It’s funny how quickly things change. A few weeks ago, the Middle Eastern peoples flooding into Europe were refugees. They were unfortunates, driven from their homes and families by the horrors of war and persecution. A few weeks ago they were Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims. They were scared and cold and exhausted. They were babies and children. And their plight was heartbreaking.
But the ISIS attacks in Paris changed our nomenclature, and that changed our thinking. The immigrants were no longer refugees. They were potential terrorists. Their circumstances no longer broke our hearts. They threatened our way of life. And we stopped seeing them as persecuted Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims and started seeing them as death-dealing radicals.
Since Paris, the national debate over how to respond to the refugee crisis has become a debate about how to protect ourselves. There is a danger that we will allow our fear to drive us to act and speak in ways that are un-American. Are we, as a nation, really going to say, “Don’t give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?
Worse yet, from my perspective, fear may drive us to act and speak in ways that are un-Christian. Making choices based on fear is simply not a Christian thing to do. St. Peter writes, “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life.” Christians are called to act as representatives of Christ, even at the cost of personal safety and comfort.
Christians have a long history of risking their own safety to care for those in need. In the third century, at the height of Christian persecution, a terrifying plague swept across the Roman Empire. It has been estimated that 5,000 people a day were dying in Rome, including Christians. But Christians alone had the courage to care for the plague victims, including their persecutors.
This scenario has been reenacted many times. Only Christians were courageous enough to bury the dead during the Black Plague. At the height of the AIDS crisis, it was Christians who led the way in providing care. The same is true of the recent Ebola crisis. Now, in the current refugee crisis, Christians should be leading the way rather than backing away in fear. It is in situations like these that Christians repeatedly demonstrate the truth of the gospel they proclaim.
One young Middle Eastern family fled when they got word that the authorities were sending sword-wielding militants to their village. They took what possessions they could carry, left the rest, and abandoned their home in the middle of the night. Their terrifying escape soon became an exhausting journey. Their child was too young to keep up, so his parents had to take turns carrying him. They were hungry, weary and frightened.
They crossed rugged mountains and treacherous terrain. Warm days were followed by dangerously cold nights. The country to which they traveled did not welcome foreigners gladly. In fact, they looked down on them as inferiors and spoke about them in derogatory terms. The young family would have preferred to stay in their own country, had they been able. But they knew that staying would mean certain death.
The story of this young family is well-documented. You already know it. Their escape was not from war-torn Iraq or Syria, nor were they heading for Europe, nor were they were being terrorized by ISIS. Their journey began in Bethlehem, they were heading for Egypt, and they were being terrorized by an illegitimate ruler known as Herod the Great.
Jesus and his family were frightened refugees, who fled for their lives, just as many Syrian Christians and Muslims are doing today. If we turn our backs on these refugees now because they pose a threat to our security, how are we any different from the people who refused to receive Jesus and his family then?
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 11/21/2015.