Refugees: Prudence isn’t Cruel and Tokenism Is Not Virtue

Refugees: Prudence isn’t Cruel and Tokenism Is Not Virtue November 17, 2015

Do not erase Christianity in the Middle East
Do not erase Christianity in the Middle East

My social media contains two extremes:

If you oppose bringing 10,000 more Syrian refugees to the United States, then you are like the people who turned away Jews during the Holocaust or you wish to ban the Christ child from seeking shelter in Egypt.

If you support helping the refugees, you are a dupe for the many terrorists hitching a ride with the refugees to kill us. You are in denial that Islam just is the Islamic State.

Let me reject the second position first: our Christian charity is never safe. It wasn’t safe for Jesus, Mary, or Joseph and love will never be safe for me. We have a moral duty to help brothers and sisters in need. Scripture is clear that as a Christian I have a duty to help where I can. Most of the refugees are fleeing the evils of the Islamic State.

Obnoxious and ignorant books, posts, and videos that lump all Islamic people into terrorists are wrong. When Christians who do not even speak Arabic make claims about the Koran as if they know what they are saying in defiance of scholarship, they shame us with their ignorance. I think Islam makes false claims about God, but lying in service to Christianity is ugly and lies published about Islam to make money off of fear is wrong.

Fear is an unworthy motive for a free people and the man who lies about his enemy cannot fight him well, surely does not love him, and is enslaved by fear.

The good news is that  most of my friends, Evangelical and Orthodox, who support a moratorium on refugees are not ugly bigots. They are doing their best, I am doing my best, to help the Syrian people without destroying Syrian culture. What I do not support is allowing terrorists to ethnically cleanse Syria of Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities they find “unfit.”

I wish things were as morally simple as some seem to find it: we must fly refugees thousands of miles to a different hemisphere because it is always good to fly people to new nations. The very people who (rightly) point out that all things that are immoral need not be made illegal, now demand that our charity toward refugees must be government charity. There is, or there should be, a distinction between what I am commanded to do as an individual and what it is proper for a state to do.

A state must act (somewhat) more prudently than an individual. A state must recognize unintended consequences to even the most charitable acts.

Let’s be plain: to be prudent isn’t fear and moral tokenism isn’t virtue.

The United States has agreed to take a token amount of refugees from Syria, ten thousand, on top of the thousands from the Middle East already here. This will do next to nothing to stop the actual problem of refugees from Syria or the problem that caused the crisis at the start.

The goal is not, after all, to help refugees, but to keep people from having to flee their homes and become refugees. Help the victims, yes, but keep them from being victimized if we can.

Let me be clear: if a ship load of Syrians fleeing the Islamic State comes to the US, we must grant them asylum. It is the right thing to do. We don’t need to ship refugees from their homeland to a place culturally so different from their own lands in order to placate our sense of moral worries.

We should strive to find homes that are minimally disruptive to the lives of the Syrian people and work to make Syria a good place in which to live again.

I favor a moratorium on taking in these token amounts of refugees for two reasons. First, it pretends to something when it does (almost) nothing. We should commit to helping feed, clothe, and house hundreds of thousands more. Flying a few thousand folk over the Atlantic looks loving, but is a distraction of resources. Surely moving a tiny group of people from one hemisphere of the globe to another smacks of moral posturing.

We can pretend to be making room for Baby Jesus at our inn while doing almost nothing for Syrians relative to the need of the Syrian refugees. If we wanted to help by repopulating, then we should be moving tens of thousands more, but nobody thinks this is a good idea.


Our goal is for people to flourish in their homelands, not depopulate Syria of Christians and other religious minorities. We do not want to move Syrians to the US and Europe in such great numbers that we effectively end Syrian culture.

In the meantime, we do need safe havens near home for the refugee populations. I wish the Obama administration were doing more . . . but taking in ten thousand is doing next to nothing that is meaningful.

Leaving the Islamic State and terrorist groups in charge of much of Syria while helping the good people of Syria depopulate the area of those who have lived there for centuries is questionable policy. What happens next? Where will the next million Syrians go? Will we take another ten thousand and pretend that is enough?

Second, if one of these refugees commits an act of terror, as one may have in Paris, the political will to do more will become even less. Already a majority of citizens do not support taking more refugees. Should those of us who favor government help to Syrian refugees support this risk?

I have no doubt that almost none of the ten thousand are here to commit terror or will commit terror. I also have no doubt that if one does that it will be devastating to the political will to do anything again. We do little and risk much through this gesture.

Yet if I say this, then I am shown a picture of a dead child and told I support this policy, generally by people who oppose putting boots on the ground to end the regime that is causing the refugee crisis. I want to preserve Syria, beautiful, multi-cultural Syria, not appropriate her people into permanent exile or cultural isolation.

Fortunately, I am blessed to have sensible, loving friends who know how painful this decision is on both sides. I am not sure I am right and this is hard. Loving Syria and the people of Syria makes me wish to throw all caution to the wind and do all that can be done . . . but we are already not doing all we could. When on Facebook I was told my “prudence” would kill a Syrian child,  I wanted to say: “What of the Obama administration that through prudence has let Syria burn?” What of your prudence in only taking ten thousand? Why not one hundred thousand?”

I did not, because I doubt the person meant what he had said. He loves children, refugees, and his zeal for life is commendable. Lord, help me match that zeal! Yet, he has failed to recognize that all of us agree: we can only do what we can and should do. We are disagreeing at the edges. Christians agree that the refugee has a claim on us, but we do not agree on how best to help.

I would have never favored increasing instability in Syria. Our government decided that anything was better than the Assad regime. This miscalculation led to a refugee crisis. Everyone agrees we cannot help everyone . . . now the question is how best to help without doing more harm as Americans have already done with the best of intentions in Syria.

As a member of a church led from Syria who prays daily for the Church, I urge individuals to give to good groups like the International Orthodox Christian Charities. The decision about the ten thousand is not really mine to make, but I can give to a group that will help them. If you agree with me, give because we have a Christian duty to help the refugee. If you disagree with me, give because we have a Christian duty to help the refugee.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.



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