A few weeks ago I spent a Friday evening with a friend watching the horrific events of the terrorist attacks unfold in Paris. It wasn’t what we’d planned to do! And like many, I read the papers and watched television in the days that followed as people in the west attempted to come to grips with the reality of what happened.
The immediate response of many governors, including the Governor of Massachusetts, was to exclude Syrian refugees. “I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria,” Gov. Charlie Baker is quoted as saying. According to the NY Times, twenty five Republican Governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states citing the safety of Americans being at stake. I’d like to suggest another way forward.
First, a close family friend who works with refugees informed me that the process of getting refugees into the US from Syria is long and complex. It can take up to two years. Its unlikely that the rigor of the process will fail to provide the needed security from Jihadists.
Second, according to my friend, the real threat from Syrian refugees, or any refugees from an Islamic background for that matter, is more likely to come from the xenophobic reaction of those in the States who are prejudice and fearful. People who have high hopes of a different life in America may get angry and discouraged and be more likely to radicalize in reaction to the bigotry they experience. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But it was an interesting perspective. Here’s a thought:
I think this is an opportunity for Christians to be radical themselves, but in a very different way from the Muslim radicals. Instead of excluding refugees, why not welcome them into our greater North Shore community? Why not invite them into our homes and into our lives? Hospitality shown to the stranger and the alien is certainly one of the things that’s characterized Christians over the centuries.
Last weekend, I spent time with a family that owns a coffee shop in West Philadelphia. They also board five students from Saudi Arabia. The hospitality, grace, and love shown to the Muslim men that I met, and in one case ate with, was extraordinary. While our government must respond wisely to the threat of terrorism on American soil, I think the Christian community can also respond with generosity and grace to those refugees who are fleeing the very terrorism they are suspected of creating. In the early 1980’s the church responded in fear to the AIDS epidemic and, in many cases, lost the opportunity to minister to the Gay community. Perhaps we have a new opportunity to bring people to Christ and serve humankind as we consider the potential influx of Syrian refugees into the US over the next few years. Just a thought.