A Call to Embrace

A Syrian refugee child who fled the violence from the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud.

Photo Credit: Reuters

While I will always have roots in Texas, there have been times when I have wanted to disassociate from the land of BBQ and football. This is one of those times.

An Assault on Humanity
Over the weekend, ISIS attacked and bombed Paris and Beirut, leaving hundreds dead. On November 16, 2015, Governor Greg Abbott released an open letter to the POTUS, stating that Texas would not be accepting Syrian refugees. Several other state governors joined him in a position that reeks of xenophobia.

Attempting to hide behind the guise of self-preservation, Abbott’s statement is nothing less than violence on our shared dignity as humans. It assaults the basic humanity that all people share and all governments should protect. And it makes me concerned.

The letter that Abbot penned is held together by a loose and fragile argument. It argues that in order to protect Americans from the possibility of danger, Texas will no longer accept refugees. Abbott’s letter (and many of the other letters from US governors) operates behind a thin veneer of good intentions and misinformation. Break through it, and we find the festering issues of fear, elitism and a hardened moral conscience. Abbott would have us think that an American life is more valuable than a Syrian refugee’s; he would have us believe that Syrian refugees are ISIS militants (the identified attackers were all EU nationals); he would have us say to those with their backs up against a wall, “I will not help. Your suffering is yours to bear”; he would have us turn away from Syrian men, women and children and exercise a willful ignorance of human suffering.

Abbott’s brand of nationalism sets up a false barrier that obscures our shared humanity with all people in the world. There is a place for nationalism (and also a robust vetting process). But when we decide to primarily see ourselves as Americans and the “other” as foreigner, we place our national citizenship above our God-given humanity. At best, this results in a distance between me and the “other,” and at worst (and this is more often the case), it creates fear, distrust and the false belief that others do not deserve the protection and preservation of their universal human dignity.

Good Samaritans?
Self-preservation at the cost of neglecting refugees is something that we must wholeheartedly refuse. Accepting Abbott’s position pushes refugees into a more precarious and threatening situation than they are already in. It selfishly attempts to abdicate our moral responsibility as we “pass by on the other side of the road.” While I recognize that not all readers of this blog are Christ-followers, I believe most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

As a society, it’s curious and ironic how we have chosen to apply the Good Samaritan principles to our everyday life. We teach our children to help those in need. We rehearse to each other that we should find ways to seek the welfare of our neighbors. Yet we also find ourselves afraid. In our culture of litigation and self-preservation, we have found ways to hardwire ourselves to not help.  Being a good Samaritan often comes at the cost of fearing for one’s own well-being. We have actually made laws to protect those who help others in dire situations – and we call these our “Good Samaritan” laws. In the name of self-preservation, we have created a culture where it has become dangerous to help. We have inoculated ourselves from compassion and justice.

Practicing Embrace
It is unlikely that the states  have the legal authority to refuse refugees. So I wonder how we will ultimately respond to this global crisis. When Syrian refugees come, will we embrace them in our common humanity, or stand at a distance, refusing to allow them into our own neighborhoods and schools? Tolerating refugees is not acceptance, but rather a continued marring of our neighbor’s human dignity that contributes increased disillusionment and resentment.

As I write this, I am thankful that other governors have expressed welcome to refugees. France itself is maintaining its commitment to accept 30,000 refugees. However, I am still shocked and ashamed at the response of so many of our governmental leaders.  I am appalled at the amnesia of our country on our history. One governor recently cited the Japanese internment camps as a positive example of why it would be prudent to close our nation to Syrian refugees. Smh….Have we learned so little? I currently attend a church with former Japanese internees, and I cannot imagine the collective pain they had to endure during WWII as US citizens. If we want to dismantle the fear of terrorism, then our call is one of embrace. We must sit and listen to our global neighbors; we must learn their stories and lament the evil that has robbed them of their home and way of life; we must stand side-by-side with refugees, understanding that our journeys are inextricably shared. Embrace teaches us to love each other and find our identities in our interconnectedness, not in isolation from each other. As Desmond Tutu has expressed, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

The assault on humanity must be confronted with our commitment to embrace. I pray that we will not repeat history, that we will not stand on the sidelines in silence. I pray that we will practice the mission and embrace of Christ – “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord.” I pray that we will choose compassion and justice.

4 Ways to Practice Embrace:
1. Write your governor and your political representatives. Organize and make our voices heard.
2. Contact your local refugee services. Ask what they are currently doing to help Syrian refugees. Consider partnership.
3. Serve local refugees already in your area. Listen, lament, serve and embrace.
4. Support refugees internationally through reputable organizations.

  • International Rescue Committee is providing immediate medical and emergency supplies.
  • American Refugee Committee is partnering with local communities to provide safe spaces for women and children, prevent violence against women and deliver emergency supplies.
  • Shelterbox is delivering tents and lifesaving supplies.
  • Save The Children is addressing the need for educational access, providing alternative learning services and training teachers. Also providing emergency relief.
  • World Relief is developing local partnerships and empowering local communities and churches to serve the needs of refugees. Also providing immediate tents and supplies.
  • World Vision is providing immediate aid, shelter, food/water, and sanitation services.