Editorial: Syrian Refugees - The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

I spent over a minute in a crowded antique store this week staring past a porcelain Santa Claus figurine and a ceramic, eight-piece nativity set—thinking. Frank Sinatra on vinyl can have that effect, I guess. When I happened by, Sinatra was crooning “O Little Town of Bethlehem” through a vintage record player. I stopped and listened...and thought.

O Little Town of BethlehemHow still we see thee lie

That little town of Bethlehem is today a Palestinian city just south of Jerusalem, about 45 miles west-southwest of Amman, Jordan. Jordan’s northeastern arm borders Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Continuing farther north and east, one encounters the territory claimed by Daesh, or the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Photos and news footage coming from that part of the world these days bear little resemblance to the idyllic imagery of Frank Sinatra’s Christmas hymn, recorded in 1948.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson (the one practicing Adventist to have become a household name in 2015) visited the region recently. Just after Thanksgiving, Carson took what his campaign called a fact-finding trip to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, where he met with those displaced by Syria’s ongoing violence.

About a week earlier, speaking to reporters, Carson had used dogs as an analogy for describing Syrian refugees:

“...if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way—doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by

Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrians, half of them children, have been forced from their homes by that country’s warfare. Award-winning Swedish photojournalist Magnus Wennman traveled to numerous refugee camps to photograph children whose families are fleeing war. He published a series of photos, given the title “Where the Children Sleep,” that captured the ruptured lives of refugee children.

Pictured above, Ralia, 7, and Rahaf, 13, are from Damascus, but they live on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. In Damascus, a grenade killed their mother and brother. With their father, they have been without a home for a year. They huddle close together on their cardboard boxes. Rahaf says she is scared of “bad boys,” at which Ralia starts crying.

Anti-Syrian-immigrant sentiment remains high among a certain segment of the U.S. population. More than half of American Governors have attempted to block Syrians from being admitted to their states, and many have vowed to do all in their power to stop the United States from accepting Syrian refugees into the country.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth The Everlasting Light

According to Pew Research Center data, 51% of Americans approve the U.S. decision to accept more refugees; 45% disapprove. Of white Evangelicals, 31% approve and 65% disapprove.

The irony lies in the fact that the same Christians who are likeliest to have that antique ceramic nativity set in their homes, replete with blond-haired Baby Jesus, are also likeliest to reject the families that most closely resemble the actual First Century Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

A recently-republished 2002 Popular Mechanics cover article reported on the efforts of computer scientists and forensic anthropologists (an emerging field at the time) to recreate what a first century Jewish man would have looked like. From their work, the researchers extrapolated that Jesus would likely have been broad-faced, dark olive-skinned, about 5’1” tall, weighing around 110 pounds. Based on New Testament texts and 1st century art, he would likely have had relatively short, dark hair and dark brown eyes, the team concluded.

The Jesus of history not only bore a physical resemblance to Syrian refugees.

Like those fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan today, Jesus and his family became refugees in a foreign land after escaping government-perpetrated violence, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The same biblical account tells of the generosity of foreign strangers who came to provide out of their comparative wealth.

The Lukan Christmas story indicates that Jesus’ parents would understand the experience of being told to go elsewhere for refuge: “there’s not room for you here.”

In the Johannine narrative, Jesus’ own “received him not.”

The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has created a website collecting funding to provide food, education, infrastructure and other care for displaced persons. The Voices section of the UNHCR website shares refugees’ stories.

Abu Mahmood, 48, was a plumber and wholesale shop owner in Dera'a province in southern Syria. In 2012, he and his family fled Syria because of heavy fighting, landing in the Zataari camp in Jordan. Mahmood started selling orange juice in the camp, and then after borrowing money, bought equipment to make and sell pizzas to aid workers and refugees.

“Having borrowed the money to start the business, in October 2013 he opened Mu'ajanat Esalam–or Pizzeria of Peace–on Za'atari's bustling commercial main street, known by residents as the Champs-Élysées,” after the street in Paris.

Mahmood dreams of one day returning to Syria and opening a pizza shop there.

The hopes and the fears of all the years of this long conflict are met in the streets of camps like Zataari—hopes for better lives, for peace, for being reunited, for surviving, for returning home; fears of being turned away, of uncertain futures, of the loss of loved ones, of no end in sight.

Mingled with them are the hopes and fears of prospective host nations too, and behind them all these questions:

Which impulse will prevail? The hopes or the fears? Which might serve as a better foundation for the future of humankind? Our hopes or our fears? Which sensibility better connects to the Advent story arc that we commemorate during this season? Hope or fear?

