The events in Paris and Beirut this past week are intended to make us afraid. The random violence, the targeting of civilians going about their daily lives, the sheer number of victims make us shudder and weep.
Governments and politicians are debating the best course of action, balancing safety concerns, public opinion, past policies and practices, global and local impacts. That is their job. That is their sphere of influence. We as citizens are free to express our opinions to our leaders, and urge them to make decisions that we can stand behind. We are seeing citizens in our country, in our states, and across the globe stating their opinions on what should be done, what should not be done. The responses are varied. Some focus on security. Some urge compassion.
“Do not be afraid.”
As Christians, we are also citizens of our states, of our country. But we are first and foremost Christians. As so as we frame our response to horrific acts of terrorism, we do so as Christians. First of all, we pray for the victims and their families. We offer comfort and aid to all who suffer, to all who are victims. As Lutherans we are part of international aid agencies that offer not only material support, but also psycho-social support to victims of disasters. We care for victims. That’s what we do whether they are victims of war, victims of natural disasters, victims of human disasters.
One of the divisive issues that has come out of the Paris massacre is the fate of Syrian refugees. Syria is a country devastated by war. Millions of people are fleeing Syria out of fear for their lives. We have seen the refugees at the borders of Europe in the last months. We have heard Germany’s welcome, and watched refugees streaming in, being welcomed by the people of the churches. And we have seen efforts in our own country to become more open to a greater number of people fleeing Syria.
“Do not be afraid.”
Now many people are suggesting that we cannot allow Syrians into our country because of the risk of terrorism. This is an overreaction based on fear. Most Syrians are fleeing the kind of indiscriminate brutality that we saw in Paris and Beirut. We have a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. It is part of who we are as the United States. And as Christians, we stand with those in need, with the vulnerable and the stranger.
We worship a God who became human, and experienced what it was to be a refugee. We worship a God whose angels always bring us the message, “Do not be afraid.” We worship a God who risked everything for us, so that we might risk for others.
In the Montana Synod we have adopted 5 benchmarks. The first is to meet the future boldly. That means taking risks for the gospel. That means not letting fear paralyze us, not letting it incapacitate us, not let it have the last say.
The second benchmark is to serve the world, especially the poor and those in need. Refugees are the poor, they are those in need. Whether it is unaccompanied minors from Central America, or Syrians seeking a safe place to live, refugees are among the neediest people on the planet.
Right now there are more migrants across the globe than ever before in history. Some of them we see on the front pages of our newspapers, others are almost invisible to the rest of us. Each of these migrants, each of these refugees is a beloved child of God, made in God’s image.
To quote Linda Hartke, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service:
“ As Christians, as Americans, and as global citizens—we must choose to stand for hope and life. We must not bow to the fear that ISIS spreads, to the seeds of doubt they cast over the land, or to the test they present to our most cherished values.
We are a nation and people that stand up to those who slaughter innocents. We stand with the most vulnerable who seek safety and a future. And we stand for welcome.”
Do not be afraid.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA