By / Jan 24

Southern Baptists are committed to the religious freedom of all people. In 2011, the Southern Baptist Convention re-stated that, “religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God, and possessed by all human beings.” When individuals are persecuted for their belief in Christ, Southern Baptists exemplify the life of Jesus by praying and advocating for justice of the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is leading a genocide against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria. Over 470,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have been killed by members of ISIS. Over 9.3 million people in the region are internally displaced and 5 million seek refuge abroad. Targeting religious groups solely for their faith, according to international law, qualifies these massacres as genocide, evoking the most harsh punishments from the international community upon ISIS leaders.

Resources are scarce and time is running out for the families of genocide victims. With so many people to care for, on-the-ground humanitarian organizations do not have the necessary supplies to provide shelter, emergency health care, and food to all the families affected by the ISIS-led genocide. Food and medicine will be depleted in the fall of 2017 if swift and decisive action is not implemented. Tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis are at grave risk.

The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (HR 390) would ensure that NGOs receive the necessary aid to care for the victims of genocide. If passed, HR 390 would require senior human rights officials in the U.S. State Department to determine how much aid is needed to continue caring for the displaced peoples in Iraq and Syria, and which institutions could be the most effective at using that aid. This bill embodies the United States’ commitment to preserve religious freedom, and prevent and prosecute genocide wherever it occurs.

The United States has a moral obligation to care for the victims of genocide. After the United States ratified the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1988, it bound itself to prevent the victims of genocide anywhere in the world, and to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide. HR 390 would be a declaration to the world that the victims of genocide– the wounded, the homeless, and the orphaned– will not be abandoned by the United States.

By / Dec 15

“Dear world, there's intense bombing right now. Why are you silent? Why? Why? Why? Fear is killing me & my kids.” That’s a tweet from Fatemah, a mom trapped with her children in Aleppo.

Why are we silent?

Try telling Fatemah that it’s Christmas over here. Winter storms are blasting much of the country. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates. We’re wrapped up in the pageantry of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks.

And it seems we’ve lost the capacity for outrage over what’s happening to innocent people in places like Syria and Iraq. In between spikes of interest like 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on the beach; 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh’s vacant stare after being pulled from the rubble; and now the heart-wrenching goodbye videos from people trapped in Aleppo, we revert to complacency.

How do we keep our hearts tender for the suffering in our world? How do we see as God sees, care as he cares, love as he loves?

Most Christians have heard the powerful prayer of World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” I suspect it was as much a prayer for himself as for others. A broken heart can be healed, and Bob wanted his to stay broken, to keep him in the place God wanted him to be: absolutely intolerant of a child’s pain.

We need to do the same if we want to be used by God in these situations. We have to let suffering into our hearts. Other people’s pain should touch us deeply and set off our rage and move us to action.

In the past few years, my travels to the Middle East and encounters with Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis have kindled a “holy unrest” in me about their plight. But the truth is, you don’t have to go there to care. Ordinary people are speaking directly to us, using technology and social media to metaphorically grab us by the collars.

Fatemah, who I quoted above, posted on her daughter Bana’s Twitter account, which has 295,000 followers. In recent months, the sweet, doe-eyed girl with missing teeth has told about seeing people injured and killed, hearing bombs falling, lacking clean water. The tone of her tweets has become more dire as fighting intensified in Aleppo.

Imagine it’s World War II and Anne Frank is tweeting to the world. Bana’s situation is just as precarious.

I join my voice with those in Aleppo imploring Americans to get outraged over the senseless violence. Use your rage to compel action. You can pray. You can tell your congressional representative that the U.S. government needs to do more to stop Syria’s bleeding. You can give to World Vision or to other organizations providing relief.

But don’t stop there. Let your heart be broken for the suffering in the Middle East and around the world. Pray it stays broken as long as any mother anywhere pleads for help and any child fears this night will be her last.

Join World Vision’s Stephanie Hammond and others as we join our voice for human dignity at Evangelicals for Life 2017.

By / Nov 7

Every Monday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

This week, we bring you a special edition, focused on the Syrian Civil War and the battle to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State.

