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Purposeful vs. Fearful Response: Syrian Refugee Crisis

Written by Dustin Swinehart, Project 658 Executive Director

As we watch the world events that have transpired over the past months, and particularly over the past few days in Paris, so many emotions and questions rise to the surface.

What I have wrestled through is this: what is the right response to the overwhelming refugee crisis in our world and the cruel reality that the crisis can be exploited by the very perpetrators of the crisis itself? And more specifically, what is the Biblical response to this situation?

We will hear politicians argue over whether the United States should stop all refugees from coming to America because of the potential threat of terrorists masquerading as refugees to gain entry into our country.

As with many questions like this, the answer is seldom direct or simple. To answer this question well, we must look at issues that are more foundational than the question itself.

The greatest commandment in the Bible is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 There is a very undefined balance between loving our neighbor (and even our enemy) and being wise to the risk to which we expose ourselves and our family. I will be honest: I don’t believe there is an exact answer to where that line is.

What I do believe is, there is a very big difference between responding to something from a purposeful position versus a fearful position.

Purposeful responses are founded on what is true and move into uncertainty with truth as the guiding principle. Fear-based responses allow the uncertainty and unknowns to define our actions toward those around us.

The conversation at the forefront of our State Department, the United Nations, and national media outlets is, “Should the U.S. stop taking in refugees because of the potential risk of terrorists posing as refugees?”

In the midst of this great uncertainty, here are some things we know to be true:

1. There are 51 million refugees in the world facing real and extreme persecution and displacement.

2. There is a system governed by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) that certifies whether someone qualifies as a refugee.

3. There is a recent case where a terrorist exploited the system and was part of the Paris attacks.

So, what should we do?

Fear tells us we should worry that every refugee is part of a terrorist cell and therefore restrict any and all refugees from entry to our country – from help, safety, and the opportunity to resettle.

I personally do not think this is the right – or Biblical – response. In fact, restricting these refugees’ access to aid actually extends the persecution they’ve already experienced at the very hands of the people that put them in the position of refugee status.

Think about this: you are a Syrian family. Your home, family and life have been destroyed by ISIS, and you flee for your life. You arrive at a neighboring country and are denied help because they suspect you are part of ISIS. Simply because you are Syrian.

This means ISIS wins again. ISIS won by destroying your home and ISIS wins again by creating fear that restricts your ability to find safety and help. And now you and your family have to return to the war zone you just escaped.

A purposeful response says this: there are 51 million people who are legitimate refugees who need legitimate care and help. The Bible calls us to love our neighbors and help the vulnerable around us. We should do everything we can to help them.

Since there is a system that can in fact be exploited, we should be proactive in voicing concern about continuing to refine this process. As we help care for people in need, we must be part of the larger solution: not only help improve the process that verifies someone as a refugee, but help engage the problems that cause there to be a worldwide refugee crisis to begin with.

A purposeful response will do three things:

1. Welcome and care for refugees in need,

2. Be willing to help refine the process of verifying the legitimacy of refugees,

3. Have a larger engagement in fighting the systemic issues that cause people to become refugees at all.

A fearful response does none of this. A fearful response causes us to close off people in need, believe we should be skeptical of anyone not like us, and ultimately focus only upon ourselves and our own well-being.

This cannot be our response. This will not be our response.

We will rise to the call of purpose. We will rise to the call of love. We will rise to the call of Christ.

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