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The welfare of our cities

Trump’s rhetoric fuels a distorted focus on refugees and immigrants


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There’s a tension to many aspects of the Christian life. One is the tension between our earthly sojourn as strangers and exiles and our obligation to care for the places where we live.

Welcoming and serving the stranger is one of the most repeated commands in Scripture. And we remember Jesus lived an exile’s life, having “no place even to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Even so, we are to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).

In our present context, then, how are we to welcome refugees and at the same time protect our cities? How are Christians to think about taking in asylum seekers from countries where radical Islam has erupted in terrorism and violence?

If America has something worth protecting, it must also have something worth sharing.

It should be telling to voters and especially Christians that political leaders in the United States did not make refugees an issue until late 2015, even though the global refugee crisis—fed largely by Syria’s civil war and the rise of ISIS—clearly spiked in 2013. Prior to Donald Trump’s inflamed rhetoric taking center stage, Republicans accused the Obama administration of not taking in enough Syrian refugees.

Trump has brought to the fore an important subject—yet charged it with false and damaging discourse. His blanket denunciations threaten to coarsen and derail an issue squarely in the wheelhouse of America’s Christian community.

Refugee resettlement in the United States has long been a partnership between the government and faith-based agencies—Lutherans, Catholics, and the evangelical World Relief constituting the largest of them. Thanks to Donald Trump, those voluntary agencies are now on the defensive, and at a time when they are most needed.

As he did in his Aug. 15 speech about radical Islam, Trump repeatedly conflates refugees with immigrants, though each are processed using separate laws and government oversight, recognizing the special category of those applying for asylum. Yes, the leading threat is radical Islam, but the United States doesn’t need a refugee or immigrant wave to grow terrorists. San Bernardino and Orlando demonstrate American soil can grow its own terrorists just fine.

Trump talks of “refugee sending nations,” when the vast majority of refugees make their decisions to flee on a moment’s notice, alone, leaving behind all they know in fear for their lives. We can strengthen our ability to rightly determine legitimate refugees without turning our backs on all of them.

Trump’s themes serve always to demonize refugees and to overgeneralize, when America through its history has welcomed genuine refugees because our country was, and is, built on them.

The current Arab-American community in the United States, for example, is overwhelmingly Christian—63 percent Christian, 24 percent Muslim, and 13 percent another or no religion. I have seen firsthand in Europe how its Arab Christian communities are discipling new arrivals, including disenchanted Muslims, and making profound contributions.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the deformed rhetoric of Trump is that he seems to propose managing U.S. immigration with what we see failing in Europe—top-down, big-government measures that emasculate local authorities and ghettoize ethnic immigrant communities. He wants to disengage the United States from the displaced populations of the world at a time when the world most needs American engagement. After all, if America has something worth protecting, it must also have something worth sharing.

Above all, what you will not hear from either presidential candidate is a legitimate lament about the real problems feeding the rise of radical Islam attacking European cities and perhaps threatening our own—rampant secularism and the failure of global governance. The blatant reality no U.S. presidential candidate seems serious enough to address is that the UN-led systems set up after World War II, having devolved into bloated bureaucracies and nonsectarian nuttiness, have left vacuums for the worst kinds of extremism.

America will be safer if our political leaders take seriously engaging its enemies abroad. And if its leaders grant space for church communities—with their ready-made volunteer networks and commitment to seeking the welfare of their cities—to continue welcoming and assimilating strangers and exiles.

Email [email protected]


Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and now senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.

@MindyBelz

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nomoreidols

Thank you for properly reflecting on our responsibility to God and to provide perspective to the rhetoric of fear.  If indeed we are a Christian nation as so many claim, then we ought to be satisfying ourselves as to prudent guidelines and trusting God for whatever other protection needed as we engage with whomever He brings across our path.  We as American Christians ought to be ashamed of ourselves for the selfishness with which we are responding to a humanitarian crisis.  If we took our eyes off of our comfortable lives,  we would see the effect those who are undergoing persecution with faith in God and therefore,  reflecting His love, have had on many Muslims' heart and beliefs.  Thousands are coming to Jesus. No one looks for persecution,  but if you try to hang on to this life,  and not seek God's power to turn conflict into opportunities to reflect God's love,; if you do not believe in the only mission He asked us to do; if you do not trust Him in the carrying out that mission in whatever way and wherever He sees fit, then you have missed the point of this life and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

Luke 12:5 But I will tell you whom to fear.  Fear God who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, He's the One to fear.

 

nevertheless

Immigration to the United States is a complex, multi faceted topic. It's subheadings range from legal immigration (such as the H1B Visa program) to the porous southern border through which thousands of central Americans seek to enter on a daily basis. If illegal immigration were not such a yawn for our federal government, no-one would be as alarmed about refugee programs. The system is in chaos and our culture is under assault across its entire spectrum. Trump has identified the problems and if elected will take steps to secure the border and curb illegal immigration; he will also seek to sustain a rational refugee program that takes our national and cultural integrity into account. Americans will still care for the homeless and orphans as they always have, whats the real issue here? You said " We can strengthen our ability to rightly determine legitimate refugees without turning our backs on all of them." I wholeheartedly agree. Lets get on with it. To do so we need a federal government with wisdom to tell the difference between policies that are destructive to our values and culture and what is truly responsible caring ... omg, maybe that's inflammatory rhetoric!

Wdane

"Yes, the leading threat is radical Islam, but the United States doesn’t need a refugee or immigrant wave to grow terrorists. San Bernardino and Orlando demonstrate American soil can grow its own terrorists just fine." True statement.

HOWEVER, carelessly (weak or non existent "vetting") allowing in those coming from regions where Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is flourishing would only add to the security problem of our citizenry. Refugee or immigrant both need to be checked carefully prior to allowing them to enter our population, lest they be one of those that ISIS has claimed they are sending. Can we afford to ignore such a stated intention? Obviously no we can't they have delivered on their threats as is well known throughout Europe and the Middle East. Our Presidents in times past have had to make very hard choices that proved to be essential. (Truman- atom bomb)

"America through its history has welcomed genuine refugees because our country was, and is, built on them." True.
HOWEVER we are living in an era of unprecedented religiously based slaughter of all who do not bow to Allah. Welcoming refugees without careful scrutiny invites that slaughter into our land.

The global chaos unfolding in the wake of religiously motivated - ready to die for Allah - terror seems to me to differ from the WWII and cold war eras. The committed Nazi's and Communists were ready for others to die, but not themselves if it could be helped. The fanatical Kamikaze Japanese pilots of WWII are the exception. This new Islamic breed seek death to honor their Satanically inspired diety. (My non PC view) We now live in a different level of danger. Evaluating those who seek entry to our land is essential. Government is tasked with that responsibility.

The information needed to check the background of those refugees fleeing or those seeking to immigrate is all too often slim or non-existent. Most of that information would come from foreign government sources. Some out of the box thinking by those in government who approve/disapprove entry is needed. Finding a way to get in the minds of potential terrorists using their fanatical religious belief system could be a starting point to uncover those seeking covertly as needy refugees.

Would that Christian organizations who rightly seek to help refugees had such wisdom or resource information as is needed for evaluating genuine need.

It doesn't appear that either Presidential candidate has an adequate solution to this escalating problem. Words and slogans are not a solution- just political expediency.

Thanks for bringing up this "gordian knot" type problem. It will take the wisdom of God to sort out a pathway to serve those in genuine need and provide for the safety of our citizenry at the same time. :-)