Last week gave us a most heartbreaking image. One of a young boy washed upon a shore, just one of the victims of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the worst refugee crisis since World War II and among the worst in history. Last week also gave us a number of profound statements and calls to action from several Church leaders. Most notably, Pope Francis called for every parish in Europe to welcome a refugee family. Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos (UK) rebuked Hungary’s stated policy that it would only help Christian refugees but turn away Muslims (“As a Christian I could never accept a policy that would only help ‘our own’). Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby evoked Lev. 19:34, calling for Europe to “break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves.” He backed this up with a call for an increase of funding and British Naval presence to assist those arriving. We’ve also begun to see videos and images from countries like Germany who have opened their doors to refugees.
I think what we are seeing is radical. I hope it bears fruit.
I think it is something that asks, or will ask something of all of us.
Also, in the long run, I think this is how groups like ISIS are defeated.
There is a real power in love, generosity, and yes, real sacrifice that reveals the tools of the tyrannical, the brutal, the inhumane, as cowardly, weak, and ultimately defeated. It is truly militant to put love into action that requires me to give up my comfort, my preferences, my ‘security’. It is not good enough to discuss ideals, to hand-wring about injustice, or to share a post on Facebook. That’s not militant love. It always requires real sacrifice for real persons. There is a risk that comes with wielding this weapon of peace.
As I sit in my comfortable office writing this, though, it begs the question: ‘Will I be willing to sacrifice if/when I am asked to take in refugees? Will I be willing to do so when that refugee is not like me at all? Will I be willing when doing so will upset my standard of living, my comfort, even my perceived ‘culture’?
Groups like ISIS bet on their willingness to sacrifice for their ideology. Perhaps that’s why they are able to recruit. They stand for something and, at least in their public face, are willing to sacrifice for it. Groups like ISIS also bet on others unwillingness to sacrifice. They bet on us hiding away in our own safety. They bet on us turning away refugees because it might upset our economy or culture. They bet on us fueling their ideological fire by only wanting to help “Christians”. They win when we isolate. I believe they win when we adopt a stance of suspicion, or worse, opposition towards Muslims in our own communities.
As an Orthodox Christian priest I am certainly aware of the temptation to accept a ‘protectionist’ mindset. I am also aware, though, that this mindset leads to isolation, defensiveness, suspicion and ultimately contempt of others. I have heard rhetoric in some Christian circles that, to be honest, at its heart is not that much different from what ISIS promotes: Protect the ‘purity’ of ‘Christian culture’, expend time and energy on speaking about the evils of the culture surrounding us, be very afraid and suspicious of all Muslims. This spirals into believing the only solution is separation of ‘different’ groups, or (I’ve really heard this) armed conflict between the ‘groups’.
Certainly, most folks would never take things to the extremes of the rhetoric. But I’ve often wondered where this ideology comes from. I wonder if it is because there is confusion over what to do when faced with the suffering in the world and the changing face of culture. I wonder if it will take powerful, prophetic leadership, with a call to real sacrifice, real militant love again to wake us up out of this slumber, this spiritual malaise, which has to be at the root of ideologies so at odds with the Gospel.
So when leaders, especially religious leaders, stand up and make a call like Pope Francis has, or call out isolation, xenophobia, and fear like Bishop Angaelos has, or remains unsatisfied with his nation’s response, and asks for more sacrifice, more compassion, more militant love like Abp. Welby has, it is a call to repentance and a change of heart for all of us. I believe it can inspire all people, regardless of religious affiliation, but especially for those who are Christians, it should cause serious reflection on what we are commanded to do.
It is a call to repentance. And I think every Christian should begin asking the questions: “What if I am asked to take in a refugee?” Whether or not we are actually asked to do so, the question should be asked as it speaks to the greater issue of willingness to engage sacrificial, militant love. It will end up playing out locally and regionally, with how I treat and regard my neighbor, especially the “other” neighbor. It cultivates a heart that, perhaps, when asked to do something radical like take in a refugee, from another part of the world, who speaks another language, who might even have a different religion, I will be ready to make the sacrifice required for militant love, the real weapon that can defeat the oppressive enemy in my own heart, and is powerful enough, if enough answer the call and put it into action, to defeat wicked ideologies that fuel oppressive enemies in our world.
Some links with ideas of how to help those suffering in the Syrian Refugee Crisis:
Support IOCC (92% of all funds go to those in need) http://www.iocc.org/countries/countries_syria.aspx