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency, in its Position on the Refugee Crisis, appealed “to the local population to treat refugees in their communities as they would like to be treated themselves. The strain of this crisis on everyone is clearly evident, but the world is watching vulnerable families being protested against, abused, and exploited.”

The statement went on:

ADRA stands united for the protection and rights of refugees. We recognize the humanity within this crisis, as well as the value of each individual involved. We are dedicated to lessening the impact of an overwhelming and unbearable situation on as many men, women, and children as we can. We urge you to do everything in your power to protect the rights and enforce the protection of the refugees within your borders.

Three weeks ago, North American Division President Daniel R. Jackson wrote in a Huffington Post Religion editorial, “To close the door to refugees cannot be an option. To "welcome" them by marking them with shame and suspicion is unacceptable. To incite fear based on prejudice is irresponsible. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to welcome ALL who are seeking refuge.”

Frank Sinatra broke my antique-store reverie with words that stayed with me after I left:

How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming, But in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still, The dear Christ enters in.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7249
4 Likes

A thought provoking article that points out the shallowness of most of our Christian profession.Jesus was a Jew he also became a refugee when his own nation’s government sought to eliminate Him.

How easily we forget that our saviour was one of “them” And we are one of “them” also, an innocent bystander seeking protection from the fallout of the war between good and evil.

Here in Canada our new government is doing it’s best to bring as many as possible Syrian refugees in before the New Year. I find it very curious that such a difference in attitude exists between two countries with a shared border.

Does it mean that when Trump or Carson becomes POTUS a wall will be built along the 49th parallel?

3 Likes

The Adventist church’s mission is different. Even if the nations wage war against other nations, the Adventist church’s identity is one of peacemaking and healing. And the hundreds of thousands of refugees and families ripped apart by violence need both healing and peace. The church’s first response should not be, “how can we blow up ISIS,” but how can we be Jesus to those suffering from violence. Christ’s Church (his people) is continually represented under the figure of an army, yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are persons of a peaceful disposition.

4 Likes

In the first chapter of theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God a series of observations about what it means to be “crucified with Christ,” or live the “crucified life,” will startle any believer who feels anxiety about the refugee crisis. I quote just one:

If a being is revealed only in its opposite, then the church which is the church of the crucified Christ cannot consist of an assembly of like persons who mutually affirm each other, but must be constituted of unlike persons. . . . But for the crucified Christ, the principle of fellowship is fellowship with those who have become alien and have been made different. Its power is not friendship, the love for what is similar and beautiful (“philia”), but creative love for what is different, alien an ugly (“agape”), p 28.

This refugee crisis with its attending Islamic xenophobia will turn into a permanent stain on our Christian faith if this avowedly Christian nation with “Christian” politicians continues its anti-Christian rhetoric. Jesus embraced the “others” in his life: those who sinned, those supposedly cursed by God for their blindness, paralysis and demon possession, those in prison and those who were poor. For that he was crucified. Are we ready, truly ready, to join him and “take up our cross?”

11 Likes

The politics of hate we find in the Republican Party precedes the Syrian refugee crisis. In a September 1, 2015 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, 54 percent of Republicans reported that they believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Only 29 percent of Republicans conceded that he was born in the United States of America. That President Obama is black is a heart-felt humiliation to most Southern whites in the Republican Party. Right-wing talk radio and Fox News together with Republican Party office-holders have stoked a feverish hatred of President Obama and everything else “alien” over the course of the last seven years. And this feverish hatred has permeated complicit evangelical Christian churches across the country.

Hatred that unhinges people from factual reality is a frightening spectacle to behold. As we provide assistance to Syrian refugees, we must also explore ways of ministering to the unhinged.

6 Likes

The two primary forces generating xenophobia here in the U.S. are politics and the media, which are deeply intertwined. Many Christians are profoundly influenced by the media of their choosing, which are inevitably shaped by political agendas. If one leans, for example, toward conservative views, they will choose news sources that ensure they are bombarded by politicians and pundits who oppose anything perceived as liberal–which unfortunately includes the Christ-like treatment of refugees. While eschewing other news sources, group think sets in, and along with it, radicalization in the form of anger and intolerance. Religious mindsets seem especially vulnerable.

When one puts their trust to a large extent in a single news source, how can they expect to hear views or develop their own that are Fair and Balanced? Doesn’t happen.

Yep…these four words sum it up…thank you, Phil.

