Europe, like the U.S., is struggling mightily with the refugee crisis.
Even knowing what to call the Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, and others who are pouring across our borders in large numbers is a complicated matter, with each term betraying one’s political – and sometimes religious – viewpoint.
Are they political refugees, Flüchtlingen, as my German-language newspaper prefers to call them? Or, are they Muslim invaders, as some members of my church believe?
Raised on the parables of Jesus, like the Good Samaritan, my first response to the refugee crisis was that my church should do something. In fact, I said as much. ‘We should adopt a family,’ I said early on, ‘as the pope himself suggested – one family per parish.’
One of my church members called and told me of his plans to drive a family from a refugee camp in southern Europe to Germany, perhaps in a rental car so as to avoid easy identification. His small act would help only one family, he acknowledged, but at least that one family would be safe. I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about his plan, and told him so, but I found it difficult to do nothing, except for watching the news photos of squalid camps and overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean.
I was quickly informed, of course, that I was naive, that I did not understand how grave the situation was. ‘Muslims do not integrate,’ a few people helpfully explained to me. And news that at least one of the attackers in the Paris massacre last Friday night was a Syrian who had entered Europe posing as a refugee seemed to confirm that I was, in fact, naive, that I do not understand the situation we are facing.
Right now, the more conservative position represented by the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) seems to be the preferred position in this country. The SVP rode an anti-immigration platform to victory in the most recent election, and in a land of direct democracy that was a powerful message.
Even the pope, who isn’t reluctant to voice an opinion, seems to have gone silent on the issue.
I try to remember that I am a guest in this country, very much an immigrant myself. I am still learning the languange and the culture, after all, and it would be presumptuous of me to tell the Swiss how to run their country, especially when they seem to have done a remarkably good job of it for many years.
But I am a Christian pastor. I can and do read the Bible, and I know what it says about ‘the stranger within our gates.’ Republican presidential candidates in the U.S. do not hesitate to quote scripture about other topics, but they are noticeably reluctant to seek out the Bible’s clear teaching on this issue, have you noticed?
What about Exodus 23:9, to take just one example? ‘Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.’ That argument – you should understand because you too were foreigners – is repeated over and over in the Old Testament.
Naive or not, I continue to believe that my faith compels me to look with compassion on the strangers who are appearing among us. The Muslims I have spoken to (a very small number) are deeply disillusioned with their faith, but their faith in many cases is all they have. I would like to think that they would be especially receptive right about now to the Gospel message, the story of a God who welcomes us all, a God who brings shalom to a sin-ravaged world.
I will continue to struggle with this issue and with my naivete. I will continue to search scripture for the appropriate response (though the testimony already seems clear). I will continue to recommend to my members that we show compassion and not act out of fear. I will do my best, in it all, to be the follower of Christ I was raised to be – always concerned for the ‘least of these.’