Compassion versus concerns for safety – can these be reconciled?

Compassion vs Security      Recent terror attacks within the borders of democratic nations have spotlighted the need to find better solutions to the growing numbers of people who seek the refuge that our free societies provide. The concern of nearly every U.S. citizen whether Christian or not is that Islamic terrorists will use our heritage of compassion toward displaced populations against us to gain entry to our borders in this time of crisis. The process of vetting begins with the UN which seems to have neither the ability nor the incentive to effectively screen for terrorists masquerading as refugees. Clearly the screening process to date has proved a failure, as magnified by the recent San Bernardino massacre. If anything, it’s demonstrated that, while the majority of people fleeing danger and hardship in their homelands may be no problem, it only takes the failure to identify a couple of those who intend harm to result in a calamity.

In the face of this very real danger, Christians especially are being challenged by many church leaders and by their Biblical principles to exercise compassion for these suffering people. In my own local church one of our pastors recently called upon our congregation to reassess our attitudes in this regard, and spoke of each crisis as actually being an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and to reach unbelievers.

Unbridled compassion cannot serve as a national security policy

Some insist that those who advocate a pause in welcoming these refuges into our nation are simply cold and heartless. But it’s much more complicated than that. Not only are there valid issues about security and safety, just as valid are people’s concerns with the availability of jobs or the lack thereof, the current state of homelessness among children and veterans, the reality of an ever-growing national debt and many other complex factors. Increasing the rolls of the unemployed, those living on the street or in shelters, and those fully dependent on government assistance by the tens of thousands, if not millions makes no sense.

Then of course the topic of religion can’t be ignored, in spite of our nation’s historical tolerance of all brands. In years past most Muslims who legally immigrated to America weren’t much different from any other legal immigrants – I don’t think they cared what religion others were because they were too busy trying to put food on their own tables and survive the daily turmoil of life. In contrast, for centuries religion has been used in the Middle East as a tool of power to divide people and give them an enemy to fight to distract them from problems such as poverty, government corruption and lack of opportunity. Only recently has the latter strategy begun to be imported within our borders.

The U.S. military learned the lesson the hard way. It’s why both the Iraqi and Afghan Armies have been so difficult to train and lead. No matter how much an American leader vetted their counterpart soldiers, he knew that at least one man in his company was likely to be an Islamic terrorist, someone who would shoot him in the back or blow him up. The other 199 of his soldiers knew it too, and they could never fully trust each other because of it.

This fact forces every responsible person to look at their association with the Islamic community differently than in times past. The message of “always looking over one’s shoulder” is now being translated to every urban and suburban community. Every man and woman must ask themselves, “How well do I really know my neighbor? What was in that last shipment of boxes they received from UPS? Does he or she have plans to kill me and my family?”

There’s a fine line between fear and the exercise of due care

Biblically fear is presented doctrinally as the opposite of love. Fear is one of the enemy’s tools to isolate each of us. 1 John 4:18 announces “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” Yet that does not imply that we are not to exercise due diligence and care to avoid the enemy’s snares intent on entrapping us and putting us in dangerous situations unnecessarily.

Instead of feeling guilty about efforts to shelter ourselves and our loved ones from unnecessary danger, we need only consider how historically the people of God approached similar circumstances. The great apostle Paul, who could hardly be described as one who let fear captivate his life and keep him from performing God’s work, still used wisdom in his decisions of who to allow into his ministerial circle. In one instance when he became aware of a plot by Jewish leaders to kill him, “They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death,” he listened to the advice of his disciples who convinced him it was better to run and live another day than face the danger head on, for he had much more to do for the Lord. They “took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.” (Acts 9)  Years later, following his arrest in Jerusalem for preaching Jesus, Paul himself heard of a plot to murder him in the morning when he was scheduled to be brought down for a hearing. He sent for and convinced the Roman centurion to escort him to Caesarea at night with an armed guard. Eventually he made his way to Rome from which he wrote much of his New Testament letters. (Acts 23 – 26)

While Jesus was the most compassionate person to ever walk the face of the earth, He didn’t put Himself or His friends in any unnecessary dangers – until it was time for His work to be concluded. Early in His ministry the people tried to stone Him for blasphemy, but He disappeared out of their midst. A few times Jesus even told people that he had healed to keep silent about what He had done for them. Jesus was sensible of the dangers that surrounded him and thereby usually avoided large cities, seeming to prefer the country and small towns. In fact there was a long period of time, perhaps as much as eighteen months when he avoided going on any pilgrimage to Jerusalem. About six months before the end of His ministry, his relatives pressed him to go there for the Feast of Tabernacles. “Depart hence, and go into Judea, that your disciples also may see the works that you do. For there is no man that does anything in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” Jesus suspected treachery and initially declined their invitation to join them. Only after the others had set out did he start on the journey, unknown to everyone and almost alone. Most of His disciples didn’t meet back up with Him until He reached Judea.

And the Old Testament gives us several examples of what happens when God’s people foolishly ignore the warning signs and are thereby deceived by the tactics of the enemy to destroy and weaken them. Such was the story of the Gibeon nation’s deception described in Joshua 9. God’s warning was clear: “Be careful not to make a covenant with the people living in the land where you are going, so that they won’t become a snare,… It will cause you to go astray after their gods and sacrifice to their gods. Then they will invite you to join them in eating their sacrifices, and you will take their daughters as wives for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves to their own gods and make your sons do the same!” But Israel apparently didn’t take the warning serious and unwittingly set into motion a whole series of events that would trouble them as a nation throughout their history. These idol worshippers from Gibeon became thorns in the side of the people of Israel, frequently drawing them away from their covenant with God.

We have to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the leaders of Israel who relied on their own wisdom and misread the intents of these “peace-seeking” foreigners. The kind of treaty they signed, called a Suzerain, seemed beneficial to them on the surface. This vassal treaty set up Israel as the superior party and Gibeon as subservient. How could they possibly go wrong? But the people of Gibeon didn’t prove their loyalty to Israel in order to establish a relationship; they simply used lies to trap Israel into a treaty that played on Israel’s out-of-balance view on the value of a vow in comparison with the basic value of following God’s commands to begin with.

Most societies in the world have much different rules and views concerning making agreements and what constitutes fair play than we are familiar with in Western culture. In Middle Eastern culture, lying and cheating, if done cleverly and affording the liar an advantage, is seen as something to brag about; it is a badge of honor worn proudly. It is simply outsmarting your opponent. That may not play well in Western society where fairness and honesty is at least propounded as an expectation; but truth-be-known, we are the exception to the rule.

Until we as a united people begin to acknowledge that not everyone plays fair and, like our own Savior become sensible of the dangers that surround us, the lives of our loved ones will remain at risk. The same Bible that says “seek first the Kingdom of God” also directs that our first order of business after service to our God, is to protect and provide for these very ones God has given to us to care for.

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