1. Iraqi army faces fierce resistance as the battle for Mosul enters the city. The Iraqi army has been advancing on the city, clearing suburbs and villages while heading for the city center. Mosul, which has been under the control of the so-called Islamic State for more than two years, has approximately 1.5 million civilians. It is believed that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 Islamic State fighters in the city. Civilians remaining in Mosul face an “impossible choice”:

”If they try to escape the city, there are snipers, there are landmines. It’s extremely dangerous,” said Alun McDonald, a spokesman for Save the Children, an aid group. “If they stay, they risk being caught in the crossfire and the bombing.”

2. Islamic State leader released an audio message claiming there would be “no retreat” from Mosul and threatening “total war.” The release was the first audio from the so-called caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in over a year. Reports from inside Mosul indicate that shortly after the message was released, a volley of rockets was launched from within Mosul toward advancing Iraqi troops. The grim message urged suicide bombers to “turn the nights of the unbelievers into days, to wreak havoc in their land and make their blood flow as rivers.”

3. At the same time, Islamic State propagandists have been laying down a theological argument explaining the group’s territorial losses. The rise and legitimacy of the Islamic State was predicated upon its victory, momentum, and land holdings. As the Iraqi army and coalition forces have steadily whittled away at the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate, a question is raised: “Why?” The title of an article from a pro-Islamic State propaganda outlet read: “Why has the Islamic State lost some of the territories under its control? And why has it lost some of its leaders?” The article goes on to make the argument that this period is a “trial” that the faithful must endure.

4. When Mosul is liberated, will its Christian residents be able to return? Al Jazeera has an interesting—and depressing—story following a family evacuated from Mosul to Amman, Jordan, when Mosul fell in 2014. While some wish to return, the conventional wisdom is that it will be impossible for Christians to return to the city. From the story:

Former residents also fear what will emerge in ISIL’s wake. Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, was home to a mosaic of different religious and ethnic groups. [One Iraqi Christian] said this delicate balance has been irrevocably disturbed. ”Mosul was made up Sunni, Shiites, Yazidis and Christians, we were all raised together,” he told Al Jazeera. “But we worry after [the Islamic State] leaves, there will be war for control among them all.”

5. What’s next after Mosul? Raqqa. A group of US-backed Syrian opposition groups announced a coalition-backed offensive against Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the Islamic-State’s de facto capital. The operation was announced by the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of both Kurdish and Arab fighters. The SDF also called upon humanitarian organizations to prepare for the aftermath of the operation; civilian casualties and damage to the city are expected to be significant.

What will remain of the Islamic State after the loss of its capital is unclear. The organization’s capabilities have already been seriously degraded, and it has lost much of its capacity to carry out international attacks. The Islamic State has been condemned by Muslim scholars around the world for being un-Islamic. But elements of the ideology that gave rise to the so-caliphate will be left behind. What steps into that vacuum remains to be seen.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Sep 9

The New York Times has an outstanding piece out this week highlighting the role that Southern Baptists have taken in welcoming Syrian refugees to the United States. In the last week, the United States reached a milestone of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees to American soil, and Southern Baptists have led the way in loving and welcoming these new neighbors.

The work of past SBC president Bryant Wright’s church, Johnson Ferry Baptist, was particularly highlighted for its work with refugees. Just this last June, the Southern Baptist convention passed a resolution urging churches and families to “welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes.”

Dr. Wright’s church is doing exactly that. From the article:

William Stocks, a white, Alabama-born, Republican-leaning member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, arrived at the tiny apartment of a Syrian refugee family on a Wednesday night after work. He was wearing a green-striped golf shirt and a gentle smile, and he was eager to teach yet another improvised session of English 101.

Mr. Stocks, 23, had recently moved to Georgia from Alabama, states where the governors are, like him, Southern Baptists. They are also among the more than 30 Republican governors who have publicly resisted the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees from war-ravaged Syria, fearing that the refugees might bring terrorism to their states.

To Mr. Stocks, such questions belonged in the realm of politics — and he had not come that evening for political reasons. Rather, he said, he had come as a follower of Christ. “My job is to serve these people,” he said, “because they need to be served.”

