Monday, November 23, 2015

“Jesus was a Refugee”: An Irrelevant Argument

The massive right-wing opposition to the U.S. receiving Syrian refugees is deplorable, and those speaking out in favor of showing compassion for such refugees are to be commended. It is also praiseworthy that many of the latter are Christians, even though there are plenty of conservative Christians on the other side.
 However, the use of “Jesus was a refugee” memes is of dubious value in promoting acceptance of Syrian refugees. Jesus and his parents were not from a country that posed a terrorist threat to Egypt, nor were they among tens of thousands who were seeking refuge in Egypt.
 There are plenty of Christian motives for helping the Syrian refugees, though, the primary one being neighbor-love. Reaching out in compassion to those needing help is to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus. Shouldn’t it be far more effective to stress that teaching rather than talking about Jesus being a refugee?

The fears of the conservatives need to be taken seriously, and making fun of their xenophobia will have little positive value. The terrorist activity of ISIS and Al-Qaeda has been atrocious, and we certainly don’t want people associated with them or other similarly heinous groups to enter our country.
 But rather than trying to shame people wanting to reject Syrian refugees by pointing out that Jesus was a refugee, it would surely be more effective to help people understand how difficult and time consuming it is for refugees, especially those from Syria and other Near Eastern countries, to get permission to reside in this country.
 It would be far easier, and much quicker, for terrorists to enter the country on a tourist visa (perhaps with a counterfeit passport) than to locate here as a refugee. Here is how a recent article puts it:
Non-refugees have carried out all terrorist attacks over the past 35 years. That means they used other means to arrive in the U.S. All of the 9/11 hijackers used student or tourist visas. These visas are much easier and faster to obtain than refugee status, which takes up to two years and requires a multi-stage vetting process and U.N. referral. Refugee status is the single most difficult way to come to the U.S. It makes no sense for a terrorist to try to use the resettlement process for an attack.
The article cited is titled “Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris,” and it is worth reading in its entirety. (It surprising that this is on the website of the libertarian Niskanen Center, named after William (Bill) Niskanen, who served from 1985 to 2008 as chairman of the Cato Institute founded by Charles Koch.)
 One can’t help but think that much of the anti-refugee rhetoric and action is primarily because of anti-Obama sentiment. Still, the statements by Republican governors, and other GOP leaders, tend to have considerable influence upon conservative Christians, especially in the South.
 But, thankfully, some conservative Christians have spoken up in favor of compassionate acceptance of refugees. Among them are Russell Moore (in this 11/19 Washington Post article), with whom I have disagreed in previous blog articles. (For example, see this link.)
 Yes, there are plenty of reasons why we in the U.S. should be compassion toward, and accepting of, Syrian refugees. Pointing out that Jesus was a refugee is not one of them.


  1. This topic is especially poignant to me, as I feel an affinity toward Antiochian branch of the Church, and generally those characterized by the ن

    There are of course multiple sides to most issues. It is sad that this is a polarizing issue by both sides, without care for the others’ points of view. It is also sad that Muslims and other religions are given priority over Christian immigrants by Pres. Nixon’s doctrine, which remains in place. The issue of refugees through the ages also points to the issues of tyranny, persecution, and genocide in the country of origin, and the need for just wars. People do better with like-minded people, and tend to isolate themselves on arrival in new lands.

    I don’t have the answers, but I have witnessed the problems over the years as I have worked with refugees from 24 countries, and other immigrants from at least that many.

    Jesus was a refugee, as were the family of Jacob, and even King David. I do not have a problem with that portrait – it gives the Church (esp. in the United States) an initial frame of reference. Those who point to the Bible as the Word of GOD do need to read it. Included are five key Love Commandments – Love the LORD your GOD; Love your neighbor; Love your enemy; Love one another; Love your wife. But regularly forgotten are the Care Commandments – The widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the poor. And not to be forgotten is that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of (Christian) believers”. Yet even these were required to live by the laws of the land or face the consequences. The story is much larger than red letters – but even a look at the bigger picture of Jesus’ actions and teachings reveals this. I have friends on both sides of this and other issues who love to proof text their point. So sad that they have forgotten the third Love commandment.

    Father God in Heaven, please grant unity in your Church, even if it does not exist within the nations of our diaspora – Your Kingdom. May we learn to Love one another.

    1. Here is the (lengthy) link to a helpful article about why there are few Christians among the Syrian refugees:

  2. I was happy to receive the following comments from Thinking Friend Craig Doeden in California. (I first knew Craig when he was a boy in Fukuoka City, Japan, where his parents were Lutheran missionaries.)

    "Agreed. I agree with most of what you've written, except for the bit about conservative Christians being influenced by their politicians. Unfortunately, I think it's the other way around.

    "That has nothing to do with what I really want to comment on, and that is the long term impact of compassion, or the lack thereof. Maybe my argument is a bit self-serving, but in my experience, people remember when you have shown them compassion and/or kindness. They remember even more when you have not shown them compassion or kindness. If you want to deal with the problem of terrorism, you need to provide a credible alternative that those who are fighting for their survival. Unless you're rabid, you don't typically bite the hand that feeds you."

