After the Paris attacks, proposals for resettling Syrian refugees have become widely debated. On one side, we see people arguing that the risk of terrorist infiltration means we cannot allow anybody into our country, and asking why Muslim countries can’t take them in. On the other side, we see people arguing that we have an obligation to help these people regardless of those risks of infiltration. Unfortunately, these debates are polarizing and tend to demonize their opponents. Those who stress security portray the other side as advocating a blind throwing open of the doors. Those who advocate helping refugees portray the other side as “being afraid of widows and three year old orphans” or being the party of Herod (no lie. I actually saw a Catholic blogger make that charge).
This is actually the Either-Or fallacy which assumes the two extremes are the only possibilities and the position which is contrary to the support view is very bad. The fallacy overlooks the possibility that there can be three or more possible actions to take and that their opponents don’t actually hold the position attributed to them (the Straw man fallacy). Some of these debates can be quite uncharitable...
Unfortunately, when it comes to considering the religious obligations in this issue, the tendency is to misuse the words of the Bible and Christian moral teaching to justify a view which has a political motivation. Facebook is covered with memes of people mocking Christians with security concerns by comparing that with the Nativity story of Sts. Joseph and Mary finding no room at the inn and implying that these Christians would have denied Jesus’ parents hospitality. On the other side, people are pulling up quotes from the Bible and from Theologians (out of context) to imply that the duty of security of a nation allows Our Lord’s words about charity to our neighbor to be set aside.
These debates fail to do something important—to find a way to help people in need without endangering others living in the country. In other words, searching out a third position that falls between the extremes.
Now Our Lord did have some strong things to say about caring for the people in need in both the Old and New Testament. Parables like the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46) and the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) tell us about the dangers to our salvation by neglecting people in need. So we cannot try to explain away our moral obligation by selectively quoting theologians without being guilty of setting aside the Word of God in favor of the tradition of men (Mark 7:1-15). But in helping others, nations and groups do also have the obligation of insuring that people are protected from the predations of those who would misuse our hospitality to harm others.
So that brings us to the question of applying both obligations and seeing how we can help while avoiding harm to the people who live here. That means we have to consider the legitimate concerns of both giving aid and protecting the innocent. Now that is not always easy to determine. But we need to avoid thinking in terms of “All or Nothing."
For example, if it is determined that America is too much at risk to allow refugees to come here, that does not eliminate our obligation to help. Certainly as a nation and as individuals we would still have an obligation to see how we can help the refugees where they are, providing them aid and security from harm. But if it is determined we can take in refugees, our government has the obligation to protect the population from those who might slip in with the intention to do us harm.
Ultimately, we need to consider this. Christians who are stressing security must not do so in a way that makes Christians appear to be hypocrites in the eyes of the world. Christians who are stressing helping those in need must not appear to be reckless in terms of security. We must seek to carry out both the obligation to help those in need and to protect the innocent from harm. This is not an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation.
So, we need to stop the infighting and demonizing of those we disagree with. We need to find solutions and not just say that because we can’t find one, we’re not obligated to meet the needs of one of the two concerns. Let’s keep this in mind when we are prepared to debate this on the internet and tempted to demonize those we disagree with.