Bible-believing Christians agree on the core doctrines of Scripture. However, we often disagree on the specific application of these doctrines. And nothing makes that difference more apparent than discussing complex political issues, such as the current Syrian refugee dilemma.
Over the past few weeks, I have received a number of messages from church members asking my opinion of this situation. As I sat down to write a Word from the Pastor to help us think about it, I had a novel idea.
Instead of providing just one article to address this issue, I wanted to provide two. I asked two church members – Micah Pick and Michael Herbert – to each write an opposing view piece articulating their response to this question. The parameters were simple: each article was limited to 800 words and was to answer the question, “As Christians, should we prioritize helping international refugees or providing national security?” Here are the results.
WHY WE SHOULD PRIORITIZE NATIONAL SECURITY
By Michael Herbert
As Christians we should exercise compassion (Heb 13:2) and demonstrate love toward everyone, especially our enemies (Matt 5:44). This is undeniable. However, the principles of such teachings are given to the church – collectively and individually – and are not intended to unquestionably govern the foreign policy of a nation. While Scripture should thoroughly influence our opinions and actions – and certain biblical principles do apply to this situation as will be shown below – as Americans we cannot universally transpose all biblical teachings into national policy. To do so would necessarily result in the preference of one interpretation over another. This is indeed the antithesis of the intent and purpose of our government.
One vital purpose of our government is to “provide for the common defense” of the citizenry (“Preamble.” U.S. Constitution). Therefore, as a nation we should prioritize national security regarding the current situation concerning the immigration of Syrian refugees. Please note, no rational voices are proposing that we should ignore the plight of marginalized people of any nationality. What many are suggesting are several compelling reasons that should preclude expeditiously accepting refugees merely because they are displaced. A few reasons why we should prioritize national security are:
- ISIS has publicly stated that they have been exploiting this refugee situation to advance their jihad by infiltrating the mass exodus from Syria by inserting thousands of trained terrorists into the waves of refugees in order to gain unfettered access into European countries – and possibly America.
The Express, a British newspaper, reported an ISIS operative claimed more than 4,000 trained ISIS gunmen have been hidden among innocent refugees who have already been smuggled into Europe! We cannot determine the validity of this, but it would be foolish not to take the threats of such ruthless individuals seriously.
In fact, the Washington Times reported, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on Capitol Hill that U.S. intelligence officials have a “huge concern” about the ISIS’s ability to infiltrate waves of Syrian refugees flowing into Europe and potentially the United States as pressure mounts on Western nations to take in a growing number of refugees. Clapper stated, “As they descend on Europe, one of the obvious issues that we worry about, and in turn as we bring refugees into this country, is exactly what’s their background?” Similarly, the Washington Post reported, FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that “a number of people who were of serious concern” slipped through the screening of Iraq War refugees, including two arrested on terrorism-related charges. Comey said that although the process has dramatically improved and the vetting process records details such as biometric information; the U.S. has no biometric database to compare this information against.
Unlike the situation in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have not been in Syria collecting biometric information. Considering the FBI does not have the means to conduct such background checks, Comey added, that “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.” Considering the President’s announcement that the U.S. will admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year many are rightly concerned that there simply does not exist any means by which such a great number of people can be processed with any degree of certainty as to their true identity; thereby granting ISIS essentially unrestricted access to the United States. An argument can be made that biblically based wisdom includes the discernment of threats and specific action to mitigate such threats (Luke 11:21).
- It has been suggested that a biblical policy of governance averts the responsibility of a government to work for the greatest good of the nation over which they rule (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14).
Thus, any nation’s immigration policy should be designed to benefit that nation. This concept is also paralleled in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution that attests the need to “promote the general welfare” of its citizenry. By implication, this would give priority to those who possess the greatest likelihood of benefiting the nation and would exclude those without such potential (see Wayne Grudem Politics According to the Bible, 471-476).
- The United States cannot provide for the needs of its own marginalized citizens in the manner proposed for the Syrian refugees.
