Syrian Refugees, Terrorists, and Responsibility: Christian Compassion in an Age of War

Syrian Refugees, Terrorists, and Responsibility: Christian Compassion in an Age of War
November 19, 2015 Matthew L. Jacobson

Refugees, what’s to be done with them? And the temporary, selective travel ban . . . should we let them in or should we keep them out?

Nothing raises the temperature in the room as when the hard-edged realist meets the sanctimonious piety of the liberal Christian who shows up with her smiley-face emoticon and a “Jesus Loves You!” bumper sticker.

The first person justifies his lack of compassion by saying he’s just trying to bring order to this mad world as the second looks down with a moral squint from the high ground she has convinced herself she, Jesus, and a few other good people occupy.

Such is the current discussion among believers sparked by the latest Executive Order on all travel from terrorist hotspots, refugees or otherwise. KEEP THEM OUT! . . . WE MUST LET THEM IN. IT’S WHAT JESUS WOULD DO!

The default position of every true believer is already delineated in the Bible. It’s not complicated. It’s not unclear. There is simply no place for a lack of compassion in the life of a believer; witness the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus or the declaration of James 1:7, regarding orphans and widows. ‘Compassionate’ is the heart condition of a true believer who walks in the Spirit.

So, compassion or the lack thereof, isn’t really the issue. If you have no compassion, well, good luck in the latter day, explaining the logic of your position to God. At least you’ll have time on your hands and The Rich Man close by to listen to your well-honed arguments.

Applying the compassion every true believer has is where the real crux of the discussion about these – or any – refugees lay. But striving for a truly biblical position is different than the moral presumption of those who savage logic and biblical principles in the name of loving people.

Breathe one hint of evaluation of who should be let in or excluded from admission to the U.S. and Christians suddenly appear, reprimanding, with expressions of disbelief that anyone – anyone – could possibly be so cold, callous, uninformed, unchristian, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, etc. (these are actual words lifted from various posts on the topic)

I’m just ashamed of you! How could you? Where’s the love?

You see, you’re just supposed to love, which means, see it my way, let these people in without another word of discussion or you are a judgmental, unkind, unchristian, unloving, mean (pick another one) person.

And, really, who can argue with love like that?

This brand of Christian compassion has nothing, whatever, to do with what the Bible teaches or with an understanding of biblical principles.

Whenever a discussion begins, every Christian has one starting place. Christians who desire to influence others to their position or who challenge the ideas of others can only do so, legitimately, if they align their argument with what the Bible teaches. Granted, people can see things the Bible teaches differently, but that’s where reason and mature discourse come in.

In His Word, God says, Come, let us reason together, Isaiah 1:18. That’s interesting, isn’t it – God, inviting us to have a logical discussion?

Reason – biblical reason – is what is needed in the acrimonious debate over the placement of the Refugees. To reason, to consider facts, to assess risk, to guard yourself, your children, and your neighbor against terrorists does not reveal a lack of compassion. It’s Biblical.

But first, we need to light a straw man on fire and burn him to ashes. The very idea that refugees shouldn’t be welcomed into this country, period, is a straw man used to “prove” a lack of compassion on one side and genuine love and concern on the other.

No doubt there are people, somewhere, who believe no refugees should be admitted to the U.S., ever – that they should shift for themselves as best they can. This position is manifestly unbiblical. We are our brother’s keeper and are called on to meet the needs of the destitute. Jesus’ account in Matthew 25 removes any grey from the topic. So, get the matches. This straw man is going up in flames.

And yet, the same ardent tone leveled against the straw man is used against those who argue for the vetting of refugees and visitors from terrorist hotspots. They are accused, right along with the straw man, of being racists, bigots, fear-driven etc., etc.

Claiming the moral high ground by saying such things does not an argument make – at least an argument that will hold up to logical . . . and biblical scrutiny. Those against delaying admission until after thoroughly vetting the refugees (making as definitive assessment of their intentions as possible) have lost their capacity to think biblically, and are being driven by their emotions.

When truth dominates love, judgment follows but when love dominates truth, chaos follows. Truth and Love need each other.

Vetting people we do not know prior to making them our neighbors is neither unkind, unloving, or any of the epithets hurled against those who advocate the process. Preventing admission until after vetting unknown people is logical, reasonable, responsible, and a very loving thing to do for the neighbor you already have. But, it’s more than that. Vetting is a biblical practice. In fact, the Bible teaches you should vet people for a variety of things.

