The Syrian Refugee Crisis – A Christian Dilemma?

The Neighborhood

Back in the 1980’s we lived in a neighborhood of respectable lower middle class homes in north-east Toronto. Semi-detached and row housing, low-rent apartments and the like. Our row house backed onto a public school property with an adjacent park and a walking trail. Serenity in the suburbs.

Every morning I would walk to the bus stop at the end of our street to catch the bus to my office in town. The kids would walk to school and Donna would drive to her part-time job.

In the evening around 11:00 pm Donna and I would take our spaniel for a walk around the block and through the park – the kids were asleep in their beds at home. All snug, quite safe. And our life of modest privilege was good.

Then the neighborhood changed.

Canada is a nation of immigrants (including myself), and the demographics of this particular neighborhood changed rapidly as new arrivals moved in. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the bus shelters were getting vandalized almost daily. Broken glass. Graffiti. Then my daughter was being bullied at school, chased home daily by gangs of girls out to do her harm. Our kids’ bikes were stolen from our driveway. Cars broken into on our street, our quiet cul-de-sac.

We became afraid to walk the dog at night past lurking groups of youths in the shadows, not that we would dare to leave our kids at home alone any more – even for a quick turn around the block. Our once-idyllic neighborhood had been transformed into a virtual war-zone. And we had only lived there for three years!

We fled further east out of town and eventually migrated to the west coast where we live now.

The immigrants who had so unpleasantly displaced us were of a different (non-European) culture. They had just as much right to be there as we did, and had surely emigrated to Canada with dreams of opportunity and a better life – just as my family had. But it didn’t work out for them. Over the thirty years since their first arrivals, their petty crime and vandalism has morphed into gang culture and gun violence. I don’t know why. There are many who think they understand, but nobody knows how to bring back order and civility, so the violence just gets worse. Its a fallen world.

As I write this Europe is being overrun with a tidal wave of migrants fleeing the violence and turmoil of the Middle East and North Africa. The civil war in Syria. ISIS and Iraq. Terror and persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists.

Europe is in shock. Overwhelmed by a sea of humanity. Can the already-faltering economies of the continent absorb hundreds of thousands of additional residents – all unemployed – without collapsing into economic ruin? On the other hand, how can they turn away these refugees? Did we learn anything from World War II and the Holocaust?

Matthew 7:12
Matthew 7:12

Even if each European country took in their fair share of migrants in proportion to their population or GDP and could absorb the economic impact, would they be able to withstand the culture shock? That’s a lot of Muslims pouring into a pressure cooker of clashing values. This was a problem that was simmering before the refugee crisis!

So what’s to be done?

When you started reading this article you knew it was about the Syrian refugees, so did  the story of my 1980’s neighborhood make you think I was comparing the new immigrants to the refugees in Europe? Indeed, they too had left economic despair and perhaps some oppression. Or were my family the refugees? We had had to “flee” what to us had become a hostile environment, so I can certainly relate to the plight of the Syrian refugees (although the threats they flee are horribly real, while ours were for the most part unrealized). But we were also like the Europeans in that we had been overrun by a foreign culture that was unable to adapt to our own!

It’s all about perspective.

As Christians, we know that we need to help the migrants and refugees.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Deuteronomy 15:7–8

Unconditional Christian love is fundamental to the teachings of our Lord and the Kingdom of God.

“You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:10–11

There’s no qualification for Christian charity. Jesus laid down some simple concepts of selflessness in a hostile world;

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

Romans 12:18
Romans 12:18

So, dear Christian brother or sister, encourage your government to help the refugees and to bring them to safety. Do what you can to help through missions, your church or a Christian NGO of choice such as World Vision International. But stay alert to the coming storm.

Here’s the Christian dilemma. While our responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance is clear, the implications of a mass migration from the Islamic world to traditionally Christian nations are ominous.

The clash of cultures will fan the flames of Islamist extremism and the violent intolerance that goes with it. In a contest of “Turn the other cheek” vs. Kill the Infidel” we need to pray for God’s protection. The help won’t come from anyone else. Popular western culture will continue to shun Christian moral values and vilify the Church in the name of progressive liberalism and tolerance, all the while embracing and accommodating the poor, misunderstood and ever-strengthening world of Islam. Whether or not these events signal the end-times no one can say, but there are troubled days ahead.

Love your neighbor, but keep your eye on the neighborhood.

God Bless.

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