American Christians and the refugee crisis
Like any parents, Cherry and I would do anything to protect our children from harm. Lately, I have been trying to imagine what it would have been like for us to have to gather up our three children when they were little and run for our lives. Considering the massive refugee problem in the world today, I think Jesus is asking everyone who lives in a country that is capable of granting asylum to imagine these things. “Do to others, as you would have them do to you,” he said. And as an American Christian, I am troubled right now.
I do not regularly write to my congressional representatives about social and political issues, and I’ve never written to the White House. Now I am doing both of these things with a sense of urgency, and with the sense that my soul might be at stake. Several of our president’s recent executive orders have troubled me, but the most recent one closing the door on terrorized, suffering people around the world has rattled my soul.
Only last Sunday, St. Stephen’s Church honored a much-loved staff member and his family—a family that arrived as refugees from Cambodia in 1981, and whom the parish helped resettle in Richmond. Many in the parish are now engaged in helping to resettle a young husband and wife from Afghanistan, with their two small children. These are all people whom we love, and I am sure not a single parishioner can imagine saying to Sun Ho or Sophany, or to Sultan or Nooria, much less to any of their precious children, “I’m afraid it is too dangerous for us to let you enter the United States. You’ll just have to do the best you can to escape the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban, or ISIS on your own. We are sorry.”
As an American, I think one of the most haunting things Jesus said was, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” To many of us, it now seems as if we are deciding to close the door and keep all we have for ourselves, at least until we aren’t so afraid. But that just doesn’t sound very American or Christian to me: that when innocent people are being terrorized we would turn off the lights and cower behind our closed doors until things settled down. To most Americans, that probably sounds like the land of the free and the home of the chicken. And for most Christians, that probably feels like a betrayal of the most frequent command in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.”
Instead of closing the door and turning off the lights, I’ve always thought it was part of the American character at times like this to turn the lights ON, to go looking for the troublemakers, and to do whatever it takes to put an end to the bullying. And all the while, we Christians would be about the business of “strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, and helping the suffering.”
I think most Americans still believe the Golden Rule feels as American as it is Christian. I believe the inscription at the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me,” still resonates with most Americans the way Jesus’ words resonate with Christians, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
As a Christian living in America, the slogan “America First” in the context of discussions like this is deeply grating. To be honest, it feels like putting God second, or worse. I am not an economist, so I need to rely on a healthy debate among much more knowledgeable people than I am about the global economy and fair trade deals. But the One whose words I read every day was very clear about who will be first and who will last, and he could not have been clearer about the relative merits of serving versus being served. He had plenty to say about giving versus receiving, and he warned about building bigger and bigger barns for ourselves, about gaining the whole world but losing our souls. And maybe most chilling of all, he was very specific about whom we are really feeding, clothing, sheltering, and welcoming when we choose to open our doors—or not—to “the least of these.”
Read an email from Episcopal Migration Ministries about how to stand with refugees, and a link to a statement from our presiding bishop.