Scott Simon: “Question of the week: how many Syrian refugees would you admit to the United States if you were president now?”
Last Saturday, I stood barefoot in my sunny Ann Arbor kitchen, chopping farm-fresh beet greens and listening to NPR. As you do.
After my morning sojourn to the farmer’s market, I’d tuned into NPR One, the new public radio app that stitches together a seamless mixtape of NPR segments from the past week, plus some oldies from the archives. As I poured dried lentils into a pan, the app produced that morning’s It’s All Politics segment: Scott Simon interviewing Republican presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson.
Ben Carson: “We have to recognize that this is a splendid opportunity for the global jihadists to infiltrate those numbers with members of their own organization. So we would have to have in place a very excellent screening mechanism. Until we had such a mechanism in place, we shouldn’t be bringing anybody in.”
I like Ben Carson as a person. I heard him speak two years ago at a fundraising dinner for my elementary school, and he came across as warm, engaging, and humble. He’s got that quintessential American tale of overcoming a hardscrabble childhood to become one of the most highly regarded neurosurgeons in the nation. He’s a Christian husband and father deeply committed to living an upstanding life.
Simon: “Wouldn’t a lot of innocent people be left to die?”
Christianity should scare people at first. It’s radical, crazy, counterintuitive: an omnipotent being who cares so much about His mud-flinging children that he allowed us to rip Him apart. A divine-human savior who taught that victory comes through surrender, winning through losing, and life through death. Christianity should rub us the wrong way—until we realize that it’s only sanding down the splinters of selfishness, greed, and pride that come packaged with our humanity.
In my cynical heart-of-hearts, I distrust presidential candidates who profess a Christian faith and still do well in the polls. Christ’s counter-cultural message seems like it should be anathema to today’s political climate. It should tell voters that the pie is always big enough, that even the scuzziest sinner deserves compassion, that hearts matter more than wallets, that war isn’t an option, that corporate and political corruption should make us mad enough to flip tables.
Carson: “My point [is not] that I don’t want to be compassionate. I would love to bring everybody in, just take care of everybody. That would be wonderful. But the fact of the matter is: we can’t do it.”
What if a Christian politician actually gave a Christian answer to the refugee question? Yes, the refugees are dusty and tired. Yes, they are desperate. Yes, we will let them in and love them. Yes, there’s room. Yes, opening the door makes us vulnerable. In fact, every time we open a door, we gamble that there won’t be a loaded gun on the other side. If we’re gambling anyway, why not gamble on the power of treating strangers like human beings and see what happens?
Simon: “Well, which leads me to restate the question, and I’ll grant it as a premise that you can get a rigorous checking program in place: how many Syrian refugees would you admit if you were president?”
Taking a truly Christ-like stance would require making bold, radical statements that garner ridicule and threaten to tank a campaign. Why not? Donald Trump does that every day. He insults women, Mexicans, and soldiers, and his campaign is only getting stronger. Why shouldn’t someone else raise hackles with a message of radical mercy and compassion?
Carson: “I would admit people that we need, people that can boost our economy based on their skills and what they bring in.”
Earlier this month, the Icelandic government stated that it would accept only fifty refugees this year. The people of Iceland, a nation of about 329,000 souls, disagreed. On a Facebook page set up by an Icelandic author, more than 11,000 people pledged to house Syrians in need. They offered to buy plane tickets, knit warm clothing, and foster orphaned children. In Norway, a wealthy hotel owner donated 5,000 free nights in his hotels for refugees who need a place to sleep. While European leaders seal borders and dicker over quotas, German citizens keep filling police stations with donated food, water, blankets, toys, and train tickets. This is compassion. This is crazy, counter-cultural, soul-grabbing love. Yes, it’s scary to open the door to hungry strangers. Yes, they’re scared, too. Yes, let them come to safety. Yes, there’s enough to go around.
James 3:17-18: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.