanks social media) saying some version of a few ideas like:

“If we can’t take care of (homeless vets, children in poverty, mentally ill, etc) in our own country then we should not take more refugees” or “It is shameful that we care more about refugees than our own people.”

and my favorite…

“If I had a bowl of 10,000 m&m’s and I0 were poisoned, how many people would be willing to eat a handful?”

First, let’s make sure we understand m&m’s are not people and they do not bear the image of God and they are not escaping war and terror.

Second, does our compassion for one group of people negate our compassion for another group? One person cannot do all, but all can do some. My question for those in the “care about our own people first” camp is this: In what ways are you already caring for these populations (homeless, orphaned, impoverished)?

My experience has shown me that the people who are actually working with at-risk populations are the same people advocating to bring the refugees into our community.

Now, let’s be clear. I am not saying we should abandon our due diligence in screening those who want to immigrate. I am not saying we should have open borders. I am not saying our actions are without risk. I am not saying we should not seek justice for the perpetrators of terror.

It should be remembered that without welcoming refugees fleeing terror, the United States would have never known Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, or Sigmund Freud. Also, if you are of Anglo-Saxon descent then at least one of your ancestors was likely fleeing religious persecution in some form.

Immigration, war, and refugees are complicated issues that deserve complex and diligent thought. We cannot afford to be either bleeding heart liberals or closed-minded conservatives.

Most of us are not in a position to directly influence public policy (we are a republic, not a democracy, after all) so I will not address the issue of public policy. What I do know is that there are already immigrants and refugees in almost every community in our nation and there will likely be more. Isolation, poverty, and lack of opportunity are 3 main drivers of radicalism in any culture (neo-Nazi, IRA, radical Islam, to name a few). Perhaps the way we combat extremism is not through isolation and fear, but through community and relationships.

If you are a believer in Christ, then you must examine his word and let his authority determine your actions. We have been sent as sheep in the midst of wolves, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We are immigrants in a foreign land, longing for home. Our actions and beliefs should reflect an ideology greater than personal safety and deeper than political dogma. We should seek both justice and mercy, safety and sacrifice, wisdom and compassion.

When we think about an issue let’s think deeply, slowly, and be willing to say “I don’t know.”

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