“These are the most hospitable and loving people you’ll ever meet, which is why it’s frustrating to see the different things on the news that all these people are terrorists,” Mr. Stocks said. “They don’t know these people personally.”

Many have real fears when it comes to Syrian refugees. But as ERLC president Dr. Moore said in the piece, “It’s not unusual that we have politicians timid in the face of fear. But the task of the church is a different one. The church is called to see the image of God in all people and to minister Christ’s presence to all people. That’s what churches are doing.”

Read the rest of the article at The New York Times. But let us thank God for the example set by Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and the powerful witness to the rest of the country that their church has given by their work serving refugees.

By / Mar 17

What is the Syrian refugee crisis?

For the past five years, Syria has been in a civil war that has forced 11 million people — half the country’s pre-crisis population — to flee their homes. About 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and four million have fled Syria for other countries. The result is one of the largest forced migrations since World War Two.

Are all the refugees fleeing Islamic State (ISIS)?

Not necessarily. The crisis is mostly caused by the civil war in Syria. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.

Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and lead to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State. (See this explainer for more on the Syrian civil war.)

What makes a person a “refugee”?

U.S. and international law define a refugee as a person who has left his country of nationality or residence and who is unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

In order for a person to be granted asylum or “refugee status,” a person must be able to prove that a well-founded fear of persecution is the reason he left his home country.

The U.S. government defines refugee as any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

What is the U.S. doing about the refugee crisis?

Since the start of the conflict, the U.S. has admitted approximately 2,100 refugees from Syria. At a press briefing on September 10, 2015, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the Obama administration is making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next budget year, fiscal year 2016. (There is currently a cap which limits the number of refugee visas the U.S. can issue of 70,000 refugee visas a year that U.S. officials can issue for all countries.)

What is the screening process for refugees?

Every refugee goes through an intensive vetting process, notes Time magazine, but the precautions are increased for Syrians. According to Time:

Multiple law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies perform “the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the U.S.,” says a senior administration official. Among the agencies involved are the State Department, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS officer conducts in-person interviews with every applicant. Biometric information such as fingerprints are collected and matched against criminal databases. Biographical information such as past visa applications are scrutinized to ensure the applicant’s story coheres.

How many of the refugees admitted to the U.S. are Christian? Are Muslim?

According to an analysis by CNS News, of 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, only 53 (2.4 percent) have been Christians while 2098 (or 96 percent) are Muslims. The remaining 33 include one Yazidi, eight Jehovah Witnesses, two Baha’i, six Zoroastrians, six of “other religion,” seven of “no religion,” and three atheists.

Why do some lawmakers want to suspend the Syrian refugee program?

Last November, Congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, said there were grave reasons to fear that terrorists would be permitted to enter the country posing as refugees, according to the New York Times.

At the time, the House passed a bill that would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the country unless they pass strict background checks. The measure passed with the support of 47 Democrats and almost all House Republicans. When the bill went to the Senate in January it was blocked by the Democrats. Senators voted 55-43 to advance the bill, falling five votes short of the 60 needed. (President Obama had also vowed to veto the legislation if it passed.)

Who is in charge of the resettling refugees into the U.S.?

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the federal government agency charged with providing benefits and services to assist the resettlement and local integration of refugee populations. The ORR often works closely with non-governmental organizations, such as World Relief, in the relocation of refugees. Some of the ORR programs include Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (for up to 8 months); Refugee Social Services, such as job and language training (for up to five years); and temporary custody and care to unaccompanied refugee children.

The 27 states whose governors have said they will not accept Syrian refugees are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Can governors refuse to accept refugees in their state?

Not exactly. According to the Refugee Act of 1980, resettlement efforts coordinated by the federal government “should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with State and local governments” and “meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities.”

Additionally, the law says, “With respect to the location of placement of refugees within a State, the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1) shall, consistent with such policies and strategies and to the maximum extent possible, take into account recommendations of the State.”

So while the state and local governments can refuse to cooperate with the federal government, they can’t expressly forbid refugees from being allowed into their states.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

By / Mar 10

What is going on in Syria?

