Dispelling Stereotypes

Researching as I write the first draft of my newest novel, Hijab, I am learning interesting contradictions between what is often portrayed versus how real life actually plays out.

As those of us who write fiction understand, conflict sells.  Those who practice journalism also understand–that’s why salivating diatribes and waving placards featuring xenophobic anger earn the headlines while quiet gestures of welcome seldom make the news.  Following contemporary reports, we might think conservative Christians find common cause in barring the door to refugees, but dig a little deeper and we’ll find it’s not always true.

Some of the most dedicated embracers of Muslim refugees happen to be Christians–and not just your liberal United Church of Christ folks, but Evangelicals, too.  Google “Christian Churches Welcome Refugees,” and you’ll find a whole bunch of hits.

Relevant Magazine, which brands itself as “the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings,” recently posted an article, “Nine Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome Muslim Refugees.”

“Jesus calls on us to leave behind our tribalism,”  exhorts the writer.  “(Jesus) didn’t say, ‘Welcome foreigners as long as they are Jewish (or Christian)–because that didn’t make sense.  In that time, foreigners, by definition, were almost always of another religion and culture.”

This past December 13 was designated “National Refugee Sunday.”  Hundreds of Evangelical pastors encouraged their congregants to contribute toward the resettlement of refugees in the United States, focusing especially upon Syrians and other Middle Eastern countries.  A leading advocate, We Welcome Refugees, encouraged Christians to demonstrate their faith by opposing state governors who supported Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

“Now is the church’s moment,” proclaims the We Welcome Refugees website.  “Jesus made explicitly clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:21-37) that the Great Commandment to love our neighbors compels us to love all those who are in need, not just those who share our ethnicity or religion….When the church responds with welcome to those of other religions, traditions, they are much more likely to be drawn to Jesus; to the contrary, if our response is one of misplaced fear and hostility, we risk repelling these individuals whom we believe God made in his image and loves uniquely.”

In my novel Hijab, the protagonist is a female Syrian refugee whose entry into the United States was greatly facilitated by a Christian family.  In addition to telling what I hope will be a good story, I hope the book will help dispel stereotypes and foster empathy.  It’s good to know that–contrary to the impression one may have from reading media reports and mean-spirited Facebook posts–many Christians actually do follow the teachings of Jesus.  In regard to the specifics of welcoming Muslim refugees who’ve been traumatized by war, I have no way to know whether the percentage of self-identified Christians who  do so constitute a majority or a minority.  Let’s hope it’s a majority.  After all, Jesus’s words are pretty clear on that subject.

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