Donald Trump’s Syrian Refugee Ban Strays Far from Christian Principles
To heal our land and restore a culture of life we must continue to be a movement that embraces all, cares for all, and shows respect for the dignity and worth of every person — Vice President Mike Pence, during Friday’s March for Life
A few hours later, President Donald Trump suspended the U.S. refugee program via executive order. Refugees of the Syrian Civil War, fleeing from the brutalities of Bashar al-Assad’s government, will no longer find safe haven in America because the Trump administration sees this as a path to “protect the American people from terrorist attacks.”
Trump’s order is a reminder of a bug within American politics: (some) social conservatives’ selective application of Christian principles. The vice president can preach “that a society can be judged by how we care for its most vulnerable” at lunchtime but, by dinner, the president signs an order that shuts America’s heart to Syrian refugees. It’s how an administration can support a March for Life and also ink a policy of abandonment in a 12-hour timespan.
This policy is a fulfillment of a campaign promise, but it is not a realization of Christian ideals.
It’s forgetting the dawning narrative of Jesus, and how Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled from King Herod after he ordered the execution of all male children under the age of two. As Matthew states:
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2 13–15)
Forty-seven percent of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States are under 14 years old. Syrian refugees, in general, are not the “young, strong men” Trump says they are: nearly half of all Syrian refugees are younger than 18 years old and nearly 680,000 Syrian refugees are younger than four years old.
The analogy between Jesus and Syrian refugees is not a perfect one but Christians don’t have to read much further to find out what the Bible says about society’s most vulnerable. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, urges us to feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, be hospitable to the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25:34–36) and then tells us:
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
Further back, God tells Moses:
Also you shall not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9)
Trump’s executive order — guided by unfounded fears that Syrian refugees are a serious national security threat — has a tangible human cost. The order exacerbates the problems of Syrian refugees and makes their lives more difficult. Not only did they have to flee a vicious Syrian regime, but now one path to safety has been temporarily closed.
I’m not here to doubt the hearts of Trump and Pence, nor am I calling their faith into question. Do I believe that their and many other social conservatives’ hearts break for the millions of Syrian refugees trying to escape the Assad regime’s atrocities, just as their hearts break for the unborn?
Yet, Pence — who became the highest ranking U.S. official to speak in person at the March for Life rally — is limiting the scope of Christianity. For all of Pence’s good will, his arguments for compassion and the sanctity of life will ring hollow for too many when the Trump administration halts America’s refugee program.
The Trump administration is embarking on the quest to prioritize America’s security. However noble that may be, they are forgoing the responsibility of one of the wealthiest nations to exist. The gilded Trump Tower opens its doors to foreign millionaires but Trump’s America closes its doors to Syrian refugees.
The CATO Institute authored a report saying “Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out.” Compared to the United States, Canada has allowed more than double the number of Syrian refugees to cross its borders. And yet, fear and anxiety has lead many to believe we should follow Trump’s course of action, rather than potentially doing more to assuage the refugee crisis.
The refugee program will be suspended for 120 days, but it’s important for the Trump administration not to forget about society’s most vulnerable when the time comes to reexamine the program.
Giving priority to Christian refugees from Syria isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to apply our Christian principles to the abortion discussion but not the refugee crisis. Arguments for compassion need to applied in all cases, and not just selectively when it suits the political moment.