Refugee Crisis

The floods of ocean waters in tsunamis occasioned by earthquakes and the floods of humans as refugees occasioned by deathly regimes, revolutions, and food-and-shelter shortages, dominated recent headlines.

By Martin E. Marty|September 21, 2015

The floods of ocean waters in tsunamis occasioned by earthquakes and the floods of humans as refugees occasioned by deathly regimes, revolutions, and food-and-shelter shortages, dominated recent headlines.

What their topics have in common is a profound awareness that no one has effective ways frontally to counter and prevail against them. We leave the issue of earthquakes to one side while we do our sighting of public religious responses to the refugee crisis and large-scale immigration upheavals.

Our “Sources” addenda (see below) could be expanded into floods of data and comment, which anyone on-line can sample. The fact that no one has “solutions” has not led all people of faith to “pass by on the other side of the road,” to quote the biblical story about the Good Samaritan who helps one in need.

True, floods of presidential candidates do their best to ignore the issue and, in some cases, to cultivate opposition to addresses that would at least raise awareness, stimulate sympathy, and promote “partial cures.”

We’ll append a notice or two about evangelicals, Bible-believers in their own claim, who can overlook or oppose the most prominent biblical ethical issues of all—about the stranger and immigrant and refugee.

The rest of us, at least in North America, including even Native Americans who have been around for millennia, often as refugees or now as reservation-confined “others,” are all immigrants and, truth be told, heirs of refugees. And we grapple.

One has to be half-blind or whole-heartedly unsympathetic to ignore the facts that make total response to this crisis impossible. There are limits to the numbers of refugees that Europeans (etc.) can resettle, and with whom they can flourish. Religious leaders, who are speaking up now, are aware of this, but are not confined by this reality.

Two years ago one set of heirs of immigrants, white evangelicals, embarrassed their leaders by showing the least openness to political addresses to the crisis as it affects the United States. Some (see “Sources”) even set up organizations whose rhetoric, theology, and actions are—objective observers would observe—“unbiblical” or “antibiblical.”

But there is also good news on that front, as many evangelical leaders are helping quicken their reluctant members to face the issue, with considerable success.

Catholic Relief Services, the Lutheran Immigration and Relief Services (of our family’s tribe and our preference), and some World Council of Churches arms and coordinates, are true leaders in working for changes in law and resettlement, which is often neglected elsewhere.

Former chief rabbi (UK) Jonathan Sacks supports World Jewish Relief and other agencies, which serve to remind Jews, who know a few things, and more, about displacement, that they have a special call to deal with this. (Read his “Source” [below] please, even if you read none of the rest.)

Our sightings were prompted by our noticing abundant stories about the intense interest in this crisis in the mind of Pope Francis, who is coming to the U.S. this week. But this ecumenical-minded pope would not want a Catholic monopoly on “Refugee” headlines, and gives evidence that he welcomes anyone.

In this column "anyone" means Jews, standard-brand Protestants, evangelicals, along with people of no identified faith, who responds in conscience to what they read and hear from their scriptures and sages. 

Through thousands of outlets and from thousands of pulpits and in the language of countless congregations they are being stirred. Forget the unstirred politicians, they are saying. Be stirred.


Qayyum, Naveen. “Faith communities urge U.S. to resettle more Syrian refugees.” World Council of Churches, September 14, 2015, News.

Kullberg, Kelly Monroe. “Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration and Cultural Flourishing.” Christian Post, February 17, 2015, CP Opinion.

WE the PEOPLE. “We petition the Obama Administration to: Resettle Syrian Refugees in the U.S.” Accessed September 19, 2015.

Sacks, Jonathan. “Refugee crisis: ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers’ calls us now.” the guardian, September 5, 2015, US edition.

Piccalo, Gina. “The Evangelical Crusade Against Immigration.” Mashable, June 9, 2014.

Nystrom, Brittney. “Together We Can Welcome 100,000 Syrian Refugees.” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, September 16, 2015, Redefining Welcome: A Blog by Linda Hartke.

“New Poll: Evangelical Support for Immigration Reform Remains Robust.” Evangelical Immigration Table, accessed September 19, 2015.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. 


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