The Syrian Refugee Crisis - A BreakPoint Symposium
In the wake of the attacks in Paris, a majority of American and Europeans are understandably afraid to open their doors to Syrian refugees, lest the enemy enter alongside the innocent. Congress, the President, and state governors have locked horns over whether to admit them, for how long, and under what criteria. 

Syrian_RefugeesChristians, too, find themselves divided. Many point out that the American government's primary duty is to protect its own citizens, not shelter those of other nations. Others say this approach betrays not only the founding values of America, but Christian virtues of hospitality and care for the outcasts. What should Christians think? How should we respond?

As we at the Colson Center often do when it comes to controversies, we've assembled a symposium of top Christian thinkers to clarify this murky issue. Be sure to check back for fresh contributions as we receive them.

Jump to Response:  

Hunter Baker; Mindy Belz; Bill Brown; Joseph Castleberry; Gina Dalfonzo; Mollie Hemingway; Brian Mattson; Tony Perkins; Jay Richards; Ed Stetzer; John Stonestreet; Mark Tooley; Andrew Walker and Travis Wussow; Trevin Wax

Hunter Baker

When it comes to the question of receiving refugees from foreign conflicts, the matter is somewhat complex.  Those who usually encourage us to set aside our Christian beliefs (as in the cases of abortion and gay marriage) now insist that we bring our beliefs to bear so that we will welcome refugees.  Meanwhile, others who often want us to act according to our Christian beliefs (again as in the cases of abortion and gay marriage) now want us to cabin off those beliefs.  The truth, of course, is that we should bring our gospel beliefs to bear across the board.

But the matter is still not simple.  Martin Luther amply demonstrated that personal adherence to the Sermon on the Mount would not necessarily dictate a course of action for government to follow.  I must turn the cheek and suffer evil, but it might be disastrous for the weak and vulnerable if government followed the same ethic.  In addition, such behavior runs counter to the purpose of government as a restrainer and punisher of those who do evil.

The Christian should be for the refugee.  We should want our government to have a clear-eyed test to determine the safety of allowing refugees into our country.  To do otherwise would be less than love of neighbor.  But at the same time, we should be hoping fervently that many of them can pass such a test and join us here.  We should hope they can take shelter and share our blessings.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. serves as University Fellow at Union University.  His most recent book is The System Has a Soul.  He is also affiliated with the Acton Institute and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.


Mindy Belz

Fear has come to dominate American discourse on refugees, as it will in any nation where political leadership is lacking and Christian witness is in retreat. Our debate has become unmoored from reality. U.S. refugee policy is stricter than U.S. immigration policy (refugees, for instance, have no appeal once denied, while immigrant visa applicants do), and as a result few foreign jihadists have entered our country as refugees. Those striking on or near our shores have been first Saudis, Moroccans, Egyptians, Chechens and others, and Syrians comprise only some of the ISIS leadership and its fighting corps. We should stop demagoguing refugees or demonizing Syrians.

At the same time, leaders left and right need to restore public confidence by ending a bipolar foreign policy that has the United States fighting the Syrian government while also fighting the enemies of Damascus, the Islamic State and its offshoots. Elected officials are overdue to enact a rigorous immigration system that patrols borders and doesn’t grant visas because the EU says so. And as it has always done, our country needs to extend compassion to the downtrodden. I’ve seen some of them, Syrian mothers who boiled weeds to feed their families while barrel bombs rained around them and ISIS fighters threatened to steal their daughters. We have forgotten who we are if we ignore them.

Mindy Belz is senior editor of WORLD Magazine and author of the forthcoming They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East (Tyndale, 2016)


Bill Brown

American Christians are exiles living in a country born of refugees. It is our spiritual DNA to act when we see people in need. Can we not see God's hand in the diaspora of families from one of the darkest places on earth?

We have seen the major risk is to allow refugees into a country and abandon them to fend for themselves. We cannot let them be assigned an apartment and left to depend on a few months of government assistance. With over three hundred thousand churches in our country, there are more than enough of us to address the political, religious and safety concerns. Christian families and churches should line up and sign up to adopt refugee families; to mentor, love and provide for them in community in the name of Christ.

Risky? Absolutely. But anything worthwhile usually is.

Will we act as the Priest and Levite or will we be the Samaritan?

