The Middle East refugee crisis is one of the great humanitarian disasters of our time. There is no doubt about that. Large numbers of people flee horrific scenes of violence. They run fast and far from an ideological conflict that has been raging for centuries, but now threatens to boil over into a total war that could engulf the world. Allegiances shift. The reasons for fighting don’t always make sense to those of us living in the West. Politicians vacillate and babble. Everyone has an opinion as to what should be done.
I don’t have the answers.
First, it’s stupid of anyone to think that he’s got the magic bullet that will solve all the problems in the Middle East. Have all the meetings you want, but the hostility, stretching back to Isaac and Ishmael, is not going to stop this side of eternity. Second, it’s ignorant to believe that the Islamic State is not a legitimate form of Islam. No, not all Muslims are terrorists and not all Muslims support the Islamic State. But members of the IS do not practice eisegesis. They do not read into the Qur’anic texts ideas and concepts that are not already there. (See this excellent article for an in-depth exploration). If we are going to attempt to address this problem at all, we had better do it from an informed place.
But even then, what should our response be?
I am a pacifist. Have been since I was a young teenager. I believe that the Lord convicted me on this due to my own slow-burning but ultimately very bad temper and the fact that I have to work hard to control it. There’s no way that I can make the call to spread the Gospel blend with violence of any kind, physical or verbal. I don’t question the faith of people who see things differently and I would never be disrespectful to anyone in the military. (My parents raised me better than that and my uncles, all members of the armed forces or police officers, would rake me over the coals). This is simply where I fall.
As such, I don’t believe that sending troops to the region will do any good in the long term, especially since the battles waged across desert sands are theological in nature. This is about Islam. About the domination of a particular interpretation and practice of that religion. No amount of intervention on our part is going to change that. I don’t see the sense in American men and women putting their boots on the ground to take part in a little-understood, unending conflict that grows bloodier by the day.
So you might conclude that I would be on the side of those who call for the government to throw open wide the doors for any refugees who wish to come here.
Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than seeing children suffer because of the selfish actions of the adults in their lives. I hate to think of them trying to sleep with the ring of gunfire in their ears. The image of mothers scrounging for food for their little ones makes me sick. Elderly people shouldn’t have to live in war zones. A large part of me says, “Let them come. Let them come.”
Another part of me realizes that human beings are sinful. Islam allows for kitman, meaning that a Muslim may make ambiguous statements and pay mere lip-service to authority while maintaining personal opposition. She may say one thing and do another. Like it or not, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a member of the IS would use kitman to pose as a refugee in order to enter the United States. (Whether or not that’s an appropriate application of the concept is outside my realm of knowledge. I’ll leave that debate to the experts).
Still another part knows that a sizable minority who flee the terror are my brothers and sisters in the Lord. The persecution they suffer for their faith is real, despite protests to the contrary. I can’t turn a blind eye to beheadings and crucifixions. I want to rise up and shield them from such barbarous evil.
I can hear your objections. “You’re spreading religious hatred!” “You’re prejudiced!” “You’re hateful!”
Not at all. I don’t for a second believe that all of the refugees, or even a majority of them, are terrorists in disguise. I don’t think that every Muslim is a liar. I don’t think that we need to fear these people.
I do think that we need both compassion and wisdom. There’s a reason that Jesus tells us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). We can’t have one without the other and navigate this life successfully.
I don’t know what our response should be, either nationally or as Christians. This is not as cut-and-dried as some on either side of the debate would have it be. At the national level, we face debt crisis after debt crisis; it’s unreasonable to think that we can, given the current economic make-up, financially support an unchecked flood of humanity. It’s not wrong to wonder why other Muslim-majority nations aren’t more accepting of Muslim refugees. At the faith level, yes, we are called to stand for the oppressed and care for the widow and the orphan. We are also told to be watchful and eschew willful ignorance. We can’t and shouldn’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away, but all of these elements need to be taken into consideration before attempting to implement any solution.
Whatever side any of us lands on, we must acknowledge that one thing we absolutely must not do is lob figurative grenades at each other as we wrestle with these issues. Christians screaming at each other and calling each other’s faith into question does nothing. We can be members of the one Body and have different opinions on how to respond to this. As my pastor shared last week:
I remember a time, especially as Christians, when an issue such as the Syrian refugee crisis confronted us, and our first reaction was to pray about it. We sought the Lord individually or even collectively in our faith communities and asked, “God, what would you have me/us do?” I remember a time when we would seek the leading and the conviction of God’s Holy Spirit and respond in obedience and absolutely no one had to know. We didn’t have to come up with a creative meme, Tweet or Facebook status – we simply responded in obedience to how God was leading us…not solely with our emotions. Furthermore, if your willingness to obey resulted in you having a different opinion about a particular issue than someone else, that was okay – you could function in humility in a relationship with people of varying opinions because you might be supporting a cause that was diametrically opposed to your neighbor’s value system, but they were none the wiser because you simply lived your life in quiet obedience to what you sensed God wanted you to do. How I miss that time! I wonder if it can be reclaimed?
– Mark McWhorter, Rambling Thoughts as I Get Old
Let us reclaim that spirit of unity in diversity.
Let it begin with me.
P.S. – Since I know someone is going to bring it up, I’m neither a supporter or a member of either the Republican Party or the Democrat Party. Both disgust me in equal measure.