They Will Know We Are Christian by... Our Fear?

The call to welcome the refugee is practically an essential tenant of Christianity, and yet after the Paris terrorists attacks, many Christians are calling to halt our (already paltry) resettlement of Syrian refugees.

This reaction is difficult for me to understand, but like many irrational responses, I suspect it's based in fear: fear of terrorism, perhaps, but mostly fear of the unknown. Fear of those from foreign places. Fear of those who speak other languages than English. Fear of non-Christians. Fear that the refugees will "take our jobs." Fear that the refugees will be unemployed. And fear, of course, of change.

Many wiser than me have written about the Christian call to welcome refugees. Laura Turner says, "Jesus would welcome the refugees." Jim Wallis calls our response, "a moral test of our battle with ISIS." Stephen Colbert satirized our "fear turbines" in the biting segment, "no country for anyone not already here."

Maybe the whole Jesus thing -- "I was a stranger and you welcomed me... whatever you did the least of these you did for me" -- was too direct (Matt. 25). So, here's my quick attempt to step back slightly and apply three other Christian essentials to the refugee crisis.

First, we're called to see God in the face of our neighbors. And, as Pope Francis reminds us, we see God most clearly in the face of the weak and the vulnerable.

Second, we're called to teach love, not hate. Or even, as Dr. King wrote in the Letter to the Birmingham jail, those who follow Jesus are to be "extremists for love."

Third, we're called to imagine, welcome, and embrace the kingdom of God. In the reality of God's reign it is the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the mourners who God blesses.

As I wrote a few months ago, reflecting on Marilynn Robinson's essay: fear is not a Christian virtue. Love? Yes. Vulnerability? Yes. But fear? Oh no. Fear is the very antitheses of the faith for Christians know Christ has already won. Death has lost its sting.

The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) put it this way in a recent letter:

The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.

Several of the Republican presidential candidates have suggested we only allow Syrian refugees in who are Christian. How preposterous. Instead, I'd like to suggest another approach.

Why don't we ask the refugees to judge? After we welcome them, clothe them, feed them, and love them, then let's ask our new neighbors: "And who, here in the U.S., do you think is Christian?" Now that's a response I fear.

An earlier version of this post appeared at