Senior Fellow, Worldview and Culture at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, director, Colson Fellows Program


Joseph Castleberry, Ed.D.:

The Christian response to terrorism and the resulting Syrian refugee crisis is moral heroism.  The opposite of a terrorist is not a fearful victim, but rather a moral hero--someone who embraces risk to protect the innocent.  That definition applies to those who risk their lives to defend victims of terrorism in the midst of attack, and soldiers who serve their countries in counter-terrorism activities, but it also applies to those who go out of their way to identify and embrace those who have suffered as victims.  In the Syrian refugee crisis, moral heroism means going out of our way, out of our comfort zones, even into harm’s way, to exercise compassion for the innocent.  Moral heroism rejects naïve compassion that would give terrorists opportunity to hurt more people, but it embraces “wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove” compassion that exercises the full measure of due care in rescuing the perishing—especially the Christian and Yazidi victims who have been driven out of their homes.

President, Northwest University, author of “The New Pilgrims:  How Immigrants are Renewing America’s Faith and Values”


Gina Dalfonzo

If ever there were an issue that was too deep, complex, serious, and messy to reduce to soundbites, slogans, and memes, it’s the Syrian refugee crisis. That makes it particularly unfortunate that so many Christians are choosing to reduce it to soundbites, slogans, and memes. Instead of recognizing each other’s concerns and acknowledging that there are no easy answers, we declare our own righteousness and take angry jabs at each other on social media. There are important theological and political arguments to be made on both sides of the refugee question, and Christians have a lot to contribute. But we can only do that if we study the issue carefully, listen to other points of view, make well-thought-out arguments, and above all, pray. Pray for the victims of ISIS, and pray that we might all have the wisdom, discernment, compassion, and strength to do what God would have us do.



Mollie Hemingway

The question of what Christians should do about refugees, particularly those who are their religious brethren, is actually a different question than what the U.S. government should do about Syrian refugees. The scriptures are clear that Christians are to help others and that we are to help fellow Christians first. This is written throughout the scriptures but perhaps most clearly in Galatians 6:10, which says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

While Christians have a duty to help fellow Christians first, the U.S. government doesn’t have that same duty. Having said that, of the 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the 2011, only 53 have been Christian, even though Christians have been victims of special persecution at the hands of ISIS. Despite what Obama has said on the matter, U.S. policy does privilege refugees fleeing such persecution, so these numbers should be higher.

From her article at the Federalist: "3 Tips For A More Civil Conversation About Syrian Refugees."


Brian Mattson

We need Romans 12 hearts with Romans 13 minds. The former prescribes our character: mercy, compassion, blessing, food for the hungry, drink to the thirsty—even to our enemies. The latter mandates that civil government discriminate between those who do good and those who do evil. This surely includes protecting citizens from terrorists.

Downplay the ethic of Romans 12 (“Close the borders!”), and we risk the hardening of our hearts. Downplay the mandate of Romans 13 (“Open the borders!”), and we risk moral irresponsibility. We need both chapters. Let the Bible shape us!

A Christian solution requires, then, prudent action. Aid must be given in a way that discriminates between good and evil. In principle, we know there is such a solution because the Bible teaches both. Pray we find the middle path, not letting our compassion blind us from prudence nor our prudence from compassion.

Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology, Center For Cultural Leadership.


Tony Perkins

Christians are called in Scripture to “do good to all men” and to “show mercy and do justice.” God also grants authority to rulers and nation-states to defend those under their authority.

We are brokenhearted by the incredible suffering experienced by so many in Syria and Iraq under ISIS, yet we are also rightly concerned for the security, peace, and well-being of those within our own country.

There are no doubt many peaceful people leaving Syria who just want to be left alone to raise their families, and who could easily adjust to life in the United States. Yet it is very likely that there are ISIS followers posing as refugees, and every sovereign nation may rightly protect itself.

We should always seek to reach out and care for others—while at the same time applying clear thinking and prudence to make sure they cannot do us harm.

President of the Family Research Council since 2003, Perkins is a former Louisiana State Legislator and police officer. FRC’s mission is to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.


Jay Richards

Any thoughtful Christian response to Syrian refugees should take account of the following.

1. The Bible’s command to care for the sojourner does not give us a ready answer of what to do.

2. Posing as a refugee is an inefficient way for terrorists to enter the US, so it’s unlikely that any particular refugee would be a terrorist.

3. Nevertheless, it’s folly to ignore the fact that ISIS has said they are planting agents among the flood of refugees.

4. Many Muslims hold beliefs that are hostile to American beliefs concerning religious freedom and human rights.

5. In Syria and Iraq, Christians and other religious minorities are in greater danger from Muslims than vice versa.

6. Christians and other religious minorities avoid UN refugee camps in Syria, because of persecution by Muslims.

Because of 6, Christian organizations are placing mostly Muslims in the US, under UN direction.

