Unless all your Facebook friends think exactly like you, your newsfeed is probably like mine right now–completely polarized on the issue of admitting Syrian refugees to the United States.
On one side are those who believe that terrorists will take advantage of the situation to sneak into the country to do us harm. On the other are those who believe we have a moral responsibility to welcome the stranger. Some of the first group are racists who think all Muslims are terrorists; most feel bad for the refugees but are sincerely concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones. Some of the second group are motivated by Christian beliefs, others by their sense of what this country is supposed to stand for.
Both groups demonize the other. Both groups are afraid–one of the consequences to our country if we admit the refugees, the other of the consequences if we don’t.
Both groups seem increasingly desperate in their attempts to convince each other that they are right, posting and reposting poorly-sourced and slanted news articles and judgmental memes.
I fell prey to this temptation myself the other day when I posted a meme involving the comparison of the refugees to the Holy Family seeking shelter in Bethlehem, and casting doubts on the true Christianity of those who would turn them away.
While 40 of my friends “liked” this post, many others, lacking a “dislike” option, shared their feelings in the comments. In the end, I realized that posting something like this might make me feel good for a minute or two, but it doesn’t convince those who disagree with my position to change their minds.
Lesson learned, since then I’ve gone back to trying to be informative rather than judgmental and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what this crisis is doing to our country and to our relationships with each other.
If the goal of terrorism is to create fear, then we are all letting the terrorists win. If half of us are so afraid of terror attacks that we are ready to ignore our responsibility as Christians, human beings, and yes, American patriots to welcome the stranger, the terrorists are winning. If the other half of us are letting this disagreement divide our nation, if we are demonizing our friends, neighbors, and relatives instead of trying to alleviate their fears, the terrorists are winning.
Lorelei has a great picture book called The Monster Who Grew Small.
A retelling of an Egyptian folktale, it is the story of a boy who is afraid of everything. On a quest to find courage, he comes upon a village of people so paralyzed by fear of a nearby monster that they are unable to function. As the boy approaches the terrible creature, he finds that it grows smaller and smaller until he is able to pick it up in his hand and take it with him back to the village:
The people crowded round to see the Monster. It woke up, yawned a small puff of smoke, and began to purr. A little girl said to Miobi, “What is its name?”
“I don’t know,” said Miobi, “I never asked it.”
It was the Monster himself who answered her question. He stopped purring, looked round to make sure everyone was listening, and then said:
“I have many names. Some call me Famine, and some Pestilence, but the most pitiable of humans give me their own names.” It yawned again, and then added, “But most people call me What-Might-Happen.”
Are we going to let the fear of What-Might-Happen destroy our country from within? Even if you take issue with calling America a Christian nation, there’s no denying that the majority of Americans say that they are Christians. Aren’t Christians supposed to believe that God is in control?
So I’ll leave you with these words from 1 John 4:
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. . . If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
What might happen if we embraced love–both of our fellow Americans who disagree with us and of refugees–instead of fear?