Turmoil in the Middle East has created one of the worst human disasters of our time, and a tough problem. How we think and talk about it matters.
On September 9th, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, urged European Union members to distribute 160,000 migrants among member nations.
The unfolding humanitarian catastrophe, which has resulted in at least 2,500 deaths by drowning, is largely being driven by people seeking to escape the civil war and the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Words can scarcely do justice to the scale of the crisis. An estimated 11 million people, more than half of Syria's population, have been displaced. While most have remained within Syria, nearly four million of them have fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and especially, Turkey. The sheer numbers — one in every five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee — have overwhelmed these countries' capacity to respond.
And now they're attempting to reach Europe, increasingly via Turkey. More than 30,000 Syrians are applying for asylum every month and the number shows no sign of ebbing.
That's a brief summary of the numbers. The question is: what do we do about it?
The honest answer is: I don't know, not with any certainty.
In addition to the sheer magnitude of the problem, there are other considerations: the economic, political, cultural, and yes, religious impact of the refugees on the countries that will host them.
There are already signs that the influx of Syrian refugees, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, has destabilized Lebanon's already-fragile sectarian balance. And it's an understatement to say that European countries have struggled when it comes to assimilating previous generations of Muslim immigrants.
But none of this excuses indifference or inaction, especially for Christians. After all, the Scriptures make it clear that God cares a great deal about how his people treat the foreigners in their midst.
Leviticus 19 tells us, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."
Ezekiel 47 says that the foreigner among you "shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the sojourner resides, there you shall assign him his inheritance, declares the Lord God."
As if to underscore the importance of these commands, the New Testament opens with the genealogy of Jesus, which lists 42 men and five women. Besides Mary, the women listed — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba — have one thing in common: they were all foreigners.
Then there's Matthew 25. The word translated "stranger" in the passage "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" is xenos, the Greek word for "foreigner." What's more, the Greek word translated "welcomed," sunago, means to join or gather together, as well as to receive into one's home. It's the same word from which we get "synagogue."
But it was Jesus who went beyond Leviticus' command to treat the stranger as one of our own, and instead, commanded us to treat them as we would treat Him.
As I said earlier, I'm not certain as to what the specific policy response to this crisis should be. There are legitimate economic and security concerns. But Christians should not allow these concerns to become an excuse for a response that amounts to, "yeah, it stinks to be you."
We should oppose appeals to fear and dehumanizing rhetoric. We may not know exactly what to do about the crisis but we do know how to talk about the people caught up in it. And in an age of careless and often callous rhetoric, that's a start.
This article was originally posted here