In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and debate, I thought I’d post my good friend Peter Ahlin’s comments. Peter has remained a close friend since I became his pastor while he was a student at Duke University. He graduated from Duke and from the marketplace helped lead our church plant in Krakow, Poland, then finished graduate business school and accomplished many extraordinary feats for the honor of God. Today he is a Derivatives Adviser for a Financial firm in Pennsylvania, is married to his sweetheart Tracie and has four great children. Peter gave me permission to post his comments on my blog, as I consider his insights wise, compassionate, biblical and fair. Feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree… finding our way through this complicated and heart-wrenching issue will take time for dialogue and debate, but mostly time on our knees for the Syrians who are truly helpless and lost, especially our Syrian brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s rare for me to take to Facebook to try to say anything serious, but how could anyone ignore the question of Syrian refugees being resettled to the United States?
First, while everyone knows that social media in all forms are imperfect means for discourse, the conversation’s tone over the past week should grieve us. Christian brothers and sisters are publicly calling each other “selfish,” “cowardly,”, “fear-mongering,” and “foolish.” Can this possibly make the gospel more attractive to anyone on the outside looking in? Fervently do I hope that at least we Christians — even when we disagree strongly — can believe the best about each other. And if we must accuse motives, then let the one who has never misjudged someone else based on a single internet data point accuse first.
Secondly, rather than plant a flag in the ground with either pure idealists — “let the refugees in” — or pure pragmatists — “no refugees under the currently proposed conditions” — I wonder if we can find a biblical middle ground in the realm of wisdom-informed compassion. In other words, can we find a way to be, as Christ commanded, shrewd like serpents *and* innocent like doves; as Christ incarnate, full of grace *and* truth?
Perhaps Paul’s words written to Timothy regarding widows point the way. The aged apostle did not write, “Support anyone who identifies as a needy widow.” He also did not write, “Due to the risks of supporting an undeserving widow, don’t support anyone!” Rather, Paul counseled wisdom-informed compassion: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” He laid out guiding principles connected to character, diligence, speech, conduct, and family ability to provide — only those who had sound character, a record of good deeds, and no family to help made the list of widows, “so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”
Recognizing that Paul was writing about the church, not a nation-state, we can learn so much from his wise counsel. Whether innocence or shrewdness come more naturally to any of us, both are required from all of us.
To those who would say, “No to the refugees!”, remember that it is our Christian duty to help those who are really in need compassionately. What guilt must Breckinridge Long bear for denying imperiled Jews entry to America when all of Europe was falling to the Nazis! May we not share it by turning away the truly needy.
To those who would say, “Yes to refugees indiscriminately!”, remember that it is our Christian duty to exercise wisdom in the giving of care, so that we can help those who are really in need and will conduct themselves well. Without infinite resources, we must choose wisely whom to aid.
Finally, in the present crisis and given finite slots, who among the refugees have the most desperate plight? The number one target of ISIS in Syria and Iraq: Christians and Yazidis. Whereas the civil war has caused untold civilian casualties from every faith, the one million Christians and Yazidis in these two countries are the direct targets of the ISIS kidnapping, rape, and murder campaign. The citizens of every occupied country in Europe all were numbered among the casualties of Nazi blitzkriegs, but the Dutch, the French, and the Norwegians were never targeted like the Jews. Similarly, Muslims in the region have been victims of the civil war, but they will never be singled out for forcible conversion or beheading, nor tossed from refugee boats into the Mediterranean — that ISIS targeting is happening to Christians, Yazidis, and the Jews.
If America ends up accepting refugees without prioritizing those at highest risk of torture and extinction, we will have failed to show Christ’s love as we are called to do. Our call is to remember those being tortured as though we ourselves were suffering along with them. Please pray for them, as well as praying and advocating for the passage of and president’s signature on a tremendous bipartisan bill sponsored by Conyers and Vargas (Democrats) and Hunter and Rooney (Republicans), HR 1568: “Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015.”
Let’s be remembered as those who did something while we still had a chance to preserve one million lives!