Many different kinds of vetting were commonly practiced in both the Old and New Testaments. Check out Joshua 9 where vetting foreigners miscarried and two men, posing as travelers from a distant country on the brink of destitution, deceived the border guards and tricked Joshua into a damaging treaty with his country’s enemies.

In the Church of the 1st Century, the commitment to care for the destitute was unquestioned, but showing up and declaring oneself a widow or looking needy was not enough for admittance to the Church’s welfare program. First, you were vetted. What were the criteria, outlined in 1 Timothy 5? Among other things . . .

  • The woman must be over 60 years of age
  • She must have no children or nephews (It is the family’s responsibility to care for family members)
  • She must have led a life of caring for others

By today’s bleeding-heart standards, this is tantamount to waterboarding. But, no, these are the standards set down for the love and care of those who were widows, indeed. For the rest of the women seeking admission to the Church’s welfare program: Sorry. We vetted you, and you don’t qualify for admission.

So for all those who decry stopping the admission of refugees and/or travelers from terrorist hotspots prior to thorough vetting, please tone down your moral outrage and recognize your unmeasured compassion isn’t Christian or biblical.

Without question, there are people who need help. And, for those who, after being vetted, are found to be truly destitute, Christian compassion dictates the response.

With the mass migration out of the Middle East, it is an exercise worthy of the most committed ostrich to suggest as fear mongering the concern over terrorists being among them. If terrorists were smart enough to bring down the World Trade Center towers back in 2001, surely today, they’re smart enough to realize the Syrian Refugee Crisis is a golden opportunity to slip unnoticed into enemy territory.

Happily, we don’t have to wonder how smart terrorists are. Along with those who truly need help are also those who pose as those who need help, like this guy: Tunisian terrorist ‘returns to Europe posing as asylum-seeker’

And . . .

The Syrians arrested yesterday in Honduras, heading to the U.S. on stolen Greek passports who, when asked what they were doing traveling north through Central America responded, in fairly good English, “Refugees”. Interpol tracked these strong, able-bodied men from Syria, through Lebanon, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Honduras, where they were arrested, preventing the rest of the trip: Guatemala, Mexico, and through the porous U.S. border (smart guys!). Turns out, they’re far from refugees but they don’t have terrorist ties, apparently. Now, if the guys who just want to sneak into the U.S. on stolen passports can figure out that posing as Syrian refugees is helpful to your goals, do you still wonder if the terrorists are smart enough to figure it out?

Stop wondering and read about . . .

The eight terrorists arrested in Turkey, posing as refugees.

And, then there is what the French Prime Minister said, “Some of the suspects in the Paris attacks took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to “slip in” unnoticed”

Most people believe the majority of the migrants/refugees are people who just want a better life. But, as Mark Steyn pointed out a few years ago in his witty, intelligent book, America Alone, (which I highly recommend for a quick, fun, informative, serious review of the situation. George Will called it “The most fun he’s had being depressed.” At the time of publication it elicited cries of “hate speech” and “bigot” but, today, shows the author to have had clear foresight) the numbers are completely irrelevant to the discussion. It took only a handful of committed terrorists to bring down the Towers and, more recently to kill/injure hundreds in Paris.

And this is the material point. It is willful blindness and beyond foolish to tell yourself that mass migration of the scope seen throughout Europe, from a terrorist riddled region, would not include terrorists using refugee status for cover, and therefore, the U.S. should welcome with open arms, without a rigorous, individual assessment, all who clamor for entry.

Preventing entry before thoroughly vetting these people is the only Christian, biblical, circumspect course of action. What’s more, it is the compassionate thing to do – the only way Truth and Love can remain in proper balance to each other . . . under the circumstances . . . based on the facts.

Come, let us reason together.

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  1. Laura Camacho 2 years ago

    Matthew, I know you to be a man of high integrity and moral standing, with a powerful voice of influence to your audience. It is deeply troubling to see you stoop to mean-spirited caricaturization of those with whom you disagree.

    I encourage you to rethink the spirit of engagement you are propagating amongst your readership. How is joining in with the name-calling going to help bring about Christian unity? You’re better than this.

    • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

      Thank you for your comment which, after reading, I immediately went to reread the article to see where I had engaged in the manner you describe: “mean-spirited” and “name-calling”. There was no name-calling but, if I’ve missed something, please point it out. As to the first charge, it is important for posturing Christians, without following a linear or logical, let alone a biblical argument, who have convince themselves that they occupy the sun-lit uplands of moral superiority to understand that they are merely posturing, hence the “moral sniff” and “moral squint” comments. I will say that my wife suggested I remove the reference to “endorphin rush” which, like so many of her other suggestions, would have elevated that paragraph. Should have listened.

      Again, thank you for voicing your perspective. What did you think of the specific points presented, as opposed to the 3 or 4 tonal elements that you found objectionable?

      • Laura Camacho 2 years ago

        You and I probably agree more than we disagree, Matt, but it isn’t profitable to engage in discussion in this space with you; you are projecting a disdainful attitude about those with whom you disagree. I will not take part in it.

        Whether or not it’s your intention, you have created a space that is unwelcome to civil discussion by using derogatory terms like “sanctimonious piety” and squinting, sniffing “Victorian schoolmarms.”

        • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

          You may be confusing projecting a disdainful attitude with identifying a disdainful attitude. The “moral squint” was for those using epithets like “bigot, “fear monger”, “unloving”, etc., In any case, the guy without compassion didn’t fair so well in the article either. I implied he will end up in Hell, which is pretty derogatory. As to derogatory terms, Jesus called people fools, white-washed tombs, sons of the Devil, and hypocrites. Personally, I probably wouldn’t use the first three, but wouldn’t hesitate to identify hypocrisy where it appears.

          • Melinda Sleight 2 years ago

            You seem pretty unable to identify those things in yourself somehow. Your rationalizations include painting with a wide brush in a scornful hue those who actually have compassion. Jesus called hypocrites out, not those who lived by the Golden Rule. Hopefully you have submitted your corrections regarding Biblical texts to Him; I see He neglected to have the victim vetted before the Good Samaritan stumbled upon him. The fool! Thank goodness those prescient role models, the priest and the Levite had the good sense to reason it out and pass him by.

          • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

            The article gives no quarter to those without compassion – hence the reference to conversations with The Rich Man . . . in Hell. Compassion for the downtrodden is not optional for any true believer, again, made clear in the article.

  2. Heather 2 years ago

    But, but, but…..HOW do we vet people we don’t know personally, who aren’t “in our database” and have zero identification? HOW do we justify taking care of thousands of foreigners, when we still have homeless, mentally ill and medically uncared for veterans from the war in Iraq?

  3. Harmony Moore 2 years ago

    Matt, I really appreciate this article and I’m with you about the vetting even though this week I’ve been for the first time labeled the equivalent of one of your “sanctimoniously pious liberal Christians with a bleeding heart and no reason.” (an insult both untrue and that has hurt very much when implied toward me the past few days.)

    I am tracking with you in what you say about vetting but I’m really surprised that you raise it as the bit of wisdom lacking in the “other side” (lacking in the person who “looks down with a moral squint from the high ground she has convinced herself she, Jesus, and a few other good people occupy).

    I understand that our nation has a pretty strong vetting system in place already. Am I under the wrong impression? It currently takes 18-24 months for a Syrian refugee to enter the country, and they only enter after scrutiny and background checks more rigorous than those given to any other refugee group. I haven’t seen a single “let them come” voice say “without vetting.” I think the general assumption is that vetting must take place and will take place. I don’t see people saying a risk of ISIS infiltrators doesn’t exist, either. I see people saying that the risk does not write out the Christian obligation to help, and even you’re saying that, aren’t you? So I guess I’m wondering if I’m wrong about the current vetting process and also why you think that the “liberal Christians” don’t agree with you in this?

    At this time, more than half of the Syrian refugees we receive are children. The majority of the rest are women and elderly. This fact isn’t slated to change, because it’s in keeping with both US policy and the reality of the demographics of the refugee population at large. 76% of the 4 million Syrian refugees are women and children, not men. The US has deliberately prioritized the persecuted, tortured, weak, children, and elderly, and has asked refugee agencies to refer these to us. We already receive 70,000 refugees a year. 10,000 more is nothing to a nation like us, we all agree on thorough vetting, so it’s hard for me to understand why people are divided.

