Evangelicals are “all over the place” in their reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis, in one assessment, a situation complicated many times over by the terrorist attacks that left 129 dead in Paris in November and now the killings of 14 by an Islamic couple in San Bernardino, California. First characterized as a workplace shooting, that attack that was soon revealed as motivated by religious extremism.
The call to aid refugees came as early as September as 1.5 million Syrians fled Islamic terrorist forces in their homeland, spilling into Turkey, sailing to Greece, and beginning an unprecedented migration across Europe. But the response from Americans, tepid from the beginning, chilled further as the shooting began.
“There’s a lot of confusion among Christians on the right response to Syrian refugees,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas told Baptist Press, “because many people do not understand that while we as Christians have one responsibility individually, the government has another responsibility.”
Individuals must “show compassion for these refugees,” Jeffress said, but “the government has another responsibility… to secure our borders.”
“Well, before we’re Americans we’re Christians,” Russell Moore contended in an interview with NPR. The head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission advocate assisting Syrian refugees, citing Jesus’ teaching about the Good Samaritan.
“We have to be informed by a certain moral sense, which means we need to speak up for moral principle and for gospel principle regardless of who that offends,” Moore said. “We have to be the people who stand up and say ‘Look, vigilance is good, and prudence is good. But a kind of irrational fear that leads itself to demagogic rhetoric is something that we have to say no (to)—no, we’re not going to go there.”
Relatively few Syrian refugees have been admitted into the U.S. so far: 1,500 by one count, 2,100 by another. At present, governors of 32 states have refused resettlement of Syrians within their borders, despite what Time magazine calls an intensive vetting process which has been increased for Syrian refugees. (Illinois’ Bruce Rauner was the eighth governor to refuse to settle refugees.)
“The screening of refugees is a crucial aspect of national security, and we should insist on it,” Moore told BP. “At the same time, evangelicals should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember human dignity and the image of God, especially for those fleeing murderous Islamic radical jihadis.”
Indeed, Christianity Today, which positions itself as a magazine of evangelical thought, has urged Christians to embrace the “unparalleled opportunity to love neighbors here and abroad, and to showcase the beauty of the gospel that proclaims good news to the poor, liberty for those stuck in refugee camps, and a new life for those fleeing from oppression.”
It should be noted that the editorial was published prior to the mass shooting in Paris, and since then, polls show evangelicals split on aiding refugees. “We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us,” the president of World Vision Richard Stearns wrote. “Jesus asks us to love our neighbors—regardless if there might be enemies among them.”
Not everyone agrees. “Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away,” wrote Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung in a widely read blog post. DeYoung, whose church (University Reformed in Lansing) has extensive outreach to immigrants, says he doesn’t know what to do about our “broken immigration system.” But “the issues are of such a complexity that they cannot be solved by good intentions and broad appeals to Christian charity.”
WMU offers aid
Meanwhile, the Woman’s Missionary Union Foundation is working with an Arab ministry to help Syrian refugees living in Jordan. Currently, there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only a small percentage resides in official refugee camps. Those who live outside of the camps are not eligible to receive food or other assistance from the Jordanian government.
“Because of the increase in the number of refugees from Syria, we are seeing many families who are not being taken care of and have nowhere to turn,” says Ruba Abbassi of Arab Woman Today (AWT). “They need food, blankets and basic necessities.” The WMU Foundation has a long history of working with AWT.
The WMU Foundation is asking people to provide a blanket for $25, a heater for $50, or a month’s worth of food for a family for $100. Gifts can be directed to the WMU Foundation’s AWT Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242. Or visit wmufoundation.com.
– IB staff report, with reporting from Baptist Press, transcripts from NPR.org, ChristianityToday.com, and thegospelcoalition.org