Looking at my social media feed, you’d think everyone in the United States just divided themselves into two distinct groups overnight: humanitarians and Hitlers. Or bleeding heart liberals and pragmatic conservatives. Or media-crazed, oversensitive hype-mongers and fearful, Muslim-hating hypocrites. Depending on your point of view.
It feels like we’re all trapped in this permanent cycle of hashtags and clickbait and memes and soundbites from biased news sources forming a swirl of emotion and propaganda around every major headline. And I do not like it. Even when I’m doing research, collecting others’ perspectives, and trying to find objectivity, it’s difficult for me not to default to either fear or anger. Maybe worse, I feel pressure to have an instant reaction instead of taking time to consider all sides of a complex issue.
I don’t know about you, but I want out. I want some kind of cultural reset button where I can be sure that I’m thinking critically about this issue and others without being influenced by the clamor of uninvited factors screaming to distract my attention.
That’s why this post is not about what I think about the refugee crisis. It’s about how I’m trying think. I don’t want to add to the noise. I just want to offer some questions for consideration.
Many Christians who disagree with Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven primarily Muslim countries are voicing concerns like: we have a responsibility to oppose this ban because the Bible teaches us to protect “the least of these” and love our neighbors, even (especially) those who disagree with our beliefs.
Because of the sheer number of my friends who have posted something along those lines in the past few days, I want to say right up front: this is not wrong. Our hearts should be engaged in questions of international policy. And Jesus’ words do have bearing on practical issues.
Here’s the problem, though: only saying those things doesn’t address the best arguments of the other side.
Basic principle of discussing a complex issue: you don’t spend all your time hacking apart a weak, less common argument while the actual issue stands behind you, clearing its throat and waiting for you to notice.
Be like Han Solo. You see Darth Vader in a room, you shoot at Darth Vader. You don’t duck into the hall and take on one of his underlings. Even if you know you have a greater chance of success blasting at a Stormtrooper and that your attack on the Sith himself might not make an impact, still: shoot at Vader.
In this case, I’d say Stormtrooper options—the arguments only a few people are making that can be easily dismissed, on both sides—are things like: “Christian lives are more valuable than Muslim lives,” “We should let anyone in who claims to need help without any screening,” or “We should ban all immigration and become completely isolationist.”
For the most part, taking on these issues is the easy way out, because not many people believe them. There will be friends who disagree with me on this, but I don’t think it’s fair to accuse others of saying these things when they probably aren’t.
Whereas the Darth Vader issues, the ones at the heart of a person’s opinion, might be: “I think the passages about serving the least of these apply to individuals and the church, not our government,” “I personally know refugees and believe serving them is a biblical application of God’s love for us,” “My view of government says its main responsibility is X,” or “This is why I think the process already in place is (or is not) effective to ensure the safety of the American people.”
You may disagree with some of these statements. Great! But these are the things you should talk about. They’re more nuanced and less easily resolved. You can’t fit them in a cartoon or deal with them in a brief Facebook comment. But without an understanding of what the other person is really saying, discussions become completely pointless.
Like, if someone tells me the current system is effective to keep terrorists from entering America, I want to either agree or disagree and explain why, not yell, “You just oppose everything Trump does!” Or if someone tells me they think our government’s first duty is respond to risks to current American residents, I want to ask them what risks they’ve seen from the current system, not holler, “You just hate Muslims!”
That’s not even remotely helpful. I’ve also seen a lot of it the past few days.
What if we started instead by asking good questions of the facts: what measures are currently in place to screen refugees? If I think more measures need to be taken, what would need to happen before I would consider letting refugees in “safe”? How many terrorists have come into the country as refugees in the past? What might the economic impact of our response be?
Then ask yourself good questions about your beliefs and why you have them, like: what do I think the American government’s responsibility is to the world at large? What powers should the president have? Is there ever a situation where I think temporarily restricting immigration would be justified? If so, what would that look like? What am I willing to risk in terms of domestic safety in order to admit refugees? How am I processing the pros and cons of this situation—what factors do I put the most weight on and why?
If you’re a Christian, you get a whole extra set of questions to think through: How does what the Bible says about “the least of these” get translated into the world of politics (or should it be at all)? How would Jesus respond to refugees who are already here? To those who desire to come here? What does it look like to love our neighbors when we live in a global society?
These are tough questions. This is what we have to wrestle with in order to think well about this situation, and these are the questions we should be asking each other to understand different positions.
We can get the affirmation and support of people who agree with us by being extreme, but it does nothing to challenge the people who thoughtfully disagree with us. And, really, it doesn’t helpfully address the questions at the core of America’s response to the refugee crisis. Attacking the wrong arguments leads to a momentary burst of people being upset on the Internet…without any actual change or action.
Listen, at the end of the day, I don’t want Facebook likes. I don’t want to feel smug in my position and angry at everyone who disagrees with me. I don’t even want to win arguments. I want to think well about the world around me in a way that changes the way I live, even in crazy and complicated times.