Thoughts on a Refugee Crisis But No Solution

The great human tragedy and resulting human suffering of mass migration out of the Mideast has been caused by the actions of certain adherents of Islam.  These people bear full responsibility for what has happened to all these displaced people including all the deaths that have occurred.    They should be held accountable by the world community for the evil they have done which certainly are crimes against humanity.

The mass migration has put many European countries to the test, and have challenged the moral values of Christians throughout the world.  How should Christians respond to these aliens and strangers who come knocking at our borders?   How do we treat migrants who themselves are related to people who have inflicted oppression and suffering on Christians?

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit  BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past few months as I survived my chemotherapy, my heart and mind were often with these refugees.  My suffering seemed small compared to theirs.  Mine was limited, but for them, there is no end to the suffering in sight.  Nevertheless my own suffering made me more acutely aware of theirs and far more compassionate toward them.

I don’t have any easy solutions to the issue, but some words from our scripture come to my mind.  These words challenge my thinking as much as the presence of the suffering migrants who are fleeing war and violence.   First words from the Torah:

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; yet the LORD set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 10:12-19)

God is a lover of these sojourners who are fleeing persecution.  God so loved Israel in bringing them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  God, according to Deuteronomy, provides for such sojourners and expects us to treat them as He Himself treats them.

God is love.

In the New Testament we see how difficult it is to have sympathy for strangers and sojourners, especially when we see them as a threat or as enemies, not people.

Prophet Elijah

And Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.  (Luke 4:24-30)

Jesus reminds his fellow Jews of a simple truth in history.  There were times when God did not bless or favor the Jews, but rather chose a foreigner, stranger or sojourner upon whom to shower His grace.  That truth so enraged the Jews listening to Jesus that they wanted to kill Him.   They were the chosen people who enjoyed divine exceptionalism.  They had no intention of letting Jesus point out to them how God acted with mercy and love toward a suffering Syrian.

We Christians need to remember these stories from our scriptures. We Orthodox just this past weekend read the Gospel lesson found in Luke 10:25-37 of the Good Samaritan in which the hero, the moral person in the story, is a foreigner and it is this stranger, even enemy, who acts like God in displaying mercy toward a fellow human being.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Icon of the parable of the Good Samaritan

In July, 1938, a poll of Americans asked whether Americans should accept refugees from Europe who were escaping political events there specifically the rise of fascism and the oppression it represented.  At that time,  67% of Americans opposed allowing these refugees into America.   Then following the events of Kristallnacht when it became clear that the oppression of Jews had already begun in Europe, Americans were polled by Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion in January 1939.   Two-thirds of Americans still opposed bringing refugee children to America.   Americans were overwhelmingly against bringing 10,000 German Jewish refugee children into our country to help them escape persecution and the impending holocaust.  We know the result of our unwillingness to take such Jewish refugees in at that time.

Jewish cemetery in Prague

We can not afford to take the Syrian refugees into our countries and we cannot afford not to.  This situation has been seen in the world before.  As Christians, we have God’s Word to guide out thinking.  Clearly there are risks to follow and enact the teachings of Christ.  On the other hand, there are eternal consequences for not following His teachings as well.  We need to feel the pressure of this issue.

A few final thoughts:

This humanitarian crisis is the result of policies by Muslim leaders in Muslim countries.   Many argue that these leaders and countries are not “truly” Islamic.  But they certainly aren’t Christian or Jewish or Buddhist.   They are countries and leaders shaped by Islam.   Muslims need to consider what is it in Islam that brings this situation into existence and allows it to continue to exist?    It is people claiming to follow Islam who have created this humanitarians crisis.

Note also that the Muslims fleeing the suffering are not in general seeking admission to Islamic countries.  Nor do we see Islamic countries doing everything possible to welcome their fellow Muslims.  Muslims are fleeing traditionally Muslim countries and trying to find their way to non-Islamic countries.  Why?   Again, Muslims need to ask themselves what is it in Islam that allows and causes this to happen?  It may be true that some leaders and countries are distorting Islam, but what in Islam lends itself so readily to such distortion?

