Refugees, Terrorism and Shibboleth


This morning when I logged into Facebook, the very first post that I saw was about signing a petition to encourage the U.S. government to take in more Syrian refugees.

A couple of days ago, I tweeted about Pope Francis encouraging churches in Europe to adopt one refugee family.  My tweet stated that I thought it was a good idea for U.S. churches, as well.

I believe that the U.S. needs to do our part to aid the Syrian refugee crisis, especially on behalf of those fleeing religious persecution from ISIS.

But this afternoon, after some careful consideration of all things, I had to change my stance on the situation just a bit.

Yesterday afternoon I was watching one of the news networks, and a reporter was walking in the midst of the refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, where the refugees are being processed for further travels.

My heart was breaking over the living conditions that I was seeing: no shelter, food, water, or bathroom facilities.  I imagined escaping from the terrorists only to end up in such squalor.

I imagine that even the squalor is better than living in fear of my life, but still.  These are people and people should have their basic needs met and be treated humanely, especially those who have gone through such a terrifying ordeal and then survived the trip to freedom.

But then something else appeared on the television screen that made me worried.

As the reporter continued walking through the crowds of people waiting at the processing center, some “refugee” men began appearing in the crowds, and those few men were holding up things to their faces, blocking themselves from the cameras.

This had me worried for two reasons. 

First, I thought that even if those men were not actually hiding from the cameras, but sheltering themselves from the sun, this was going to be a problem for the thousands of actual refugees that are fleeing persecution.

Even the slightest hint that these men were hiding from the cameras could be seen as a threat to the hopes and dreams of the persecuted.  There are a lot of people out there who are afraid of immigrants and would prefer to see our borders sealed tight.   This would become a problem for genuine persecuted refugees.

Second, I worried that these men were trying to enter into the various countries under the guise of persecution for nefarious reasons.  With the anniversary of September 11 just on the horizon, I am sure that this has crossed the minds of more than a few people.

And I’m right.  People are wondering if we would be allowing in people who could do harm, just like the terrorists did on 9-11.

Here’s what a couple news sources are saying: 

Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo of Hungary has been outspoken in his criticism of the pope’s ideology concerning the refugees.

British Prime Minister David Cameron does not think that the U.K. should take in any more refugees because it would be “impossible” to tell who was actually an actual asylum-seeker.

US Homeland Security Chair Michael McCaul  says:

 . . . I cannot support a program that could potentially bring jihadists into the United States.

And they’re all right.  We can’t be 100% sure that every single refugee is seeking safety from tyranny.

But I’m hopeful, and here’s why.

The process to enter the U.S. is not an easy one.  It takes months and months of interviews and background checks before one is granted entrance.

And even those that argue that the process failed us regarding the terrorists of 9-11, can be assured that the process has become even more vigorous since then.

Most importantly, as Christians we have a biblical obligation to help the refugees.

Consider Jephthah’s story.

Jephthah, a judge of Israel, faced a similar situation that we are facing with the Syrian refugees.

Israel was at war with the Ammorites and they needed help.  So they called upon Jephthah and the tribe of Gilead to help them out, which they did.  And with the Lord’s help, they defeated the Ammorites. Jephthah gave all the glory to God for their deliverance.

Shortly after the victory, the tribe of Ephraim criticized Jephthah’s military strategy and went to war against Jephthah’s army.

The Ephraimites were no match for the Gileadites, and soon there were Ephraimites seeking asylum with Jephthah.

And soon after, there were refugees; people trying to cross the river to seek asylum among the Gileadites.

And soon the people became worried.  Just like we are now.

The Gileadites began to wonder how they could actually tell an honest-to-God persecuted person from someone who meant them harm.

So Jephthah came up with a plan.  If the person could say the word “Shibboleth“, they were cleared for asylum, but if they couldn’t they were identified as an Ephraimite and killed.

Now, I’m not implying that we should kill all those who cannot utter the catch phrase of the day properly.

No, but rather, I believe that there are ways in which we can tell whether or not the refugees are genuinely seeking asylum based upon religious persecution.  Our governments have trained people to do that job.

I also believe that the church is in a position to help with that.  We know Shibboleth.

While I’m not Catholic, I agree with Pope Francis: it is our moral and Christian duty to help those who are fleeing a war-torn country because they do not have the freedom to worship.

And, like Jephthah, we have to trust God to protect us during the process and use the situation for His glory.  As Christians, we cannot live in fear of what might happen and use that as an excuse to not help the refugees.

Jephthah and the Gileadites didn’t not help even though they were afraid, but rather they trusted God, came up with a plan to not let those who would harm them enter their camps, and helped those who genuinely needed it.

This is our biblical response to the question of whether or not we should help the Syrian refugees.

Pray with me: 

Lord, we have before us a difficult situation.  Many of your people need our help, but we might be worried that some of the Syrian refugees might not be who they say they are and might hurt us. 

Help our leaders to know what to do and present the refugees with the Shibboleth.  Give them discernment and the will to help those seeking genuine asylum from religious persecution. 

Show us the many ways we can help our fellow brothers and sisters who are among the refugees.  Call forth an army of your people to lend aid to them. 

We put our faith in you to keep us safe and to use the situation for your glory. 

In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen. 


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