My conclusion? Christian organizations should focus their limited resources on finding and helping Christians and religious minorities in Syria who are most vulnerable and least likely to pose future threats to peace in the US.

Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the Executive Editor of The Stream, Assistant Research Professor in the School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute


Ed Stetzer

I’m pretty sure that the Christian response will be varied since there are a whole lot of Christians opining on the issue! However, I think that our tendency must be toward mercy and compassion rather than fear and anger— in the way of Jesus. Ironically, much of the early U.S. response has been fear and anger toward the refugees, when, ironically, entering the U.S. as a refugee would be one of the worst ways to enter the United States if you wanted to enter undetected and to do harm. (The U.S. system is not like the European system, party because of our laws and partly because of geography.) Instead, I think that Christians need to ask, how can we deal with real security concerns in what will be a multi decade war against radical islamists, and how can we show the love of Christ to the people fleeing from those same islamists.

As we think about God-honoring ways to respond to the situation, we’ll be a part of the GC2 Summit, in two meetings, on Dec. 17 and Jan. 20, where Christian leaders will speak to these very questions:

Vice-President, Lifeway Research and Co-Host of "BreakPoint This Week.


John Stonestreet

It seems to me that blanket statements like, “We should let them in,” or “We should keep them out” are more statements of ideology than they are helpful. Of course we should help those in need, but misplaced referrals to the nativity story are neither mandates nor game plans for what to do in this situation. Of course we should defend our country, but many of these refugees are victims of ISIS, not agents.

The right told Chuck Colson, “we need to be tough on crime.” Often the left told him, “we need to be softer on crime.” Chuck realized that we needed to rethink crime: the dignity of the perpetrator, the claim of the victims, and the impact on the community. His vision of justice applied a bigger worldview to the issue, and the results were incredible.

Helping refugees and protecting the country are not mutually exclusive options. Helping with the love of Christ implies risk, and protecting loved ones from evil implies a wise process. I believe the church can jump into this mess and offer a bigger worldview, like Chuck did on the issue of crime, to what seems like an even more complicated issue.

President, The Colson Center for Christian Worldview


Mark Tooley:

Neither the Nativity story about Jesus as "refugee" nor any handful of Bible verses instruct what U.S. policy should be towards Syrian refugees. Christians should admit there's room for debate and that all proposals however well-intentioned are flawed. There are several million Syrian refugees at Mideast camps. Millions more are displaced inside Syria. Western countries can't realistically accept more than a fraction. Improving conditions in local camps will help more refugees than symbolically accepting a handful at greater cost. Protected no-fly zones inside Syria or Iraq might be an option.

Skepticism about relocating Syrian migrants to the USA does not equal opposing the Gospel.  Christians of any nation can rightly consider national security concerns. And asking whether liberal societies can absorb large numbers who reject liberalism is a legitimate and important question. Christians should prioritize plight of displaced Mideast Christians, who have no patrons and no safe refuge.

President, Institute on Religion and Democracy



Andrew Walker and Travis Wussow

“Who then is my neighbor?”

It’s a follow-up question as old as the command given at Sinai. Rabbis have debated this question for centuries. But Christians know that this question is answered by our Rabbi Himself in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Our love for our American neighbors demands that we consider their safety when inviting refugees from the Syrian Civil War to the United States. We should listen to the FBI and the State Department on the vetting of refugees. FBI Director James Comey has raised important concerns, and the Obama Administration must provide leadership and address these concerns with substance, not politics.

But let us not forget that we have other neighbors, too. These neighbors once lived in Syria, but they have been forced to move to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and elsewhere. If we decide that our love for American neighbors requires us to slow the intake of Syrian refugees to the U.S., what will we do instead? Loving our neighbor requires that we do something—something—to help. Christians who call to tap the brakes must with the same breath offer alternatives: water and shelter, funding for education programs, solutions to bring the underlying conflict to an end.

America is a land of refuge. To maintain this place of leadership on the global stage requires a continual balancing of responsibility to her citizens by securing the homeland, but also to the charter that America is a land welcoming to the dispossessed. Global leadership has costs to it, and that means defying the reign of terror, and staying true not only to our national charter, but to our charter as Christians: to love our neighbors.

