Into the Fire

February 1, 2017

In October of last year, Pope Francis met with a pilgrimage of Catholics and Lutherans from Germany [1], and told them that he does not like “the contradiction of those who want to defend Christianity in the West, and, on the other hand, are against refugees and other religions.” [2] The pope went on to say that it is “hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” and that if “I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

By: Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation) 
On January 27th, President Donald Trump signed the executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” In that order he directed, among other things, that the “Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days.” [3] After the 120 day period, “the Secretary of State” is to “resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined” to have added procedures deemed “adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.” The admission of Syrian nationals is indefinite. “Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” This, of course, will have the effect of discriminating against Muslim refugees from Middle Eastern countries like Syria.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Migration, responded to the executive order this way:

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.” [4]

As to the executive order’s indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, the bishop said this:

“The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, added this:

“The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil.  We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.

“The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.” [5]

Indeed, Jesus, whom one suspects might be considered authoritative on questions of Christian ethics, told us this parable:

“When the Son of man comes in his majesty, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon the seat of his majesty. All nations will be gathered together before him, and he will separate them from one another, like the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

“Then the king will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me; sick, and you visited me; in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then will the just answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; thirsty, and gave you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to you?’

“And the king will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’

“Then they too will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen, I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of the least of these, neither did you do it for me.’

“And they shall go into everlasting punishment; but the just, into life everlasting.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

The implications for how we should treat refugees, particularly the Syrian refugees with the dire circumstances they face, is clear. But some will protest that we have to be careful about our national security. It will be said that Jesus delivers some nice sentiments, but we have to be concerned about protecting American lives. In sum, they are afraid. They are too scared to live out the teachings of the Gospel.

Let us concede that admitting refugees from certain places might expose us to dangers that would not otherwise be present. But if we are to be motivated by fear, then we should be instructed by the words of Jesus on how to do that properly. He said,

“And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. I will tell you whom you should fear. Fear him, who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5)

Jack Quirk