In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris, there has been much in the news and on my Facebook feed about the issue of whether the United States and European countries should close their borders to Syrian refugees. Emotions are running high, and what I’m seeing over and over again is the three-headed beast of anger, fear, and self-righteousness. And here I am, about to add to the heap.
Before I do, let me acknowledge a few things: 1) I have no expertise on anything I’m writing about in this post, 2) I am just as hypocritical and selfish and crummy as the next person, and 3) No one asked for my opinion. That said, since none of those three things has stopped anyone else from venturing into the fray, I’ve decided to also ignore them.
So, a few thoughts about people calling for us to keep all those refugees out: It seems the predominate fear is that terrorists will enter into our country along with the completely innocent/harmless refugees and have greater access for committing more acts of terror and violence against U.S. citizens. Is this a possibility? I would have to say yes, it is. I think any thinking person has to admit that this is a possibility. Dangerous people entering the United States with the intent to do harm is always a possibility as long as ANY people are entering our country. Here is what is also true: the large majority of violence committed against American citizens in the last decade has been committed by…American citizens. In some of the most horrific mass shootings our nation has seen in recent years, the perpetrators have been white (American) males. White males who, technically, had legal access to numerous powerful weapons.
Secondly, if we are genuinely motivated to take action against things that might harm us, here is something else to consider: the actual probability of American citizens dying due to terrorist attacks is extremely small. That is, in part, due to the hard work and vigilance of our law enforcement and government agencies, for which I am deeply grateful. There are ways they keep us safe on a daily basis that we are oblivious to. Even so, here is how most Americans will die: from heart disease, diabetes, car accidents, and cancer. I don’t see a lot of outrage about that on the internet. I imagine at least some of the people calling their senators or signing petitions or whatnot to keep out the dangers associated with refugees are also texting while they drive or not exercising regularly or eating far more fast food than they should. Do Americans have the right to eat their burgers? Sure! Enjoy them! You’re going to die someday anyway! But there’s a rather significant failure of logic in fearing a very remote possibility of harm while ignoring a risk of harm that is far more likely to affect you. If you’re going to walk around afraid of something (and, really, is that any way to live?), be afraid of distracted drivers and that second donut you’re eating. They pose more threat to you than some refugees moving into the neighborhood.
Aside from that, why should we let anyone in? Well, as overly simplistic as this might sound, because someone let you in. If you’re Native American, I guess that doesn’t apply (your ancestors just walked here over the land bridge eons ago, although I bet the bears and buffalo weren’t too happy about it). But for the rest of us, it totally applies. I don’t care if your relatives came a generation ago (as my father did) or centuries ago on the Mayflower (as some of my mother’s relatives did)—someone in your family came here from somewhere else, was let in by someone already here (in some cases, involuntarily) and they came because they wanted something. A better life. Freedom. Safety. A job. Just because we’ve been lucky enough to be born here doesn’t mean we’re entitled to keep it all to ourselves. Do we need to act as responsible stewards of what we’ve been given? Yes. But good stewardship isn’t hoarding, especially when hundreds of innocent people are dying.
Those of us who call ourselves Christians have even more responsibility to be compassionate and to help. If we truly believe that God is sovereign and our lives are in his hands, then what are we so afraid of? How are the terrorists in any more control than they were a week ago? “God is a mighty fortress” isn’t meant to be literal. No verse in the Bible says we shall be known by our tough security measures. Scripture calls on us to love our neighbors and to cast out fear.
This is where I fully confess my own hypocrisy. I’m happy to write a check to an organization, but if someone were to ask me to take in a Syrian refugee family right now and have them live in my house, I’d probably say no (a week or two? sure; indefinitely? ummm…sorry). The reason I wouldn’t throw my arms wide open as I should is that I like my space and privacy, which I’ve written about several times on this blog. It’s no secret that I like my alone time. I also like predictability. Those are things I fear losing. That’s not how I should feel, and I hope, through the grace of God, my heart might grow in love enough to treat others the way I ought to, the way I’d want to be treated if my world suddenly erupted into violence and I was in need of help. In this discussion about how we are treating other human beings, where we are making decisions that impact their lives, let’s be honest about what we’re afraid of. And let’s honestly assess whether those fears are really legitimate reasons to turn suffering people away.