    1. The last paragraph is very insightful and wise.

  3. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, who lived for many years in Kansas before moving to Chicago:

    "I have heard that many Kansans would happily accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in exchange for Sam Brownback. One can only wish.

    "It should be noted that the terrorists in Europe are (or were) mostly European residents or even citizens; they are not (or were not) Syrian residents or citizens at the time of the attacks.

    "It should also be noted that Syrian Christians are a minority in Syria; they generally support Assad because he is also from a minority group (the Alawites). Assad, for all of his horrific acts, has protected minorities in Syria because he needs their support.

    "The vetting process for Syrian refugees is quite rigorous, so the opposition to accepting Syrian refugees is based on irrational fears. I wonder if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be willing to reopen the process under which their parents came to the U..S and then subject them to the same vetting process faced by Syrians. I doubt it.

    "The ultimate key to the refugee crisis is to stop the war in Syria. This will not be easy and the cost of rebuilding Syria, once peace is established, will be substantial. Who will pay for this?

    "Finally, responsible Islamic leaders need to counter the propaganda from ISIS. In the UK, this has already started with #NotMyIslam, but the effort needs to be worldwide. Most Muslims want respect and peace and we should help them to promote this message."

    1. Funny view of Kansas, which probably has a lot of truth in it. Catholic Charities does a very good job with refugees in Kansas.

      Americanism may not like non-democracies, but through the centuries (and even millenia), strong monarchs have maintained the peace for many, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other minorities.

      Having been in refugee resettlement for a number of years, I observed that the vetting process was fairly good, but not to the extent one would think. When the UN decides it is time to close refugee camps, little will stand in there way.

      I remember the lies of even some Christians who came, and got away with it, despite the Dept. of State being informed of the truth. The outcome was more important than clean vetting. (These were not common, but did occur with some regularity - not just Christians.) There are videos which display some of these stories of "compassion".

  4. I do not think "Jesus was a refugee" is an argument at all. It is a reframing device to get us to think outside the box. A similar thing happened some years ago when a different political debate inspired Jesse Jackson to observe "Jesus was a lovechild." That was not an argument either, but it was a way to get us to open our eyes to new issues. When an old argument is so calcified that everyone knows the argument by heart, sometimes the place to start is by blowing up the old argument. Jesus has been doing that for a long time!

    As it happens, Jesus was brought into another argument about Islam and terrorism which I happened to read earlier today. It has the Jesus-inspired title of "Radical Christian holy warriors really need to stop throwing stones." Turns out Christianity has a long history of terrorism, and the past is not even over! Read it here:

    1. Craig, thanks for your thought-provoking comments. You are probably right in saying that "Jesus was a refugee" is not meant to be an argument. Still, I think it probably doesn't work as a "reframing device" very well either--except, perhaps, for a few people who are undecided about what to think.

      For the most part, the opposition to refugees being accepted into the U.S. is because of the possibility that they might include terrorists. Fear is stronger than compassion for such people. So they could accept without any problem the idea of Jesus being a refugee but say that he was different since his family did not pose any threat to Egypt.

      Thanks for linking to the lengthy piece on (I read some of their articles but hadn't read this one previously.) It is quite strong in pointing out the violent aspects of historical Christianity. But I was interested to see that the very first comment (at the time I read it) was by an atheist who thought that it was not convincing. In spite of what the Crusaders did in 1095, that is not going to keep people (Christians) from condemning what ISIL (ISIS) has been doing recently and what they fear ISIL will do soon in this country.

  5. I agree with the overall point of the article (I'm all about welcoming all out of compassion rather than shame), but for the sake of adding facts, refugee members of the Sicarii did flee from Judea to Egypt.

    1. But the Sicarii were against the Romans; I don't know that they posed any threat to the Egyptians.

  6. No doubt that Jesus was a refugee in fleeing from Herod. No doubt that the people are fleeing from the terrorists. However, what the liberal left is leaving out is those terrorists who pose as refugees just to get into our country to cause harm here. The point is that adequate security measures should be in place to weed out the terrorists from those who truly want to come here to get away from the violence.

    1. Please read the article, and the linked article, again, for I think you missed the point.

      I have never heard anyone suggest that adequate security measures should not be taken, and there is no indication that the 18-month vetting process is not adequate.

      Why would anyone--especially the President whose legacy would be at stake--possibly want to be careless and let terrorists into the country?

      It seems to me that the conservative right is against refugees mainly for political reasons, and their lack of compassion or empathy is appalling, especially for those who are Christians.

  7. LKS

    Following your logic might we conclude the following? Those of the mindset in opposition to Syrian immigration at this time are "Unchristian". And those Christians supporting open borders and referring to others not in support of open borders as "unchristian" are dangerously naive cowards. Is that pretty much the jest of it?

    Think I'll hang with the "unchristian" Christians on this one.