3 Likes

How sad that the majority of Americans are kinder to the refugees by welcoming them than are Christians! By your acts your beliefs are known and the contradiction is demonstrated to the world in our unwillingness to accept refugees. While many of the European nations and our neighbor to the north is welcoming them, the very vocal political voices are crying out to give the impression they are all dangerous criminals.
What happened to the idea that “There but for the grace of God (and birth) go I”? If we were in their shoes we would also be fleeing the wars where people are killed only for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is a shame and disgrace when politicians reflect a picture of our country as selfish and uncaring. Christians should the the first to welcome them, some who are Christians fleeing religious persecution. Who will stand up for us when we are the hunted?

3 Likes

although delicate and difficult, i think a carefully balanced response from our church on the syrian refugee crisis would go a long way towards establishing credibility with those who aren’t irretrievably locked into one political position or another…it is clearly true that there are many syrian refugees who didn’t ask to be put into the position of having to depend on others for basic needs necessary for survival…their suffering is acute and real, and should draw out our deepest sympathies and intelligently considered action…

but it is also true that 74% of syria’s population is muslim, which despite president obama’s best efforts, is associated with ISIS in many western minds…moreover, ISIS has signaled an intent to use the refugee crisis to penetrate territory it wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to…in terms of western sensibilities, it appears to matter little that muslims themselves have been, by far, the biggest targets of ISIS…this important fact has been lost in the horror of televised be-headings of western journalists, the downed russian airliner, and the widely covered attacks in paris and san bernardino…the point is, the victims in these tragedies experienced extreme terror before losing their lives…in addition, their families and loved ones will need many years to recover any semblance of normality, and their respective countries are also still reeling…but to top it all off, there is the conspicuous fact that five of the wealthiest muslim nations have refused to take in any syrian refugees, citing a security threat…

to suggest that people with blonde-haired baby jesuses in the nativity scenes in their homes may be resisting reaching out to syrian refugees due to racism, rather than the ISIS threat that military and security officials have said on public television cannot be ruled out, is only contributing to the disconnect between what many feel and what they know their leaders want them to feel…the bottom line is that the syrian refugee crisis isn’t simply a humanitarian issue, although a serious humanitarian issue is certainly part of it…there is also a growing undercurrent of unease that america’s foreign policy, in particular, is severely misguided, that only plays into the worst characterizations of obama launched by tea party extremists from the very beginning of his presidency…until the reality of this complexity is clearly acknowledged, obama, merkel and trudeau can highlight the humanitarian tragedy aspect of this crisis all they want, but the hearts of their peoples won’t be fully with them…already merkel is backtracking substantially, and trudeau is “postponing” implementation of what many always viewed as a reckless refugee policy thrown together for the express purpose of showing he belongs on the world stage…this type of fine tuning, necessitated by unforgiving practical considerations, doesn’t engender confidence…it breeds disgust…i hope our church can avoid the mistakes these leaders have made and appear to still be making…

This is precisely why I invite consideration of which broad framework – hopes or fears – will be the primary driver of how we respond. When I listen to Ben Carson, I get the impression that he is operating primarily within the framework of Americans’ fears. He’s made a decision to appeal to voters’ fears with policy recommendations that primarily address those fears.

On the other hand, when I read Dan Jackson’s statements, it seems that he has chosen to work within the framework of hope. ADRA, in their statement, couple that sensibility with consideration of the needs they have seen and addressed as they work on the ground.

I understand the fear factor. My friends, family and colleagues live and work in and around San Bernardino and Redlands. I was there in person as the story was unfolding. I’m the parent of a small child. I know the reasons that people feel fearful. On a very personal level, I still feel as though, given my communities’ experiences with acts of apparent international terror, I will always prefer to make hope the platform on which we build the future, not fear.

8 Likes

“Where the children sleep” captures the ruptured lives of refugee children.

The pathos and poignancy of Ralia and Rahaf asleep on their cardboard boxes epitomizes the wretched misery endemic in the Middle East.

The haunting, harrowing, heartrending images of Syrian refugees on the evening news are disturbing, dismaying and discomforting.

We have the luxury of eliminating unpleasantness with a flick of the remote control, but what of the guardian Angels, forced to watch their pathetic protegés plunged into icy waters, when packed rafts overturn in high seas?

Drowning is an unpleasant death to endure, and to watch, particularly when children are involved.

Does God run a psychiatric clinic for Angels suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? Or are there such a myriad of Angels, that each only gets assigned half an hour of guardian duty every century, so as not to bond with their protogés. Or could it be that only Christians , not Muslims are provided with guardian Angels ??

EGW implies in several statements that the Second Coming is a movable event, and would have occurred a century ago “if Adventists had been more faithful”.

She also implies that “the universe”. which I assume includes the “good” Angels, have considerable influence on the Great Controversy.