Travis Wussow serves as Director of Director of International Justice & Religious Freedom & General Counsel for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. @traviswussow

Andrew T. Walker serves as Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. @andrewtwalk


Trevin Wax:

There is no one Christian response to the refugee crisis because this situation calls for a timely application of moral wisdom. As the Church in America, our posture must be one of welcome, service, and compassion. As the Church in America, we must insist on the government’s responsibility to oversee borders and protect citizenry. The doctrine of Creation helps us see the image of God in our Syrian neighbors. The doctrine of the Fall reminds us of the reality of evil in the world, so that we are not surprised when evildoers seek to harm innocents. We are not bound by false and politicized dichotomies – “tough” vs. “soft” on security, or “hateful” vs. “compassionate” toward refugees. We are free to demonstrate courage through both prudence and compassion toward those in need.

Managing Editor of The Gospel Project, author of multiple books, blogger at Kingdom People. (Trevin has written two articles about the refugee crisis, one in the Washington Post, and one at Religion News Service.


A Collection of Responses from around the Web:

Alan Cross, at

I understand that the State is not the Church and I am not trying to conflate the two. But, I do think that the Church is to be salt and light and that it is to influence the State from a Biblical perspective. I do not have time or space to list all of the Scriptures that tell us that we are to not oppress the sojourner, the poor, the widow, and the orphan (Zechariah 7:10) as we protect the weak and provide for those in need. This is basic Christian behavior. But, fear of potential danger or loss can drown out basic Christianity and subvert it to an impotent religion that only exists to benefit the practicioner and promote and defend their way of life over and above others. That is not what Jesus had in mind.


Rod Dreher, at the American Conservative

I may be wrong about this, but once the federal government has satisfied the governors’ legitimate concerns about proper security screening of these people, I expect the state leaders to stand up for these refugees. They are so few in number; this is nothing like what Europe is facing.

Besides, do we know how many of these refugees we’re taking in are Christian? A friend of mine, at his Orthodox Christian parish, has a Syrian family that is routinely asked by outsiders how long they have been converted to Christianity. “Uh, since around the time the Gospel was first preached at Antioch,” they say. The ignorance of many Americans about Christianity in the Middle East is astounding.


Ross Douthat, in the New York Times

I think questioning exactly how we’re handling refugee policy is reasonable: After the weekend’s horror in Paris and ISIS’s threats again our capital, it’s understandable to want clarity about the vetting process for refugees, and given the particulars of ISIS’s depredations it’s also understandable to urge the Obama administration to prioritize religious minorities (Christian, Yazidi, Shi’ite) in its resettlement policy. (Especially since at present the White House is rather strangely planning to designate only Yazidi, and not Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as victims of the Islamic State’s genocidal push, a move that makes Obama’s lectures about how we don’t discriminate on the basis of religion in refugee policy a little bit difficult to take.)

But unless the United States is planning to never take asylum seekers from the Middle East again . . . it’s hard to see a good case for a sustained moratorium on admitting any refugees from a regional nightmare that our own policies, across two administrations, have helped create and worsen.


Russell Moore, in the Washington Post

While this kind of complicated geopolitical situation requires prudence, it also requires virtue. We should debate what it would take to ensure adequate vetting of refugees, but we should not allow ourselves to engage in the kind of rhetoric we’ve heard in recent days—about, for instance, requiring ID cards for Muslim American citizens or considering warrantless searches of their homes or houses of worship.

It is one thing to have disagreement about whether the vetting process is adequate. It is quite another to seek to permanently turn our backs on Syrian refugees altogether.


Jonathan Witt, at

So dangerous are the [refugee] camps for Syrian Christians that they mostly avoid them. And the UN does its refugee head-counting in the refugee camps. If the Christians aren’t there to be counted, desperate as they are, then they don’t end up on the asylum lists the U.S. State Department uses for vetting potential refugees...

As bad off as the Muslim refugees are, they aren’t without politically well-connected advocates in the Middle East. Many Muslim powerbrokers are happy to see Europe and America seeded with Muslim immigrants, and would surely condemn any U.S. action that appeared to prefer Christian over Muslim refugees, even if the effort were completely justified. By and large, they support Muslim immigration to the West and have little interest in seeing Christian refugees filling up any spaces that might have been filled by Muslim refugees.

The deck, in other words, is heavily stacked against the Christian refugees. The White House has been utterly feckless before the Muslim power structure in the Middle East that is doing the stacking, and has tried to sell that fecklessness to the American people as a bold stand for a religion-blind treatment of potential refugees —religion tests are un-American! It’s a smokescreen.