The history of Syria and its neighbor, Lebanon, is a complicated one. Civil war in Syria started shortly after its occupation of Lebanon from 1983 to 2006. It’s clear that the refugee crisis sparked by this war is an enormous human disaster: the death of 250,000 Syrians and the displacement of another 3 million-plus defies comprehension.
In this very complex environment, millions of people—85 percent of them Muslim—are fleeing to camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Others (usually wealthier), are paying their way to get to Europe.
Civil war in Islamic countries puts immediate pressure on local Christians, Jews, and unbelievers. Those groups become the most vulnerable. Syrian Christians, for example, are shunned and persecuted in the predominantly Muslim refugee camps divided between Sunni and Shia.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to do something about this humanitarian crisis. But we have to plan our assistance very carefully. From a corporate church point of view, this involves local deacons who coordinate their congregation’s efforts to help resettle refugees, and, in the case of the denomination, World Renew.
Synod 2016 will be receiving a report by its Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty\. The report asks synod to urge the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and World Renew to urge churches to work on this problem. Another committee report on the role of deacons includes the following quote: “The deacons shall represent and administer the mercy of Christ to all people, especially to those who belong to the community of believers.”
In my opinion, this is the point. The church should, ideally, assist Syrian Christians who do not want to return to their home country. To publicly state that our efforts to help refugees should not take into consideration a family’s faith does Christian refugees—and ourselves—a disservice.
I know from firsthand experience how difficult it was for my parents who came from another country to become integrated in Canada. The Christian church community was indispensable to their ability to acclimatize. Muslim families who are sponsored by Christian church communities may be conflicted when they accept the church’s help but are not able to worship with that church. They may also find it more difficult to integrate into their own religious community.
The government has a responsibility to screen all refugee applicants and to do this thoroughly. I believe it’s up to the church to decide who to help.