In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and civil war spread across the country.

According to the BBC, the conflict has broadened and become a battle between the country's Sunni majority against the president's Shia Alawite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State has also complicated the conflict.

Wait, what is the “Arab Spring” and the “Ba’ath Party”?

The Arab Spring is the term the Western media has used to describe the various protests, demonstrations, riots, and civil wars that began in December 2010 and spread throughout many countries with predominantly Arab populations.

The Ba’ath Party (short for the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party) is a political party that began in Syria which espouses Ba’athism, a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialist ideologies. Ba’athism calls for unification of the Arab world into a single state. The movement is split into two main factions, one in Syria and one in Iraq (Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist).

And what’s Sunni and Shia?

Of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, about 90 percent are Sunni. The name "Sunni" is derived from the phrase "Ahl al-Sunnah", or "People of the Tradition” (the tradition referring to the practices of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad). Shia comprise the other 10 percent (though they are the majority in some countries, like Iran and Iraq). Shia — literally "Shiat Ali" or the "Party of Ali" — claimed that Ali was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad as leader (imam) of the Muslim community following his death in 632.

They’ve been in opposition — and sometimes outright war — since AD 632.

Don’t Sunnis and Shi’ite have the same beliefs in common?

Mostly, at least on the basics. For Christians, the Nicene creed is often viewed as the basic statement of faith, the essentials agreed upon by all orthodox believers. Muslims have a similar creed (shahadah) roughly translated as, “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The Shi’ite, however, tack on an additional sentence: “Ali is the Friend of Allah. The Successor of the Messenger of Allah And his first Caliph.”

Who is this Ali?

Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and the reason these groups don’t get along (the terms Shia and Shi’ite come from condensing Shiat Ali, “partisans of Ali”). After Muhammad died, the leadership of the Muslim believers (the Ummah) was the responsibility of the Caliph, a type of tribal leader/Pope. The Sunnis respect Ali and consider him the fourth Caliph while the Shi’a contends he was cheated out of being first. Sunnis, following the tradition of the period, thought the Caliph should be chosen by the community while Shi’ites believe the office should be passed down only to direct descendants of Muhammad.

What is the Islamic State?

Islamic State is the current name of an Islamic militant group that was established in Iraq in 2004 and pledged allegiance to “Al-Qaeda in Iraq.” They later broke away from Al-Qaeda because of differences in doctrine and objectives and formed a distinct organization. From late 2006 to mid 2013, the group called itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

From 2013 to mid 2014, when they expanded into Syria, they called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). (Most Western media translate “Levant” as “Syria,” hence ISIS.) Since 2014, they have expanded their ambitions to be a global organization and today simply refer to themselves as “Islamic State.”

The stated long-term goal of Islamic State is to establish a “caliphate” to rule over the entire Muslim world, under a single leader and in line with Sharia (Islamic law). A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Their interest in the Syrian civil war is to bring the country under their caliphate.

What is the toll of the Syrian civil war?

To date, estimates range between 250,000 and 470,000 Syrians killed, 1.8 million wounded, 3.1 million refugees, and 6.3 million internally displaced.

I know the country is somewhere in the Middle East, but where exactly is it located?

Syria, which is about the size of North Dakota, is located north of the Arabian Peninsula at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The country is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iraq on the east, Jordan on the south, and Lebanon, Israel, and the Mediterranean on the west. Its biggest cities are Aleppo (pre-war population 2,301,570) and Damascus (pre-war population 1,711,000).

Isn’t Syria one of the lands mentioned in the Bible?

The modern state of Syria is part of the area known throughout history as Greater Syria. In the Bible the city of Damascus is mentioned 67 times. The road to Damascus was the place of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) and Antioch was the city in which the disciples were first called Christians.  (Acts 11:26).

Hasn’t the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people?

That certainly appears to be the case. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission, all strongly indicate that chemical weapons were used on civilians in Damascus in August 2013.

Secretary Kerry also stated that the Syrian regime maintains custody of the country’s chemical weapons and that have the capacity to deliver them by using rockets. In 2013 the Syrian regime refused to allow U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence.