Even though Europe and most of the West are considered to be “post-Christian”, we see it is Christian morality which causes people to welcome refugees in.  It is Christian morality which Muslim refugees are seeking.  Even when Christians and “post-“Christians are conflicted about how to deal with these refugees, still it is Christian values which causes people to agonize over how to treat these refugees.

Christians cannot claim a perfectly pristine moral history when it comes to dealing with strangers and sojourners and Jews or Muslims.  But the crisis the world faces now is born in Islamic civilization, even if it is a distortion of Islam.

I would say for my fellow Christians, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not Christian morality.   Neither is an attitude that we should kill others for wounding us.  Or that we should kill seventy fold for everyone of us who dies at the hands of terrorists (this idea belongs to Lamech in Genesis 4, not to those following the Lord).

As Americans, we might remember the ideal we find enshrined on our own Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


10 thoughts on “Thoughts on a Refugee Crisis But No Solution

      1. The Anti-Gnostic

        No. There are no limits to love. You must love every human on Earth, and you must love them all equally because there are no limits to love. For example, you may say you love your own children more than other people’s children. That’s just heinous. How dare anybody put limits to love. For example, last year I noticed we had some extra money saved. I could have deposited it in my child’s college fund but that would have been putting a limit on love. After all, every deserving child on earth should be able to go to college; only heartless monsters could believe otherwise. So I found a child whose dad earns less than me and put the money in his child’s college fund instead.

        I was so struck by my profound insight–that you cannot put limits on love–that I started applying it in other contexts. Aging parents, disabled relatives, household repairs, gifts for my spouse. Why should I lavish resources on these people more than other people? You can’t put limits to love.

        As a result of my boundless giving, we are now in bankruptcy court and my wife has advised that she is leaving me. That’s fine. I don’t want to be married to someone who’s so selfish about love.

      2. Deacon Philip Mayer

        Yes, there are limits to love according to Sts. Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Theopan the Recluse (Unseen Warfare, ch. 19): “Love for God has no measure, just as the beloved God Himself has no bounds nor limits. But love for one’s neighbor must have its bounds and limits. If you do not keep it within the right limits, it may turn you away from the love of God, cause you great harm and cast you into perdition. You must indeed love your neighbor, but your love must not cause harm to your soul. Do all your works in a manner simple and holy, with nothing in view except to please God; and this will protect you from any false steps in actions dictated by love for your neighbor. . . .You must use circumspection and moderate your zeal in relation to others.”

  1. The Anti-Gnostic

    Nehemiah 13:

    In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab:

    24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.

    25 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.

    26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.

    27 Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?

    28 And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.

    29 Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.

    30 Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business;

    31 And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.

  2. deb2

    What is going on in these comments?

    Fr. Ted, I agree with you, even though I would like to see more nuance in your discussion of causes. Western powers that have supported dictators who later became our enemies sworn to kill us, and our invasions and bombings and wars in the Middle East, which have created massive opportunities for recruitment for ISIS, are certainly also implicated; this bloodthirsty horror has indeed risen in Islamic lands under Islamic leaders but not in some sphere isolated from western provocation.

    Nevertheless, here we are, and if we shut out the refugees, we are as guilty as those who refused Jewish refugees during WWII. And those who sent Japanese-Americans to prison camps, even as the sons of some of those imprisoned were giving their lives fighting in the U.S. military. Maybe we are more guilty.

    God’s commands regarding the sojourner and refugee couldn’t be clearer. I’m astonished in recent days by how so many American leaders who tout their supposed Christian cred all the time are now boldly, with great pride and indignation, slamming the doors on Christ and disavowing His commands.

    Many American Christians have now adopted a twisted religious logic in which fear of loss or death–martyrdom?–and studied avoidance of the same has become their guiding principle, in many areas, not only regarding the refugees. Trust in Christ and obedience even in the face of uncertainty of outcome is considered, for practical purposes, foolish. Lord help us.

