If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.
This was the message of a tweet posted by Donald Trump Jr. yesterday. He added a comment, saying, “Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.” His point is one that resonates with many. We can’t tell the difference between a poisoned skittle and an un-poisoned one from looking at it. No intelligent person would eat from a bowl of skittles that they knew would kill them, right? Life is too valuable to take such a risk for such a paltry reward.
But this analogy isn’t really about candy - it’s about people. If we knew that a group of refugees contained even just one terrorist bent on destroying innocent American lives, shouldn’t we refuse entry to them all? We can’t tell from a surface-level examination which of them are legitimate refugees and which are impostors, so common sense would dictate that we should restrict the entire group’s access to our country. It shouldn’t even be an issue: it’s a simple matter of security for our people.
And yet, I am unconvinced. Setting aside the fact that our refugee screening process is one of the strictest in the world, and ignoring the math that says the accurate scale of good skittles for the three poisoned skittles in this scenario would be to fill one-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools with them, there is something else that rubs me wrong with Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet.
In the United States, we cling tightly to our right to self-preservation. The need to defend ourselves, our families, and our neighbors is one of the most dominant traits in our society. It’s closely tied to the American dream of our country being a place of opportunity. When we’ve worked so hard to achieve our dreams, it’s only natural that we want to defend those dreams. So as Americans, this right to prevent harm rings true.
But those of us who follow Christ are called to something different.
This statement from Donald Trump about discerning between poisoned and good skittles reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:3-7. In this parable, the shepherd had gathered ninety-nine of his sheep in the open pasture but noticed that one was lost along the way. But where had that one gone?
Remember that the wilderness was not a safe place - not for the lost sheep, nor for the ninety-nine sheep left unattended, nor even for the shepherd. The lost one had likely fallen down a precarious cliff or been caught by a lion or other predator. The ninety-nine were left out in the open without protection as night was falling, and certainly they were an easy target for any hungry carnivores. And the shepherd knew that if a wild animal had captured his sheep, he would have to fight the beast. To the shepherd, though, that sheep was so important that he risked his own life and the lives of his flock to rescue it.
As Christians, if we truly want to follow the example of Christ, we must shed the desire to protect ourselves that comes so naturally and choose instead to lay our very lives at the foot of the cross. Christ himself said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
We love to read that passage as a spiritual metaphor for giving up our base desires, as if Christ was simply calling his followers to metaphorically lay down their lives, but if we look at the lives of his apostles, it is clear that they took this message from Christ literally. With the exception of John, each of Jesus’ apostles were martyred for sharing the good news of Christ with a hostile world. They cared for the lost sheep of the world and they trusted in God to direct their lives, even to the point of self-endangerment and death.
Is this not the same gospel to which we ourselves are called? Are we not compelled to be so broken for the lost and broken - the Syrian refugees who are forced to flee from their homes, our black brothers and sisters that still feel the burden of systemic oppression, and many other marginalized groups in our midst - that we fly into the face of danger to rescue them? My life is God’s and God’s alone. It is not mine to defend. As Paul said in Acts 20:24:
But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.
To be of Christ means that we must draw the hurting and broken into our arms, even when death is a certainty.
So back to Donald Trump Jr.’s skittles analogy, even if I knew that our nation’s refugee vetting process was lenient (it’s not) and even if I knew that three out of every hundred refugees were likely terrorists (they’re not), my call from God would still be to open my heart and my home to them. Welcoming refugees with open arms is but a baby step in the path I as a Christian am called to walk.