by Kate Kooyman
Sometimes there just aren’t two sides.
Or perhaps there are two sides, it’s just that one is wrong.
My job is to talk about “controversial” issues in churches. I explain how refugees are vetted — a robust and extremely selective process that can take years, that involves up to five federal agencies, that simply has not failed to screen out those who wish the U.S. harm. When I tell people this, often someone says, “But that’s not what they tell us on the news.” Someone says, “I think you need to check your facts.” Someone says, “Well, there are two sides to every story.”
But the thing is, this story doesn’t have two sides.
There is the truth: that refugees who are resettled in a new country (any new country, not just the U.S.) are just 1% of the world’s refugees — the luckiest of the lucky to be selected. That the U.S. has the most robust screening process — years long, up to five federal agencies, biometric iris scans — of any country in the world. That many refugees spend more than a decade in a camp, a temporary community where they likely can’t work, where their kids likely can’t go to school, where there is no chance to build a life. That most refugees are children. There is the truth.
“The other side” of that story is a lie. “We have no idea who these people are, where they come from” is a lie. That Syrians are “definitely, in many cases, ISIS-aligned” is a lie. That “Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country” is a lie. “Lots young males, poorly vetted”: lie.
I am alarmed by this. I am alarmed to be so frequently defending the plight of refugees to a group of people whose Study Bibles are replete with the command to “welcome the stranger.” I am alarmed that these are people who likely gave their own children Biblical names, the name of someone who probably crossed a border to find safety, food, or a future. I am alarmed that these Christians’ own blessed Savior was himself a refugee, and once told his sheep, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
I am alarmed that we are people who proclaim that “the truth will set you free,” and then we cling tightly to the lie that there are two sides to every story.
There are not two sides to this story.
But perhaps there are two ways to respond. We can insist on fear, falsehoods, and faithlessness. Or we can open our hearts, our churches, our communities in welcome; we can advocate to our lawmakers to protect our refugee resettlement funding and programming as a sacred obligation. We can demand that our politicians speak truth, especially about the world’s most vulnerable people, and cry foul when they lie. We can be people who put our faith into practice.
I think that there are many good, Christian folks who have been lied to about refugees, and I think we have an obligation to tell them the truth. Our witness is at stake. Our faithfulness is at stake. Perhaps our very experience of Christ in our midst, the one who hides in the face of the stranger, is at stake. If you ask me, those stakes are much higher than what we give up by risking our precarious “unity” that insists that every issue has two equally valid perspectives.
Sometimes, there are not two sides.
For more information about how refugees are vetted, check out these links: