Much of the world watched in horror as reports rolled in over the weekend of the barbaric terrorist attack on Paris. At least 120 people were murdered in what appears to be a highly coordinated operation by the Islamic State (ISIS).
A few days before, I was in a hospital in the Middle East in which Christian and Jewish and Muslim doctors were caring for Syrian refugees brutalized by ISIS and related groups. Now, the refugee crisis has exploded on the American political scene in a wave of controversy extending from Congress to almost everyone’s Facebook feed.
At issue in this controversy are the competing principles of security and compassion, of the United States as a fortress and as a refuge. Some early reports have indicated that at least one of the suspected terrorists had registered as a Syrian refugee to secure transportation to France. This has caused many in the United States and around the world to ask, understandably, why a country should accept any more refugees if there’s a chance that a terrorist may gain entry in that process.
It is completely right to ensure that the United States have a strong process to discern who are truly refugees and who are trying to take advantage of refugees. That’s why we in the U.S. need a clearer and stronger articulation of what kind of system will be put in place by our government to properly vet anyone seeking to enter as a refugee.
At the same time, evangelical Christians cannot be the people who turn our back on our mission field. We should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember the image of God and inalienable human dignity, of persecuted people whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Yazidi, especially those fleeing from genocidal Islamic terrorists.
We should remember the history of the 20th century, of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and Refuseniks from the Soviet Union who were largely ignored by the world community. We can have prudential discussions and disagreements about how to maintain security. What we cannot do is to demagogue the issue.
While this kind of complicated geopolitical situation requires prudence, it also requires virtue. We should debate what it would take to ensure adequate vetting of refugees, but we should not allow ourselves to engage in the kind of rhetoric we’ve heard in recent days—about, for instance, requiring ID cards for Muslim American citizens or considering warrantless searches of their homes or houses of worship.
It is one thing to have disagreement about whether the vetting process is adequate. It is quite another to seek to permanently turn our backs on Syrian refugees altogether.
Most importantly, we shouldn’t allow our domestic controversy over refugees to cloud the larger issue of what is driving the refugee crisis in the first place—a death cult with aspirations of regional or global dominance. Christian communities that have been in the Middle East since literally the Book of Acts are in danger of extinction, as are those who are in need of hearing the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
We cannot love our neighbors at the same time we’re standing aside and watching them be slaughtered. The Bible grants the state the power and mandate to use force to protect the innocent. That means both engaging ISIS with a strong military response and doing what is in our power to shield the innocent from terror. Anything less is not a sufficiently Christian response.
We cannot forget our brothers and sisters in peril. And we cannot seal ourselves off from our mission field. An entire generation of those fleeing genocide will be asking whether there is an alternative to the toxic religion they’ve seen.
Will they hear from evangelicals “Jesus loves you” or will they hear from us “Who then is my neighbor?” There are massive implications for both answers.