Vail Daily column: Are Syrian refugees a terrorist threat to U.S.? |

Vail Daily column: Are Syrian refugees a terrorist threat to U.S.?

Jack Van Ens

If dread didn’t overcome them when Caesar Augustus instituted a massive database to track his subjects in Palestine, certainly dis-ease afflicted Mary and Joseph. Forced to leave Nazareth after Syria’s governor Quirinius acted like Big Brother with an enforced census, Jesus’ parents felt like refugees. Traveling to Bethlehem in order to register a loyalty oath to Caesar, Mary and Joseph hit dead ends. Overbooked lodges with “No Vacancy” signs turned them away.

Ready to deliver her first child, Mary was shunted from crowded inn to jammed hostel. Same response: “No room.” A smelly cattle’s feedbox served as baby Jesus’ crib because “there was no room for (the Holy Family) in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Christian children are taught this Christmas story about Mary and Joseph shunned like refugees, with doors slammed in their faces.

What’s baffling is why, when some of these children grow up, they forget the implications of Luke’s story. It teaches us to be kind to the homeless, to care for the refugee, to give persecuted people on the run decent chances to start again.

Fearing refugees by barring doors of acceptance is the opposite of Christian hospitality.

Disturbing, isn’t it, that what some Christians know at the top of their heads about “no room in the inn” hasn’t traveled the critical 16 inches to the bottom of their hearts. Instead of being hospitable to Syrian refugees, the Republican Party’s core—white Christian evangelicals—are largely hostile to these people fleeing for their lives.

Ben Carson visited refugee camps in Jordan on Thanksgiving weekend. He had compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs when telling his faithful why he doesn’t want them coming to the U.S. Now he’s qualified that nasty retort. Carson says he only referred to terrorists as rabid dogs hiding among refugees in order to infiltrate the U.S. Leave Syrian refugees languishing in squalid Jordanian camps, advises Carson. He talked with many who want to return to Syria. He says they don’t want to start anew on U.S. shores … really?

Donald Trump, whose “amazing memory” makes him brainier than Caesar Augustus, utters an anti-refugee decree. Emperor Donald demands increased surveillance of “certain mosques” and the formation of a database that tracks American Muslims.

Sen. Ted Cruz doesn’t like Syrian refugees, either, even though his father fled Cuba in the 1950s. Parroting the Bethlehem innkeeper, Cruz slams the door on refugees who want to come to our shores.

Then there are God-fearing representatives in the House. By a 289-137 vote, they passed a bill instructing the FBI director, the secretary for homeland security and the director of national intelligence to initiate a complicated immigration process. It’s convoluted with so many hoops for Syrian refugees to hop through that virtually none will make it to our shores.

Thirty-one governors, each a Republican but one, introduced measures to ban Syrian refugees from their states. What ridiculous and cruel grandstanding. The Constitution doesn’t allow states to ban interstate travel. But such nasty remarks play well to an enraged base.

What does God think of these anti-refugee measures? Evangelical Christian spokesman Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy, declares, “We must reform our immigration policies in the United States. We cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror.”

Following terrorist attacks in Paris, Graham prophesied our national doom. “If we continue to allow Muslim immigration, we’ll see much more of what happened in Paris—it’s on our doorstep. France and Europe are being overrun by young Muslim men from the Middle East, and they do not know their backgrounds or their motives and intentions.” Back in July, Graham articulated current GOP refugee policy. Sounding like Bethlehem’s innkeeper, he slammed the door on Muslim immigration into the states.

What hyped problem does this verbal bluster solve? 4.2 million Syrians have been made refugees since their county’s civil war erupted in 2011. The U.S. has received 2, 290 of these refugees — or 0.0005 percent of the total. Tight immigration laws make unlikely a wave of Syrian terrorists raiding our shores.

The GOP’s closed-door policy on Syrian refugees increases persecution against some who are Christians. For centuries, Christian enclaves have practiced their faith in Muslim dominated Iraq and Syria. When the Islamic State raided their towns, these Christians had to flee their homelands.

Because of this mass exodus, Christianity in Iraq could become extinct in five years, reports a British study for the House of Lords. Already persecuted during the Iraq War by Muslim factions, now Christians are decimated by ISIS barbarism. The Christian community, which numbered 1.4 million under Saddam Hussein, has thinned to 260,000. Who in the GOP dares go to bat for these Christian refugees who deserve being rescued and settled in the U.S.?

Citizens, remember the hospitality to refugees captured in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet. It’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty’s base: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Let’s open doors to Muslim and Christian Syrian refugees.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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