Last night, I posted on social media: “If we’re willing to bomb a country, we should be even more willing to accept its people as refugees.”
The post got strong reactions — many of them positive, many of them negative. I don’t mind hearing from people who have different opinions and perspectives than I do, but what bothered me was how quickly the conversation became political. I was called a “liberal” and a “leftist” as people’s comments became nationalistic, myopic and selfish, and implied that American lives matter more than Syrian lives do. That safety on American soil is more important than safety on Syrian soil.
I understand that there are a lot of opinions, and a lot of controversy, about refugees and immigration at the moment.
People have such strong reactions that at one event I spoke at recently, the organizer took me aside before I went on stage and said that if I used the word “refugee” in my talk, they would get a lot of complaints and hate mail.
This as I’m about to tell the story of The Invisible Girls — a book I wrote about five Somali sisters who came to the U.S. as refugees. Five little girls whose three brothers died before their family could get out. Five little girls who were traumatized by the violence they’d seen in their village. Five little girls who were living off of moldy bread and ketchup when I met them because their mom had run out of money to buy food, and was dumpster-diving for their meals out of sheer desperation.
It’s kind of hard to tell that story without using the word “refugee”, but I was asked to do it — all because some people who had certain political leanings would get upset.
The thought that people could get mad at me for telling the story of these girls — and then inviting the attendees to see the world through the eyes of God, to see the world’s marginalized or “invisible” people with compassion and love– is crazy.
The fact that they could get more upset at the word “refugee” than at the fact that there were little girls eating moldy bread because that’s all their mom could find in the trash — to me, is absurd and obscene.
Jesus didn’t tell his followers to pursue their personal safety. He said we should rescue people who are figuratively and literally perishing. He warns that at the last judgment, the deciding factor will be: “Did you see me in the least of these? Did you care for orphans and widows, for people who were hungry and naked and poor?”
If this post is starting to get you angry, if you’re saying, “Yes, BUT –“, please stop for just a second. Take a breath. And read those words again. “Did you see me in the least of these?” And if you didn’t. If you didn’t see Jesus in the least, in the marginalized, in the invisible people, Jesus says to you, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”
If anyone in our world counts as “the least of these,” surely it’s refugees.
Surely these are exactly the people Jesus was talking about, exactly the people who are close to God’s heart, exactly the people who become the litmus test for whether we really love Jesus or not.
The six countries affected by the travel ban didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, and they haven’t committed any acts of terror on U.S. soil.
The Syrian refugees are not skittles, as Trump’s son implied. They are not pawns for us to use to prove political points. Contrary to what some people argue, dropping bombs on their country does not negate our obligation to get them out of harm’s way. It does not address the immediate reality that these innocent people are in serious peril.
It is calloused to say that when we’ve bombed their country, we’ve fulfilled our responsibility to rescue. It is calloused to realize that men and women and babies are actively dying — and refuse to help them get out of harm’s way.
Syrians are beautiful souls, children of God, every bit as precious and valuable as each one of us.
And, partly because of our country’s posture toward them, they are dying.
The bottom line is that if we claim to follow Jesus but see the world through the lens of politics, we will often — maybe always — see it wrong.
Jesus said, “On earth as it is in heaven.” That’s to be our prayer, and our passion, and our priority, too.
Jesus didn’t say, “Let’s make America great again.” He didn’t say, “Christ-followers should all be part of the same U.S. political party.” He didn’t say, “You should make yourselves as safe as possible.” He didn’t say, “People who are Muslim or speak a different language than you or live on a different continent or have skin color that’s different from yours matter less than YOU do.” He didn’t say the things that I hear — and saw on social media last night — uttered by those who claim to follow him.
He left us here to pursue “On earth as it is in heaven.”
On earth, may we tear down walls, build bridges, be peacemakers, and care for people who are in harm’s way. May we pursue a planet where tears are dried, where disease and death are defeated, where everyone is cherished and everyone belongs.
Jesus did — and does — rescue us when we’re in harm’s way. And we are called to live out the story for others that he has lived for us.
When we’re talking about refugees, we’re not talking about politics or legalities or policies. We’re talking about people who are desperate, people who are dying.
And loving them with the love of God, seeing them through the compassion of God, means that we do everything we possibly can — risking our personal safety, leveraging our treasured assets, spending every ounce of our energy — to