Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Terrorism, the Refugee Crisis, and Fear (mostly not in my own words)

I've been thinking a lot about these things- recent acts of terror, the plight of many many refugees, and our fear of the Other. 

Plenty of people have said things far more eloquently than I could and as I was working on my Weekly Smorgasbord post last night, I realized this topic was big and broad enough that it needed its own post. My own thoughts I have italicized and at some points included as parentheticals.

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First this post, from Shawn, whose words are almost always beautiful:  

"By this time I was married with a family, and I was pregnant. I had also started writing again. I thought of my children when I wrote these things. I wondered what my country would be like when they grew up. We didn’t want the bad government and the darkness. But when we participated in a local rally, they came to my house. They beat my family. I tried to stop them. One of them kicked me in my back and knocked me to the floor. They pushed one of my children to the ground. My child was bleeding. After they left, I was so scared. My child’s eye was bloody on the inside, but she would recover. My husband took me to see a doctor and he said the baby was no longer alive. The baby inside of me was dead."

I think there is such force in the power of story. Please read it all. Over the past few days, almost any time I see a comment section of any real length, I see at least on person opining about how we don't "take care of our own". Which, there's some truth in that. Look, I get it. This is one of those ‪#‎HardIsHardYo‬ things. Poverty is HARD. But, we have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and what's known as a social safety net (though admittedly it isn't always as effective as it should be). So there's that. But even more importantly, in many cases these people seeking safety are not just being stripped of their resources, they are facing those who would seek to strip them of their dignity and in some cases, their very life- they are threatened, beaten, raped, and tortured. Even if you live in the sketchiest housing, in the seediest pocket, in the very worst neighborhood of New York City, it's statistically pretty unlikley you will have your head severed from your body for speaking out in support of basic human rights. Imagine yourself in "Miriam's" place-- whose husband encouraged her to flee to America because "an absent mother is better than a dead mother".

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This from my friend Alex, when people were really being hard on others who showed sympathy/support for Paris after the attacks, but not other areas where this sort of thing is much more common:

"I don't believe people mean harm at all by showing solidarity for France without having acknowledged other attacks earlier in the year. I can't pass judgment on people for not knowing; I was no better educated about attacks in Turkey or Lebanon until I actively went searching for them. News of France came TO me; I had to go TO information about the other countries touched by terrorist violence. However, it's worth it, even quietly and privately, to ask yourself, "Why was I given this information about France immediately, when similar or worse occurrences further east tend to slide under the radar?" Is a public block in France a more terrifying place to hear the clap of gunfire or the shudder of explosions than a cultural center in Turkey, or a shopping district in Lebanon? Do we suppose the Turkish or Lebanese love their relatives and friends less than Parisians do? Or that one somehow feels less fear, by culture or even biology, than the other? More importantly, why would we believe something like that? Is it just disparate media coverage of one event and not the others, or is it something more? And does the media give us a story based upon its own politics, or based on ours? Do they *create* our responses, or do they anticipate what we'll care about and deliver accordingly?...Be gentle with each other right now. There's enough hurt circulating."


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Then this shared by Micheal Precht, whom I don't know, and then reposted by another pastor I deeply respect:

A few observations of my social media feed in a time of fear and violence
1. I am friends with lots of pastors, theologians and Bible scholars. Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Non-denom, episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran UCC, Nazarene, AME. I have good friends in ministry across the theological traditions (I don't have any Orthodox priest or U/U Facebook friends, make of that what you will). Many of these people have made passionate, scriptural arguments as to why our country should accept Syrian refugees. These advocates come from folks who I would call "very conservative" and "very liberal" and everything in between.
None of these has mustered an argument for excluding refugees.
This seems telling.
2. My non-clergy Christian friends (spanning an equally wide range of traditions) seem to be evenly split between "welcome the refugees!" and "just say no!"
Many of the people saying "welcome" are quoting scripture and referring to Jesus. None of the "just say no" arguments have done so.
This, also, seems telling.
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A few observations of my own mind, inspired by the observations above.
1. In scouring the thoughts of dedicated bible readers (clergy, academic, and lay), and in scouring my own mind, I cannot come up with a scriptural, gospel-centered precedent for denying hospitality to refugees.
2. I can, however, think of lots of reasons that offering hospitality is genuinely dangerous and difficult.
3. It would be irresponsible to welcome refugees without some plan or process to try and catch impostors and infiltrators. Likewise, it would be irresponsible to welcome them without a plan for connecting them with communities where they stand a reasonable chance of thriving and being known as neighbors. Just sending anonymous people out to fend for themselves without any oversight will endanger them and the countries that host them.
4. Fortunately, our country has a thorough vetting process especially for refugees that can take as long as 2 years of screenings, medical exams, and background checks. 2 years before these refugees ever set foot on American soil. (http://alancrosswrites.com/considering-the-facts-a-christi…/
) 5. But let's not assume the best. I think it is inevitable that some small fraction of refugees (let's say 1 out of every 100k)^ will be someone who wishes to do their host country harm. I assume it is also inevitable that terrorist groups will try to enter host countries through any process that is opened to refugees.
Again, Offering hospitality (#2) is dangerous and difficult.
^there is a much quoted statistic in the resolutely conservative magazine "The Economist" that says out of 750,000 refugees settled in the US since 2001, none have been arrested on terrorist charges.
6. It seems we are being asked to choose between doing what is (a) morally right, dangerous, and difficult or (b) doing what is defensive, simple, and apparently safe.
6a. I do think it's arguable that excluding refugees is less safe in the long run. I think it's possible we would be playing into the strategy of jihadis whose main propaganda is "See, the west hates you". Mostly, though, I think none of us can guess what will happen in the long run. The best we can do is be faithful in this moment.
7. Parenthood, auto racing, and commercial logging are difficult and dangerous. A good portion of life is about choosing which difficult and dangerous hobbies/jobs/governmental policies are worth pouring time and effort into.
Given that "difficult and dangerous" actions are inevitable, I think it is preferable to pour energy into the ones that are morally right.
8. This process - to welcome refugees in a way that is as safe as possible; in a way that does not overwhelm our capacity - would/will not be simple. It will not happen overnight.
9. Every moment we spend debating whether we should do it is a moment we could spend on figuring out how to do it well.
10. So let's throw our best planning and preparation into it. And if we can't come up with a responsible process in time to save thousands of refugees (many of whom are persecuted Christians), then at the *very least* we will have a head start on responding faithfully to the next refugee crisis.
11. It may be true that we are not now adequately prepared to offer hospitality to thousands of refugees.
11a. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and we are a nation in which 70% of people say that Jesus is Lord.
12. When taken together, points 11 and 11a. are what we Christians call "a confession of sin."
13. Many (most?) sins are committed unintentionally. That's why Christians talk about being "convicted."
14. If Christians are not willing to take the risk of welcoming refugees into our midst, we should probably retire the word "evangelical."
If you give me the choice of (a) moving to Syria to tell someone about Jesus, or (b)asking me to welcome someone to my neighborhood so I can tell them about Jesus, then (b) seems *way* easier and less dangerous.
And telling other people about Jesus is pretty much the job description of a Christian. It's never promised that the job will be easy, or safe. But receiving others certainly seems safer than going to them right now.
14a. It's tough to say we really want to save people from hell if we won't take a risk to do so.
14b. It's even tougher to say that if we turn our back on the hell they live in right now.
15. I don't know if Christians should be lobbying to "let the refugees in." But probably we should be shouting "let *us* take the refugees in."
16. 1-15 might be entirely wrong. If so, I need to hear an opposing case that is based on scripture and the good of the kingdom of God.
Lord, we are afraid. And there is so much we do not know. Please, be gracious with us - lavish us with your Word, your love, and your Holy Spirit so that we may be guided by your will, and not by the powers of the world.
And remind us that nothing could be more practical than to trust our lives and our actions to the One who has overcome the world. -
[Well, this was incredibly articulate and in my opinion, humble. Points 12 and 14 are particularly thought-provoking and convicting. One thing I would say is that I personally get a bit annoyed with "proof texting" and several people (mainly whom I do not know personally) who I KNOW share my sentiments have been doing it quite a bit these past few days. One or two verses thrown aggressively in the face of those you are arguing against will not make or break your (our) case, and depending on the level of aggression you throw them with it may well break the relationship. We have to be willing to look at the OVERALL NARRATIVE particularly of the New Testament and try to discern what it says. In my opinion, it points to a way that is often scary, dangerous, and more concerned with others than with my own welfare- one that could easily lead even to the point of death. But I am trying very hard (because I have grown increasingly tired of people who tell what the Bible is "CLEAR" on and use it as a litmus test of faith) not to shame or judge others who have come to a different conclusion about this narrative.]

