Making the Grade: Considering Religious Tests and Syrian Refugees

Making the Grade: Considering Religious Tests and Syrian Refugees November 17, 2015

shutterstock_213521044Perhaps you have heard the suggestion that America should consider admitting at least some of the Syrian refugees? Yep. It’s a real thing. There is a chance for this whole debate to be over and done with. There has been a path suggested for entrance to this land of freedom and hospitality for those fleeing the violence, bloodshed, and destruction that is continuing to rage on in Syria.  There is, of course, just one little catch.  It has been suggested by some that before their admittance, these refugees will have to assert and somehow prove that they are Christians.  Simple enough, right?  *Sigh*

Chances are, we have heard this suggestion by now and we have undoubtedly dismissed it just as quickly as it scrolled across the ticker at the bottom of our news station of choice. This is kind of like the old fairy tale of the traveler who was forced to answer three questions from a troll before they could cross the bridge.  And I know, I know, I know that I shouldn’t take the bait. I know that I should just leave this alone. But I can’t.    Once I heard this ridiculous”solution”proposed to the American people my brain started to wander I have not been able to shake this question: How would one “prove” that they are a Christian, anyway?

So let’s take the bait. How do we prove that we are Christian? To ask this a different way, on what criteria should our “Christianness” (I know that’s not a word, but it is now) be evaluated?

Before we get into this we need to first make sure that we are on the same page. In America, we do not engage in religious tests. To advocate that we should do so is to defy the language of the United States Constitution. So, no. There is not going to EVER be a test given at Immigration offices to seek to quantify a person’s Christianness.

So we know that this would never happen, nor should it. But the question still remains somewhat valid. On what criteria should a person’s faith, religious understanding, etc. be evaluated?

It is important to note that those who are suggesting such a scenario are not offering any feasible options for how such a test would be administered. This should not be surprising as the whole concept is nothing more than political pandering and stereotypical scapegoating. But even though we know this to be true, let’s play along anyway.

Even if we are able to get past the Constitution we would then run into some serious practical struggles.

As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) I find this whole question to be difficult and confusing. When someone desire to join our church we simply ask them one question, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, son of the Living God, and do you accept him as your personal Lord and Savior?” If the answer is yes, then they are a member of the church. I can’t even imagine following up that answer with, “Oh yeah? Then prove it.”

Can you even imagine? So as we begin to seek to somehow answer this question we encounter problems almost immediately. Who’s version or flavor of Christianity are we using as our basis for judgement? It is estimated that there are over 217 different Christian denominations in the United States. That means there are, at a laughable minimum, 217 different ways that Scripture is interpreted. We Disciples, of course, laugh at this because in some places there are that many different interpretations worshiping under the same roof on Sunday morning.

So whose version of Christianity are we using as our baseline for this examination? Chances are we each would use OUR understanding as any sort of basis for comparison. Which means, of course, we would naturally expect people to answer our questions in the way that WE would want them too. This is problematic.

But let’s pretend that somehow we were able to put all of our differences aside and focus on some “basic” principles and practices of the Christian faith. What would those basic principles be? What would you use as your baseline for this examination? And of course, remember, this is a test, so there are right and wrong answers….(cue fear and trembling here…)

I am trying to picture what the test would look like. I imagine that it would be written (after all, it’s being administered by the government, so paperwork would have to be involved).

Perhaps there would be a question about prayer. Maybe it would be a multiple choice question like this:

When I pray..

  • blood comes out of my skin
  • I only do it behind closed doors
  • I keep it simple and do not ramble on
  • all the above

Or perhaps there would be a question about tithing…

True or False: I give a full ten percent of my income the church.

  • True
  • False

Or maybe there would be a question about how much stuff we own.

True or False: I am willing to sell all of my possessions and live a nomadic existence following Jesus

  • True
  • False

Perhaps there would be questions about one’s theology. Recently I was informed that my theology is “incorrect,” which is interesting as it is, MY theology. But for the sake of our hypothetical test, there would have to be questions about what we believe. So what would make the list? Creation? Heaven/Hell? Predestination vs Free Will? Our understanding of substitutionary atonement? Do we read Revelation literally?

We see where this is going, do we not? How do we even begin to pick the questions and perhaps, more importantly, how would we even begin to answer them?

But maybe these are not the correct questions. Maybe we are chasing the wrong rabbit. After all, as it turns out, Jesus DID provide a test for us to measure our commitment to following in the Way:

  • Did I feed the hungry?
  • Did I give water to the thirsty?
  • Did I clothe the naked?
  • Did I visit the imprisoned?
  • Did I tend to the sick?
  • Did I invite in the stranger?

So there is a test, after all. How would we do?

Rev. Aaron Todd serves as the Minister for Education at First Christian Church-Midwest City, OK . Among other things, he focuses on youth, children, young adult, and family ministry. He is married to Debra, who is also a Disciples pastor, and together they have a 3 year old son named Zach and a precious baby boy named Josh. In addition to their human children, they have a 5 year old dog named Amos (named after the prophet). Check out his blog,

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