In the wake of the vitriolic opposition to aiding Syrians fleeing their ravaged and war-torn homes that has arisen in some dark corners of the American discourse, I feel compelled to address the issue from Christian perspective.
Syria has been locked in a grueling civil war since the latter part of 2011. Syrians of all religious and ethnic stripes have faced years of unending conflict and are largely trapped between the brutality of their dictator al-Assad, the horror that is the Islamic State. Thus they are fleeing by the millions, something I’m sure many American Christians would do if faced with such unrelenting violence.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, many countries, including the United States, have agreed to offer a new life to a portion of those escaping Syria. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Paris, many, including some who profess Christ, have suggested that the right thing for America to do is to refuse to allow Syrian refugees into the United States or to add new draconian screening measures to our nation’s already thorough security screening. The question thus becomes, what is the Christian response to this crisis?
The answer should be obvious to any student of the Gospel. As Christians, we must offer comfort and aid to those in need, even when those in need are foreign, speaking a different language, practicing different customs, and, often, following a different religion.
For those who find this conclusion less than apparent, there are three Biblical passages that I think will be particularly helpful in clarifying Christ’s teachings.
The first is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:29-37:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
The parable begins with a declaration of the core of our faith. We are to love God and our neighbor. Jesus then goes on to tell the story of a Samaritan who went out of his way to help a person in desperate need, making clear that the Christian response to another’s suffering is to show mercy.
What makes this parable all the more striking is Jesus highlights the righteousness of an outsider. Samaritans were, and are, a religious group similar to but distinct from Jews. Especially at this time in history, Jews and Samaritans would have viewed each other with enmity. Yet Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience, shows the unrighteousness of a priest and a Levite while highlighting the righteousness of a man his audience would have viewed as inherently unrighteous.
Christ taught that mercy and compassion know no ethnic or religious boundaries. If a man who was not a follower of Christ could be an exemplar of Christian morality, then, as Christians, we must be even more merciful, for the Samaritan acted righteously without the teachings of Christ, but for those of us to whom much has been given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
Our duty to aid Syrian refugees is further reinforced by Leviticus 19:33-34:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
God demanded of the Israelites that they treat foreigners with justice and that they love the foreigners as they loved their own kind. This duty remains with all Christians today. We are required to love those who are different just as we love ourselves, for it is what God demands of us. Even if we view Islam as a false religion, even if we view it as an evil religion1, there is still no excuse for acting with mercy toward Syrian Muslim refugees.
Finally, we may turn to Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ tells his followers that those who treat the downtrodden with mercy will inherit God’s kingdom while those who shunned them will receive eternal fire:
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Whatever we do to “the least of these” we do to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is hard to think of people more fitting of the designation of least among us than Syria’s refugees. After living under an oppressive dictatorship and facing years of civil war that has destroyed much of their homeland, they have been forced to flee. They leave behind their homes, their worldly possessions, their homeland, the graves of their loved ones and ancestors. They leave behind friends and family who cannot or choose not to flee. They leave behind all the horrors they have seen and a land whose custom, language, and religions were familiar for Turkey, for Europe, for America. They are met with new languages and new cultures. They are met with both open arms and open hostility in lands whose geographic, cultural, and political landscapes are often foreign and strange. They have chosen to become lost in the world because the world they knew was too terrible to endure. These truly are the bearers of Christ. Let us feed them and give them drink. Let us clothe them and give them shelter. This is Christ demands of us, for whatever we do to the Syrian refugees, we do to our Lord Himself and He will judge us accordingly.
- I am not proclaiming that Islam is an evil religion. I am acknowledging that among some of those who oppose offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees this view of Islam is sometimes held.