After a threat of U.S. military intervention, President Assad finally agreed to the complete removal and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Investigators have still found evidence of chemical weapons being used by government forces.

Are the anti-Assad rebels the “good guys” in the civil war?

Not exactly. Christians are increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks by the rebel forces. Catholic and Orthodox groups in Syria say the anti-government rebels have committed “awful acts” against Christians, including beheadings, rapes and murders of pregnant women. A special ‘Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians’ conducted by the World Watch unit of Open Doors International from June 2013 warned that Syrian Christians are the victims of “disproportionate violence and abuse.” They warned further that Christian women in Syria are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse

How are other countries involved?

Several countries have used the crisis as a proxy war for their own interest. Iran and Russian have backed President Assad against the rebels. As the BBC notes, the Iranian government is believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to bolster the Syrian government. And Russia has launched an air campaign against Assad's enemies. Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement has also backed the Syrian government by sending fighters to the area.

Several countries with Sunni majorities — Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — have supported the Sunni opposition. France, the UK, and the U.S. have also provided limited military support. The U.S. had been providing anti-aircraft weapons and trained and armed 5,000 rebels. Both programs, however, have since been abandoned.

What should I know about the Syrian refugee crisis?

We’ll cover the refugee crisis in greater detail in next week’s article.

Image credit: Wikipedia
By / Dec 3

WASHINGTON, D.C, Dec. 3, 2015The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will host a Capitol Conversations event on The Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Christian Response Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 3:00-4:30 PM EST at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center (CVC), Room SVC 212-210 in Washington, D.C.

Speakers will seek to equip attendees on the legal, policy, pastoral and legislative dimensions of the Syrian refugee crisis and conflict with ISIS.

Capitol Conversation speakers include:

Russell Moore, President, ERLC

Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, World Relief

Knox Thames, Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South/Central Asia, U.S. State Department

Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Providence Church in Frisco, TX and former Muslim

The event is free for attendees and registration details can be found online.

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

– END –

To request an interview with Russell Moore

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By / Oct 2

Razor wire is now stretched along a 110-mile Hungarian border. The razor wire protects the Christian culture of Hungary from the Muslims, according to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Jesus is the Christ from whom the word “Christian” is derived. I doubt that Jesus himself would applaud Orban’s use of the word “Christian” to defend his treatment of these desperately poor and frightened neighbors lying at his gates. He would more likely condemn it. Labels like “Christian” or “Muslim” when applied to a nation-state are no longer primarily religious terms. The government and military leaders who use these terms seldom faithfully represent the religious labels they use any more than do their enemies.

That makes little difference, though, to those who have captured the word “Christian” behind their razor-wired geographical territory.

Cynical politicians know that the fastest way to whip any group into a frenzy is to say that their religion is being attacked. Leading the charge to protect religious belief is a sure road to popular acclaim.

Thus, do we replace Jesus crowned with thorns by Jesus protected with razor wire?

Love your neighbor as yourself

The living Lord Jesus would surely be on the outside of this razor wire, walking among the rejected and the dispossessed, binding up their wounds. He did say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). If you insist that this idea, enshrined as it is on our Statue of Liberty, cannot apply to national policy, then I insist that the label “Christian” be removed as a descriptor of any nation-state, including our own.

Behaving like a follower of Jesus is both difficult and messy. It demands much of us on every front. Concerning the worldwide crisis of displaced peoples, the truly Christian thing to do is that which is most difficult: treat them as neighbors that you love like you love yourself.

Jesus told the story of a beggar who lay at the gate of a rich man. The rich man would not give him anything, not even the crumbs that fell from his table. Jesus said that rich man ended up in hell.

Beggars are lying at our gates around the world. They look through the razor wire and see food and shelter. The vast majority of them, if invited to the table, would respond with eternal gratitude for the kindness shown, not shoot up the table.

But the speculation about their response is not even the point of Jesus’ tale. The point is this: the rich man had a moral obligation to care for the desperate man at his gate. This obligation was so clear and compelling that his failure to do so resulted in eternal damnation.