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I think this post by Pete Enns on wrestling with Biblical violence is a terribly important one:
 "For me, taking the Bible seriously means looking head on at its persistent themes of mass violence and retribution—whether by God’s hand (e.g., the Flood, Genesis 6), God’s command (e.g., extermination of the Canaanites, Deuteronomy 20), or God’s silent approval (e.g., taking women and children captive as spoils of war, Numbers 31).

Also, with regards to making general statement about Muslims, ask yourself if you'd consider someone saying the exact things you're saying an Anti-Semite if they were talking about the Old Testament and using it as a weapon against all present day Jews. ‪Guys: Jericho. Canaan. Women and children. It wasn't real peaceful. To clarify, it is entirely valid to say the Quran is violent. I haven't read all of it, but parts. But I do have to look in the mirror on this. My own Holy Book is filled with things that, when I force myself to look at objectively, are disturbing as hell. As a person of faith, I have wrestled with the text and likely will until the day I die. And unless I know differently about a particular individual, I will give my Muslim neighbor the benefit of the doubt and assume it's entirely possible he has, too.

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Finally, this from my friend Anna, who we got to know in Brooklyn:
"Some thoughts on fear in light of recent events…A few years ago as I walked home from an evening meeting I watched the young man in front of me pull a red bandana over his mouth and nose, lift a gun and shoot a man. I was steps from our apartment building door, so I got out my keys, opened the door, walked upstairs and called the police. The young man who was shot survived. The wound was minor. I don’t know if they ever caught the shooter. I dealt with some of the milder symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for a month or so and we got on with our lives. Fortunately, this was only time I’ve actually been present when something like this happened in the ten plus years that I’ve lived in Crown Heights. No one should be afraid to come here, but unfortunately it is a community where gun violence is a real issue. I share this now because I’ve been thinking about how that could have been a turning point in our lives. We could have been gripped with the kind of fear that would have made us suspicious and fearful of all the young men who looked like the shooter. It could have driven us out of the neighborhood or out of the city for good. Our strong (and good) desires to protect our children from gun violence could have led us to leave the community we love and abandon the beliefs and values we are committed to. By the grace of God it did not.
There is a refrain we sang at church growing up that I still sing with regularity. It goes “Shelter me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” Sometimes I’ve seen the words changed to “Shepherd me” which alludes to the Christian belief that we have a God that literally shepherds us the way a shepherd does his sheep – leading us to the right paths that will bring life and away from those that would lead to harm or even death. What I’ve learned is this: Living in a constant state of fear or always trying to create comfort and the allusion of safety often leads a life that is much like death. Choosing to live a life of trust, hope and contentment leads to life. I believe that living like this is regenerative and potentially world changing. When we live with compassion, courage and creativity – all the things that we were created to be – we can do great things. As our country debates whether to let Syrians and other Middle Eastern refugees into our borders, I’ve been praying that our leaders would not be led by fear. They do have a duty to protect the citizens of this country, just as I have a duty to protect my children, but I would argue that the thing we most need protection from in this country is not refugees but our tendency to be consumed by fear.
We need courageous leadership that holds to the values of our nation, to the Emma Lazarus poem associated with Lady Liberty in New York Harbor:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free…
Let’s keep the doors open to the 10,000 men, women and children who have been without a home for far too long. Let’s be smart about how we do it. I read the State Department briefing on the procedures for Syrians to enter the country and it seems fairly solid. If there are ways to improve it, let’s do that. Will it have a fiscal impact? Sure. But is it not better to take a minor fiscal hit than to leave these people on the run, putting them in situations where extremism so easily takes root? Is there risk involved in letting these refugees in? Perhaps. But the greater risk would be to lose who we are as people and as a nation." 

[I was staring out a window the other day and thinking several somewhat similar things. Mainly how our time in New York was a really big turning point in my anxiety. I don't have a story as gripping as Anna's- I never watched another person get shot- but I do remember the night before we started taking weekly trips to the South Bronx. I laid awake for hours picturing my children in some terrifying crosshairs. The funny thing was that after our very first visit, the cost seemed entirely worth it and I didn't really struggle with those fears much at all.]

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I have more to share but the rest were smaller excerpts that can easily be tucked into a Smorgasbord post and I wanted to focus on just a few thoughts and ideas I found striking or unique. Thank you for reading. As always, I welcome respectful disagreement on the blog whenever I share my thoughts and feelings. 


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