    I think I could say I represent the person on the “other side” that you describe because I find myself writing heavy about being loving, showing mercy, being like Jesus in word and deed and have been labeled thus as a result. So I want to offer this as a bit of explanation for Christians who come across with their emphasis on compassion: we write like this not because we think we have some sort of moral high ground, but because into our FB feeds and all across the sound waves come comment after comment filled with fear, hate, and what appears to be misinformation.

    I’m sure there are Christians who haven’t thought this issue through and just think we should let everyone in without vetting (I haven’t met one, but odds are, they are there.) 🙂 But there are also hate and fear-spewing Christians, and honestly, I feel hate and fear is the greater evil and danger of the two, and so that’s why people like me write to that issue. I believe that the vast majority of Christians are in neither of these groups, but instead are heart-pricked, grappling, loving and wise Christians who are trying to find the way forward, such as you describe. So as a loving and prudent Christian you are speaking perhaps to the push-over unreasoning ones. But as loving and prudent Christians many others are speaking to the voices of hate and fear. Please don’t write off “other” Christians as unthinking bleeding hearts just because they speak to a different audience – and are trying to address a different heart issue – than the audience to whom and issue to which you might speak. I think the two approaches meet in the middle for they share the same heart, and that middle is where real solutions can be found.

    • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Harmony.
      The article was written because of a great deal has been written last week on various social media platforms about how preventing this particular refugee group from entering the country én masse until who they are, individually, can be established is an unloving, unchristian position. In addition, two men asked me to publish on the topic.
      Your understanding of the current vetting process isn’t accurate. The system is wholly inadequate, which is why congress, yesterday, passed a bill (with many democrats signing on making the House Bill veto-proof) that you can read about here, from the New York Times:
      The time it takes because of an incompetent government bureaucracy to be allowed in for the typical refugee has little relationship to what is learned about that refugees political/criminal intentions. You’ve seen no one arguing for them to be let in under the current failed system but I’ve encountered many, such as this fellow: But, the most vocal and most heard voice on the topic is Barak Obama, chiding those who want to halt admission of Syrian refugees prior to serious vetting by saying, “. . . they are afraid of widows and orphans.” You can read more about that here:
      As to your point that the risk does not remove the obligation to help, the article makes that very point by referencing Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, and implying by the reference to having the Rich Man close by that those without Christian compassion, who do not consider themselves their brother’s keeper, are headed for hell.
      Regarding the demographic breakdown of the 10,000 refugees to arrive over the course of the next year (the focus of concern juxtaposed to those 1,854 Syrians who have arrived since 2012 – not sure what stats you are citing), a high percentage of them are men of military age. If you’ve not had the opportunity, take some time to view video footage of the tens of thousands walking in columns across Europe or gathering outside the hastily erected border fences in various Eastern European countries and it is plain to see why this is the case. By far, the highest percentage of them are young men. And consider that all of those apprehended who have posed as refugees are men of military age (between 17 and 30 years of age). Europe is feeling the threat of this reality which is why the BBC reports that Denmark (often hailed by liberals as the hallmark of sensible, open-hearted progressive society) has run advertisements in Lebanon telling Syrian refugees not to come. You can read about that here: .
      I can’t speak to what your news feed is filled with but, again, regarding an emphasis on compassion, it is not optional for a true believer, as was made clear in the article.
      Regarding your last paragraph, the people being called out in the article are Christians who style themselves as speaking authoritatively for Jesus Christ about what constitutes Christian compassion, denigrating those who are calling for a measured, thoughtful process (which doesn’t presently exist, witness the recently passed legislation which must still pass the Senate) application of that compassion. Every epithet mentioned in the article from racist to bigot to unchristian was lifted from blogs, articles, and posts of these people. To the degree that such unthinking, hate-filled comments masquerading as Christian compassion have gone unnoticed speaks to content of one’s social media news feed and/or news source choices.

      That Christians should be called out for hate-filled speech is unquestioned and where you are able to challenge those you encounter engaging in such unchristian behavior, I applaud you.

      Certainly, the majority of those identifying themselves as Christian are not the subject of the article. Please know that no one is being “written off” but everyone is being challenged to submit their compassionate feelings to biblical principles of true Christian compassion.

      Thank you for taking the time to write.

      • Harmony Moore 2 years ago

        Thank you Matt, for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I’ll look at all the links you suggested.