We turn the earth toward hell when we refuse to help the desperate one who lies at our gate. We turn it toward heaven when we take the risk of kindness.

The failing wisdom of religious isolationism

The razor-wire solution is more the panic of self-preservation than thoughtful Christian conviction. The gate in itself is not the problem. It allows for an orderly ingress and egress into the rich man’s house. The problem with the gate comes when it remains closed to the need that lies beyond it. Such isolationism may seem wise in the short-term. Helping one beggar today may bring two tomorrow. According to Jesus, though, the gate closed to human need ends up as damnable heresy.

The razor-wire solution for protecting Christianity is offensive and absurd. What people truly need from their government is freedom to worship as they see fit, not razor-wired protection from other religions. Any government effort to favor a particular religion inevitably perverts it. Razor wire for Muslims today will be razor wire for Baptists tomorrow.

Eastern Europe has not been a peaceful place for a long time. The problem is not religious or ethnic diversity. The human condition is the problem — the condition that regards anyone from a different family, tribe, creed, or ethnicity with suspicion. The terrorists insist their war is a religious one. World leaders should resist such a characterization of the conflict, popular sentiment notwithstanding. The true religious dimension of this war is the personal and corporate effort to overcome bigotry, selfishness, and fear with understanding and kindness.

Loving neighbors means we see them as the image-bearers of God. Knowing the risks, we treat them with dignity and humanity. We seek to feed them if they are hungry. We get to know them if they are strangers. We refuse to allow our fears to harden our hearts toward them.

This is the way the real religious war is won.

By / Sep 10

Last week, Turkey’s shores received the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi minutes after a boat carried him into the Mediterranean. He left with hope of finding safety, security and reunion with his father. Instead, Aylan became one of the 11,493 children — at least 232 of whom were also three years old — killed as a result of the Syrian Civil War. Because a photographer was nearby, Aylan will never be forgotten.

Nor will we forget the reports of systemic rape and sexual slavery of women across Syria and Iraq. The so-called Islamic State continues to wreak havoc in the region, its campaign of terror emanating from Raqqa, Syria, its de facto capital.

The world is presented with the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Nearly 8 million Syrians have been internally displaced, and nearly 4 million Syrians have fled the country in search of safety.

As Christians, we know that we must respond.

Jesus tells us that if we are to fulfill the second greatest commandment — to love our neighbors as ourselves — we must show them mercy (Luke 10:32). Jesus also warns that those who exhibit saving faith must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, come to the prisoners (Matthew 25:35–26). If we are in Christ, all of our own stories are marked by the fact that Jesus showed us mercy, too, when we were in great need, when we were hopeless, when we had no future.

And so we want to help. And yet, the situation in Syria is paralyzingly complex. We don’t know what to do. We’re afraid to act because we are unsure of the long-term consequences. We don’t know which organizations to trust.

Here are some simple ways that you can respond:


Jesus tells us that if we knock, the door will be opened, that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, mountains can be moved. C.H. Spurgeon famously said that prayer is “the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.” Let us not believe that our prayers are too small a response to this crisis!

Here are some things to pray for:

  • Pray for a movement of the gospel among the Syrian refugee community.
  • Pray for the hundreds of Aylans that will leave the shores of the Middle East in the coming days, weeks and months. Pray for their safety and protection.
  • Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ that are working to care for the refugee communities around them.
  • Pray that God would open your eyes to ways that you can help ease the pain of those impacted by this conflict.

For additional prayer resources, we encourage you to connect with


We know that it’s hard to know which organizations you can rely on and trust. Here is what SBC organizations are doing: 

Baptist Global Response: In Syria, BGR is distributing food and hygiene items, blankets and medicine to 2500 to 4000 refugee families as well as diapers and formula for families with young children.

Global Hunger Relief: 100% of any donation goes directly to meet hunger needs because of the partnership with the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and Baptist Global Response. Text “refugee” to 80888 to donate $10 for Syrian refugees

ERLC Middle East Office: Support the ERLC Middle East Office’s efforts to equip and mobilize pastors, leaders and churches to advocate for Syrian refugees.