One of my least favorite social situations is when someone brings up a topic that I know nothing about … awkward. For example, when youth in the church start talking about Snapchat:
We whisper when we feel uncertain, mainly because uncertainty isn’t exactly bragging material. In addition, the “not knowing” can cause a little anxiety. So it’s not surprising that people whisper when the word “refugee” comes up.
WE WHISPER because many of us don’t know exactly what a refugee is.
I’ll admit it: I didn’t. Refugees are not the same thing as immigrants and asylum seekers. Often those terms get bundled into one package. Refugees are people who cannot return to their home because of persecution related to their religion, political views, race, national origin or social group. They aren’t shopping for the best alternative; they simply have no other option. All that remains is an indefinite stay in a tent camp, followed by a two-plus-year vetting process with about eight different agencies.
WE WHISPER because many think “our” safety is threatened.
The word “refugee” is becoming linked to “Muslim,” which gets linked to “terror.” With the intensified threat of Islamic terrorist groups, such as the Taliban and ISIS, there is a valid fear that these groups are seeking ways to sneak into vulnerable places and exploit them — hence the term, TERRORism. However, the terrorist attacks in California, Paris, Pulse nightclub, etc. have no connection to refugees.
Of the more than three million refugees admitted into the U.S. since the 1970s, not one of them has perpetrated a terrorist attack. According to New America, the majority of jihadist terrorism in the U.S. post 9-11 has involved citizens born and raised in America. If it’s the religious affiliation you have discomfort with, here’s more good news:
Last year more refugees admitted to the U.S. were Christian (45 percent) than any other religious group. Additionally, more refugees came from Burma, where the majority are persecuted Christians, than from all the Middle Eastern countries combined. In fact, only about 25 percent of refugees come from countries in the Middle East, where most Muslims are actually far more likely to renounce extremist groups (see Pew poll) than to accept them.
WE WHISPER because we aren’t really sure who is coming.
“Don’t talk to strangers” is an embedded mantra where I come from. That’s especially true if that stranger is a young military-aged man. Take the Syrian crisis. If Facebook videos displaying an army of military men riding on a refugee Trojan horse concern you, fear not.
Roughly 70 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. Further, the Syrians whom we would welcome are not those who are pouring across European borders without documentation, but are documented and vetted cases. These refugees were living peacefully and now need to be moved again in order to make room for the crisis situation Europe faces.
WE WHISPER because it sounds like we are going to be overwhelmed.
There seems to be a lot of chatter out there that the number of refugees is increasing far beyond the norm. If true, that might raise some eyebrows.
However, recently we’ve been receiving about 70,000 refugees nationwide per year. The goal this year is 85,000. For comparison, in the 1940s we received more than 200,000 refugees per year. As recently as 1980 we resettled more than 207,000 refugees. These little guys (left) wanted to share a visual aid of that data.
WE WHISPER because there’s money involved.
Money talks and sometimes it says, “Don’t let anyone take me away from you.” If refugee resettlement is going to have a negative financial impact on the community, that might get some good whispering started.
The truth is, refugees outperform other immigrant categories (another poll) in the workplace and have proven to be substantial contributors to their communities. One recent study in Cleveland, Ohio shows that over time refugees account for a net gain of 10 times what was spent to resettle them into their new community.
WE WHISPER because the church isn’t sure what to do.
Similar to the “not understanding” issue is the “not having direction” issue. No clear direction paralyzes any response and leaves us whispering about what to do. Enter scripture to provide a path.
The Old Testament uses the phrase “resident foreigner” more than 90 times and gives clear instruction on what to do with the “resident foreigner” (Lev. 19:34). The New Testament tells the story of a savior child and his refugee family. Matthew 25 speaks about welcoming the stranger and how it relates to living in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ life demonstrated great love and support for the foreigner. After all, perhaps the most famous of parables was the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus chose to make the star of his story the good neighbor, who just happened to be … a foreigner. And who are we supposed to imitate in that story? NFJ
Story and illustrations by Barrett Freeman
—Barrett Freeman is pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., and a writer and speaker known for sharing good news through transformative theology and humor.