When I talk to conservative Christians about their stance on a hot button issue like abortion or gay marriage, they usually quote the Bible. But when I’ve spoken to them about admitting Syrian refugees, almost none of them do.
These Christians–many who oppose allowing refugees into the United States–do not cite the Bible’s many commands to practice hospitality. They do not wrestle with God’s instructions for how the Israelites should treat refugees and immigrants. They do not invoke Jesus’ comments on loving one’s neighbor or Paul’s reminder that God does not give his children “a spirit of fear.” Instead, most of my conservative Christian friends talk a lot what is “practical” and “logical” and “safe,” which seems to depend on how one defines those terms and which facts one is considering.
Here are a few of facts about the Syrian refugee crisis that many Christians seem to be overlooking.
American Christians have more in common with ISIS than they may assume, says theologian Miroslav Volf.
Some Christians may find the Yale Divinity School professor’s comments difficult to swallow in light of a propaganda video released on Sunday that reportedly showed the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS militants in Libya. Volf says that many figures in both Christian history and American history thought about faith and politics in a similar way to modern Islamist extremists. He also says that even though he doesn’t believe the Christian and Muslim faiths are one and the same, we should search out and celebrate the good commonalities. Volf is author of many books including, Allah: A Christian Response and Do We Worship the Same God?
RNS: With what we’re seeing now with groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. What do you make of the persecution of Christians by Islamist extremists?
MV: I take it to be an extreme reaction to globalization processes, which are perceived as being driven by Western interests and are associated with Christian tradition. I see it as a form of extremism that is perceived by majority Muslims as out of step with what Islam is. Your run of the mill Muslims in many parts of the world will generally refer to Islamic State as un-Islamic state. I think it is an attempt to assert Islam as a political religion as a unity of religion and government. Now that’s been a way religions have functioned throughout history–from Constantine until recently. America was founded by folks who thought like this.
RNS: America was founded by folks who thought like Islamist extremists?
MV: Like many Islamist extremists, yes. Which is to say, they believed God would bless this new experiment if we integrate our obedience to God’s laws and we ensure that this is indeed a city set on a hill.
RNS: A lot of people say that violence is inherent to the Muslim faith. Is that correct or are violent expressions a distortion of their faith?
The Syrian civil war has become a humanitarian hell. More than 100,000 are dead, images of a state-sanctioned chemical weapons attack have evoked a global protest, and most Western leaders agree that Syrian President Bashar Assad is an all-around bad guy. But enacting another bloody and expensive war against an unstable Middle Eastern country, particularly one with the backing of Russia and Iran, is something many Americans have little stomach for.
So which position should Christians support?
Traditionally, Christians have viewed war through one of two lenses. Those who hold to just war theory believe that war is often right if the violent conflict meets certain criteria. This is the view held by most Catholics and conservative Protestants. On the other hand, Christian pacifists believe that violence is incompatible with a faith that is patterned after the one who blessed peacemakers and urged his followers to “turn the other cheek.”
But in recent years, a third view called just peacemaking has gained traction among some Christians. It has been promoted by evangelical theologians Glenn Stassen and David Gushee, and supports the prevention of war through nonviolent direct action and cooperative conflict resolution. Stassen and Gushee point out that just peacemaking theory is not intended to be a substitute for just war or pacifism, but rather a supplement and corrective.
Below are position statements on the Syrian conflict from Christian thought leaders representing each of these perspectives: