On Banning Refugees

“Everything feels so normal.” That’s what I remember thinking as I waited in line at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport this past Monday, about to reenter the country after being gone for three weeks. After all, we’d had a change in president since I last set foot in my native land. And not just any president, but one whose election had filled me with dread — and many of my fellow Americans with hope and joy.

But there wasn’t even a picture of Donald Trump to be seen as I breezed through customs, picked up my bag, and ran into the arms of my beaming children and wife. Everything felt so, well, normal.

That refrain came to mind again this afternoon as I waited in line at Target. The place hummed with the familiar buzz of commerce, as Americans continued to live out a degree of prosperity and security still without much equal in thousands of years of human history.

But I knew that back at MSP and international airports like it around the country, nothing was normal. The same customs officers that had casually waved me through on Monday night were now being charged with keeping out of America Muslims from seven countries and refugees from Syria and other war-torn parts of the world.

Protestor holding a sign, "Immigrant offers 1 Trump for 10,000 Syrian Refugees"
From a protest yesterday in Washington, DC – Creative Commons (Lorie Shaull)

Back home, as I unpacked my groceries and got to work making chicken noodle soup (I feel like we’ll be eating comfort food a lot these days), I thought of my future sister-in-law, whose job it is to help resettle refugees, many of them parents much like me seeking better lives for children much like my own. I thought of all the students at Bethel who had worked so hard since 2015 to publicize the plight of Syrian refugees and to raise money to help care for them.

I thought of my friend and mentor G.W. Carlson, whom I had eulogized not so long ago as having dedicated his life to fulfilling Jesus’ words about inviting in strangers. And I both wished he were still alive to help us respond to this injustice, and felt relieved that he wouldn’t have to see how far his country had descended in the year since his death.

After supper I checked the scores (Gophers lost again, darn it) and played a game with my son. Tonight, I’ll sleep in a comfortable bed; tomorrow, I’ll worship in freedom. By Wednesday I’ll even be back in the classroom for the first time since last spring, doing a job I love and fulfilling the vocation to which I’m called. If I don’t think too hard, everything will feel so normal.

But things are not normal. It’s just my privilege to live as if they are.

I shouldn’t act surprised. Back on the morning of Election Day, I posted an open letter to myself at The Anxious Bench. I wanted to remind myself of what I’d written about hope (“Though terrorists attack, though the economy stagnates, though the wrong candidate is elected… we will not fear”) and love (“You must choose again and again to love your neighbors, especially those whom you’re told again and again to consider your enemies”).

But right now, this is the paragraph that rang most true:

Today’s result will most likely have little immediate effect on people like you, who have a rather comfortable, secure existence. But many other people stand to suffer a great deal should our nation make an unwise choice. The youngest and the oldest, the poor and unemployed, religious, racial, and sexual minorities, those living beyond our borders whose safety and prosperity is directly linked to this country’s foreign policy, and those who came from afar seeking new freedom and opportunity: their lives are far more susceptible than yours to changes in law and public policy.

 


2 thoughts on “On Banning Refugees

  1. Chris, I have not been able to sleep. I feel like every moment that is not engaged in activism is wasted. Dunno how long I can keep this up, but what does the most damage is seeing people who have been part of my own Christian experience praising this ban and praising the wall and prostituting their faith for a little political power. One woman even said that she agreed with leaving the UN because world government was unbiblical. i wasn’t aware that the UN was running the world, but whatever. There is no reasoning with alternative facts and willful ignorance, but I wish they’d read Jeremiah and see how that worked out for Judah.

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