The provocative perennial question is why are not these Angels, CLAMORING for God to end the carnage? The delay in the Second Coming perpetuates untold misery for which God must be accountable.

3 Likes

When the news flashed pictures of the three year old Syrian refugee boy lying lifeless on the beach in Turkey I could see that having been my own fate many years ago. We, too, were war refugees, fleeing for our lives. Then it was dodging German U-boats in the Baltic Sea. Sweden welcomed us even then, providing shelter and a new start in life. The only difference, back then, was that there were no terrorists embedding among those looking for asylum. We were expected to assimilate and respect the people and cultures that accepted us. Today Sweden is doing the same thing, with different results. Small villages all over Europe have been transformed into crowded refugee centers wiping away any semblance of what was home for its citizens. A town, just outsider Detroit has to hear the call to Muslim worship 3 or 4 times a day blasted over loud speakers all over town. Instead of assimilating to the rescuers, the rescuers have to assimilate to the throngs of refugees- even by law.

The Atlantic, on line, posted an article on November 18 saying that one of the Paris terrorists was carrying a forged Syrian passport and several of these passports are turning up in refugee camps. In fact, the one in Paris had duplicate information, including the picture, as one found in one of these camps. Since then, a large percentage of Syrian passports have been found to be forged. After 9/11 there was much finger-pointing as to how people like that were able to do what they did. After the Boston Marathon bombing, it was found that the two brothers had been under suspicion, without any action having been taken. I think it would be appropriate to compare these embedded terrorists to “rabid dogs” hiding among the innocent; and it would be prudent to first try to set up a system of vetting before admitting thousands of people we know nothing about, into our villages, towns, and cities. The Pakistani “bride” who massacred people in San Bernadino was vetted over the phone with questions only a moron could think would be sufficient to protect the citizens among whom she was to live - like “Have you ever; or do you intend to kill anyone?”

We can all HOPE, but unless we use the frontal lobes of our brains as God intended us to, we will suffer the consequences, all under the auspices of political correctness.

.

4 Likes

Neville Chamberlain all over again huh?

1 Like

Thank you, Jared. Thank you.

Jared, Thank you for a thoughtful article. The Syrian refuge crisis is tied to the SDA Crisis of relevancy and until we admit that fact, the conversation will always boil down to those who live in fear and those who have a living hope. Unfortunately, fear of “immigrants not like us” is hard wired to the SDA history. We began as a movement fearful of catholic immigrants which fed into our literal eschatology. Syrian refugees today, continues to feed right into our fear and until the SDA church renounces an evangelistic approach that emphasize on a fear-based prediction of the literal chain of events, that will bring about the second coming, we will continue to represent to the world and irrelevant faith. How many false end time scenarios have we preached over the years? … Would that the Seventh-day Adventist Religious Liberty Department had the courage to sign the Aspen Institute’s Justice & Society open letter along with 50+ other religious leaders in this county. http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/justice-society/open-letter-washington-post but our moral failing betrays how divided and lifeless our theology has become.

1 Like

but choosing one or the other broad framework is why this issue is so polarizing…i think if our church leaders put out a statement calling for compassion for syrian refugees, but that also supported the efforts of government officials to thoroughly vet these refugees, it would have more credibility…

on the other hand, i was discussing some of this with my little brother during xmas brunch at toronto’s trump hotel…he reminded me that muslim areas have been some of the most difficult for our church to penetrate…his view is that muslim refugees may be god providentially bringing muslims to us, rather than opening doors for us to go to them…this way there is the potential to reach them with the 3 angels’ messages where there wasn’t that potential before…i think this is an interesting take…

i think if our church leaders put out a statement calling for compassion for syrian refugees, but that also supported the efforts of government officials to thoroughly vet these refugees, it would have more credibility…

Are you not aware that NO refugees will be admitted to the U.S. until they have first been checked overseas? A process that normally takes two years? And that there are five different government agencies that will check them here in the U.S. before they can begin to assimilate?

Canada has welcomed more than 25,000 and they have a much smaller population. Germany and most of the European nations have accepted hundreds of thousands. Yet the U.S. which likes to talk of its compassion has shown very little of that to the refugees.
This was the same attitude which agreed with incarcerating U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry in isolated camps and taking their lands and businesses. Also, just before WW II began, the ship loaded with Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to escape concentration camps, traveled to many ports and all refused to accept them, including the U.S., that turned them back to their fate! Will we add another such blot to our record with these refugees?

Polls have shown that many more U.S. non-religiously affiliated and even atheists would welcome the refugees, but the majority of religiously-affiliated people are against it. An interesting difference.