    Fr. Ted, I also appreciate your mention of how your suffering, limited though it was, helps you to feel compassion for their suffering. I’ve been there, too, and it is very revealing, when it’s made so very painfully evident to us how little, helpless, weak, and vulnerable we really are. It’s hard to then translate that understanding into action to relieve others’ suffering. But here we are, with an opportunity that couldn’t possibly be more obvious. May the Lord help us to do the right thing, and may we have the guts and wisdom to obey.

  3. Filip

    At the risk of sounding facetious, I don’t want to interrupt all the lovin’ going on in some of the comments above, but as someone who lives in Sweden – the country that has taken in the largest number of these “refugees” (a.k.a migrants) in proportion to its population – I have a slightly different take on this issue.

    First of all, most people coming into Europe are not Syrians – that’s a fact, you can look it up. I’ve actually seen many of the people coming myself and have noted that many don’t even speak Arabic (or Syrian Arabic, specifically). Most of the people coming in are economic migrants who are simply seeking a better life. Understandable, in many cases at least, but hardly befitting the sort of sympathy that is due to someone persecuted and forced to flee from their home. Oh, and by the way over 80 % of them are young men and almost all are Muslims – so very few women and children or elderly people and very few Christians, Yazidis and others who are most valnurable in this war. Young Muslim men… most of whom are not even Syrian.

    Second of all, while I truly do sympathize with Fr. Ted’s remarks about suffering and his own struggle with cancer, I don’t believe this emotional argument (together with the one about Jews in the 1930’s which is not at all comparable to today’s migrant influx into Europe) is a good place to start from. One has to use that God-given gift of discernment to see who is truly a refugee and who is truly in need of help, and who is not and what should be done in each specific situation. Every country has the right to say no to millions of opportunistic economical migrants who come to work (or to recieve welfare benefits) and make a better life for themselves pretending to be refugees or playing on the heart strings of the peoples of their host countries to be allowed in.

    And while there is much to say on this topic I will end with a final point. In light of all that I’ve discussed here there is one thing that is really at the core of this whole debate, namely the character and identity of Europe itself. It is not an outrageous idea to suggest that if the dying, (formerly) Christian peoples of Europe (dying due to low birthrates caused by hedonism and enabled by a widespread use of contraception and abortion – a separate but important issue to consider in this context) are letting in millions and millions of Muslims into their countries – as they have been doing for a while – the countries will change and become more and more Islamic. If you think that’s a good idea – fine! But that is really what is (or should be) at the core of the discussion. More Muslim immigration to Europe will make Europe… more Islamic. That obviously opens up a whole host of other questions that Fr. Ted alluded to that I won’t get into now.

  4. photini

    It is good to love the stranger. It is good to love our neighbour, too. There are innocents among us we must protect, and we must not ignore facts. Charity begins at home. We first must protect our citizens. This is not a Christian country. If any one Christian or a Church wants to give charity to the stranger, the migrant, taking into account his family first, this is good. But you cannot force your neighbour or fellow citizens to do this. This is not love. All must be balanced and discerned. The god here is not Jesus Christ, but multiculturalism. We must not worship that strange god, or we will pay dearly.

    Love never fails….to heal us…and bring us grace…but not to change others. It often fails to change others. And to the man who gave so much his wife left and now he calls her selfish, learn what love is, for He gave himself for us while we were yet sinners.

    I hear the familiar refrain of the god of liberalism trumping Jesus Christ. This is a disease of the modern convert and the overly political cradle to grave who shows up in Church every Sunday, but does not know Whom he worships. Be careful.

    As a country, if we were doing this in the name of Jesus Christ, it would be a different matter all together. But everything without Christ will fail. Apart from Me, you can do nothing.

    Communal living only worked in the Church because it was Christ centred. Do not make this grave error of thinking that we are good. Only God is good.

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