The estimated cost of taking in 10,000 refugees is $6.5 billion. The current annual deficit of the U.S. is $431 billion with a Federal debt of $18 trillion. Meanwhile, at least 45 million Americans live in poverty (2014 U.S. Census) Thus, in terms of national security, it would behoove the U.S. to attend to its own marginalized citizenry in order that we might best help others in the future. To apply a biblical principle, those who do not provide for their own are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim 5:8).
WHY WE SHOULD PRIORITIZE INTERNATIONAL REFUGEES
By Micah Pick
I know we all agree on this: the gospel of Jesus Christ should permeate every aspect of our lives. The fact that we, former enemies of God, have been given peace and rest, should have a ripple effect spreading outward to our convictions, relationships, and, yes, even opinions on matters of national policy. Christian conservatives have said for decades that they desire a government that reflects their values, and I’d like to remind us that our values stretch beyond issues of marriage and abortion. Indeed, caring for the helpless refugee is an inherent Christian value.
Caring for the helpless foreigner is not a New Testament idea. Ancient Israel, as a Theocracy, was governed by the Law of God. We read this command in Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” God specifically commands against any hierarchy of treatment between native-born and foreigners, stating in no uncertain terms that the foreigner should be treated as if they were a natural citizen. Also, it is important to notice that care for foreigners is rooted in Israel’s history of salvation. Their status in Egypt becomes the basis for how they are to treat foreign refugees. We too must remember who we were, allowing the gospel to compel us towards love, not fear.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, God makes His position clear concerning those who will not offer aid to the helpless. Ezekiel 16:49 declares: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” We should be very careful that while secular America embraces the sexual sins of Sodom, we do not also become blinded by our excess and join the ranks of the overfed and unconcerned. If we refuse aid to the poor and needy, we too will be compared to Sodom itself.
The New Testament records the story of the Good Samaritan where Jesus makes it clear that the command to love your neighbor extends to all, regardless of race, condition, or status. Let us not be like those religious conservatives, the priest and the Levite, who showed no mercy, but as Jesus commands, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan.
There are no qualifications to these commands to care for the helpless. There is never a parenthetical, “as long as you are certain of safety” tagged onto any Biblical command to care for those who need it. The example of Jesus Christ should remind us that safety should never hamper the rescuing of the needy. However, before you think I am calling us to put ourselves directly in harm’s way, let us consider the facts of the current crisis of Syrian refugees.
First, let us be clear; there are no confirmed incidents of a Syrian refugee committing an act of terror. The attackers and planners in Paris were almost exclusively French and Belgian nationals. Though one was found with a Syrian passport, it has been shown to be a forgery. If the French had never let a refugee within their borders, the attacks would have still occurred.
For those who are fearful of Jihadists pretending to be refugees, understand that America has a rigorous and effective vetting process. According to numbers gathered by the Cato Institute, of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States and none was successfully carried out. The vetting process has not changed, and there is no reason to believe its success will change either.
In fact, if safety is truly our goal, then we MUST allow Syrian refugees to enter America. To refuse them is to risk radicalization of some our own native Muslim population as well as to insure embitterment against America among many of the refugees who see us as their last hope. The effects of such bitterness and radicalization would likely be much more harmful to our safety than any minute margin of error made in a proven vetting process.
Finally, if none of the above is convincing, consider that the mission field is coming to us. We have long agonized on how to reach Muslims with the gospel, but now recoil when we have a chance to actively demonstrate the love of Christ to them. If we refuse to give them aid, many of them will die without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We must remember the story of our own salvation, that we were far from God, but He brought us near, and as Jesus says of the Good Samaritan, to “go and do likewise.”
Next week, Michael & Micah will write a brief, follow-up response to one another. I am grateful for the time and effort that each one of them put into their piece. While they may not have changed your mind, hopefully, they each gave you some biblical food for thought. We can all agree that there are weighty issues at stake that none of us should ignore or take lightly.