        • Harmony Moore 2 years ago

          Oh dear. I guess we are at odds, because I completely resonate with Ryan’s post. 🙂 I don’t see him at all saying “let them come without thorough vetting!” just, “be kind with your words, Christians, love your enemies, have compassion.” Which is pretty much what you are saying, too, right? How does his article say to you, “be unthinking”?

          As an aside, when I read your article I didn’t realize you were referring to the need for a vetting system more rigorous than the once currently in place. I instead received the impression that you thought people were actually advocating for open borders with absolutely no vetting at all, and was left with the idea that you thought there was no vetting currently going on. This is not the case, am I correct, and instead what you are trying to say is “yes, compassion, but our vetting system needs to be strengthened before refugees come on our shores.”

          Do I understand this correctly? I would love to read a post that held a hand of fellowship out to the “other” type of Christian (maybe one that didn’t put them on the defensive by calling their expression of faith ‘sanctimonious’ or that assumes that they are liberals just because they see from a different angle) with a compelling argument with links to primary sources explaining why our vetting process isn’t strong enough and what needs to change. It’s not an area I’ve researched thoroughly and would love to know why you think this. And if that’s out of the scope of this blog, could you point me in a direction to read myself?

          • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

            There were some great points made in the “Rumblings” post but the “unthinking” charge he makes in the first three paragraphs against those who express caution (fear, hysteria, making noise, the general trend of fearful, reactionary bashing of refugees) was what I take issue with in his article, rather than the vetting of refugees . . . although when upon rereading my first comment, I see that I wrongly used his link as an example for those against establishing a viable vetting process prior to entry. As to unthinking on his part, he references the charge that muslims desire to take over Europe (the trojan horse example) to support his charge of hysteria. One doesn’t have to be too widely read to know this is a stated goal of every major militant islamic group operating in the middle east. Mass migration is exactly how they state they are doing it. Here is a quote from the former dictator of Libya from 2006, “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquest—will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” ―Muammar Gaddafi. Such sentiments are ubiquitous among the leadership of many factions of Islam. They have the will to power, as Nietzsche put it.
            The author also equates Jesus’ admonition to love one’s enemies with allowing those enemies to move in next door . . .”Even if all of the wildest and most imaginative prognostications that we encounter in conversation or online are true” which is intellectually and theologically carless. For him, the choice is either take this approach or, you are unloving and ignoring what Jesus said. I don’t think so.
            To your question regarding establishing an effective vetting system prior to entry, in a word, ‘yes’.
            But, to be clear, no one’s expression of faith was called sanctimonious (although that is how some may read it). It was the expression of moral superiority revealed by the the epithets so casually hurled at those calling for caution regarding this new group of refugees that was identified as sanctimonious. Regarding your stats, they refer to who is here. The article is regarding who is coming.

        • Harmony Moore 2 years ago

          Here’s where I got 76% of Syrian Refugees to be women and children:

          As you see, only 23.4% of the refugees are men above the age of 18.

          The concentration of men is heavier in Europe, the most common reason I’ve seen stated being that they have left their wives and children in the Middle Eastern refugee camps and have traveled to Europe to attempt to secure their family a better life. Like I can imagine my husband doing, you know?

          As for the Syrian refugees we’ve received into the U.S., more than 50% have been children, 25% have been elderly, and the remaining 25% is made up of both men and women – most often the parents of the children.

          “Only 2 percent are single males of combat age.” (Third question from the bottom on the link)

  4. Andria Gaskins 2 years ago

    Matthew, Thank you for such an eloquent post.

  5. Karen Roth 2 years ago

    Thank you for teaching the correct view I was thinking of when I chose to sign the Change petition for letting the Syrians in. I was only thinking of the true Widows and the little children who are truly the innocents in this war.

    • Matthew Jacobson 2 years ago

      Yes, the women and children who are savaged by the wickedness of it all . . . of and for them, we must think and act.

  6. Lauren DeVries 2 years ago

    This is hands down the best response I have read to this crisis. My husband has been saying some of the very same things – especially in regards to those governors’ speeches about refugees in their states (Michigan, where we live, being one of them.) Their speeches have been taken apart to appear harsh, leaving out the part where they say “until processes can be verified…”

    We are deeply concerned about refugees and at the same time wary of terrorists using this opportunity to infiltrate our country. Thank you for articulating this position with wisdom and love.

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