Why the Church Should Say Yes to Refugees

culture and society

This title is a little strange and my goal isn’t to alienate readers who don’t identify or align with a particular faith. Since Friday’s attacks in Paris, where I, like many of you, sat in front of the news in horror over what humans are capable of doing to other humans, the overwhelming response in the United States has been to bar passage for any Syrian refugees.

This response also comes from people who identify themselves as the church body — evangelical leaders, clergy, people in our day-to-day. Twenty-six states are refusing to take in any refugees, vetted or no. GOP candidates vary from wanting to limit acceptance of refugees to those who identify as Christians to wanting to deny passage for any of them — “even orphans under the age of five.”

Below I’ve outlined a few of the major arguments I’ve seen against accepting refugees and some thoughts on each one. At the bottom of this post, I’ve cited sources, although how much stock you put in those sources is up to you.


“If we let refugees come in, we’re letting ISIS into our country.”

The fear of ISIS is a valid one. The Islamic State is responsible for some of the most heinous acts on our planet.Paris was heart-wrenching; the NYC threats are scary. We’ve heard the stories about how there are people who are hard to vet being rushed into the country.

But the process for coming in as a refugee is the actually most extensive security screening the United States does for visitors. Passing through our current process takes eighteen months, if not longer.

From an interview with Eleanor Acer, Senior Director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First: “First they’re identified abroad, they are registered, information is taken by the UN Refugee Agency… they’re interviewed one-on-one by a trained Department of Homeland Security Officer … then a barrage of checks are conducted by US Intelligence Agencies, by the FBI, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security. They are so incredibly thoroughly vetted that they really present absolutely no risk to this country.”

The Boston bombers — two brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — were not Syrian refugees. They were from Chechnya, and here on tourist visas.

The 19 terrorists who carried out attacks on September 11th entered the United States legally, mostly on tourist or business visas. If the Islamic State wanted to infiltrate the US, they have a better chance of doing so by 1) radicalizing citizens via the internet or 2) getting their members who are European nationals — like the ones who attacked Paris on Friday — to fly here with a tourist visa, student visa, or business visitor visa than to do it by way of refugee status.

It’s not that letting the refugees can’t let ISIS in, it’s that ISIS will find other ways, so that’s not a compelling reason to shut the refugees out.


“But what about veterans? We should be taking care of our own.”

This argument that we should be focusing on helping veterans instead of refugees is a tough one, because, yes, of course we should be doing more for homeless veterans — but it’s not a solid argument against helping Syrians. “Let’s not do this one good thing because we can’t do the perfect thing.”

It creates a false dilemma, inaccurately suggesting that we must choose one or the other. We are dealing with 50,000 homeless veterans and 10,000 refugees, spread across a country of 319 million. This amounts to less than two hundredths of one percent of the population. It is certainly possible to give our attention to both, to help veterans and refugees without one group taking away from the other. 

Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted a biting comment about having to renew a passport to visit members of his own species across artificially conceived borders. Is the value of the life of a Syrian less than my own?  Are we suggesting that native-born Americans hold more value than any other human?

There’s a disconnect. It’s easy for my brain to gloss over big ideas. Poverty. The war over there. All the refugees.

And I think the biggest way to combat ignorance and apathy is to hear their stories, see their faces, and realize that human lives are not something we can so easily politicize. Knowing this disconnect, I think, inspired Save the Children to put together a heartwrenching second-a-day video illustrating life for a Syrian child.

I also appreciate photojournalist Magnus Wenmann’s photo series on where Syrian children sleep, and Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York series on refugees. Both are worth a look and a read, if only to make these stories seem real and not just some vague news blip happening in an unfamiliar country.


“Who is going to pay for all of this?”

The Good Samaritan didn’t just help; he paid out of his own pocket for a stranger. That said, the concern over cost is overblown.

From a purely economic standpoint (I say “purely economic” because the next couple of paragraphs feel a little crass without that qualifier), while there’s certainly a cost for bringing in refugees to the government at the outset, perhaps it’s less of a cost than an investment. At the very least, the cost is rather small and temporary in the grand scheme of things.

Most refugees aren’t looking for handouts for the rest of their lives. On the contrary, many of them are hard-working middle class citizens who have enjoyed success in their own countries, and will likely enjoy success in this one. Immigration has historically benefitted communities. Immigrants pay more into the system than they extract from it. More middle class workers and entrepreneurs means more taxes paid; taxes that can go towards things like (bringing it back full circle here) veteran benefits.

Look at it on a smaller scale: If a few of us were sitting on a lump-sum of cash, we could pool our resources, buy a house that’s for sale in this finally dipping market, provide it rent-free to a refugee family plus a cash allowance to cover food and clothing for one year, charge rent after and within five years our investment starts becoming profitable. In the end, everyone wins. A family is restored and thriving, they’re stimulating the local economy, we’re turning a profit, and I get to eat Musakhan rolls once a week.

Words from a friend and fellow blogger, Niri, who, as a 12-year-old, had to flee South Africa due to political riots, on giving back: I’ve volunteered with abused women, abused children, at-risk teens, seniors and more. Some of us who receive know we don’t have to have much to give. There’s always enough to give! Always!


“All of the refugees seem to be military-aged men.”

A lot of pictures on the internet and some news sources have definitely painted this picture. While I think that asylum should be offered regardless of age or gender, this assumption is incorrect. Twelve million Syrians have fled their homes because of conflict. Half of those are children. (Data linked below.)


While my goal is to share facts and thoughts that could rebut arguments and mitigate fear, the fact remains — people are scared, and understandably so, because there are still risks. The fear of ISIS is certainly a valid one.

But maybe we help anyway. Words from a friend:

“There’s a risk when doing good, but it’s a risk that every respectable character in the Bible took. Just because it’s not easy or not safe doesn’t mean it’s not right.”

I see the argument that the Bible asks us to use wisdom, and we should. But barring an oppressed people from entering a nation in which we’re so fortunate to live marches right past wisdom and directly into losing our humanity.

In spite of the attacks on their city a mere six days ago, while Republican candidates are calling for the barring of refugees, Paris is refusing to give into fear, and has agreed to take in 30,000 Syrian refugees. French President Francois Hollande said that it is France’s humanitarian duty to honor its commitment to refugees.

We’re in a moment in history — the largest refugee crisis since World War II — where we are given the chance to exercise all of the things we speak about; all of the things we believe. We have a chance to make love one another and care for the orphans and the widows and invite strangers into your homes more than just religious rhetoric, and we are failing. We are big-time failing.

If we ascribe to a faith that calls us to radical love and radical compassion and we refuse to do both, what is our faith for? Singing “break our hearts for what breaks Yours” on Sunday mornings, but not really meaning it? Faith tattoos on our wrists, when we’re not exercising it? Praying, but not being willing to be the answer to prayers? Religion in theory, but not in practice?

If we can’t do this, let’s pack it all up and call ourselves something else. We can’t call ourselves the Church if we’re not going to be one.

Instead, maybe we clutch each others’ hands and proceed anyway. Acknowledge the fear and open our homes anyway. Not have much to give, but give anyway. Maybe we find the courage to welcome anyway; the grace to love anyway.

resources to share; asterisk denotes source used in this post

+ this powerful second-a-day video from Save the Children
+ this smart video featuring facts about Syrian refugees in the US*
+ this really informative “explain it to me like I’m five” video*
+ some data on refugees from the UN Refugee Agency*
+ this great fact sheet from World Vision*
+ a map of states refusing to accept Syrian refugees*
+ an interview on the effects of an influx of refugees on the European economy
+ on the vetting process
+ the #WeWelcomeRefugees website
+ The Big Myth About Refugees*
+ Europe Should See Refugees as a Boon, Not a Burden*
+ ISIS and the Lonely Young American*
+ France Says It Will Take in 30,000 Refugees*

The Freelancer Fifteen

healthy living

stand up paddleboarding

For the past few months, I’ve been lamenting something I call the “freelancer fifteen” which is just like the “freshman fifteen” except it doesn’t all melt away the second you stop drinking cheap beer and eating pizza on Thursday nights. While I enjoy yoga and I hit up the local studio […]

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