Saturday, August 31, 2013

Obama, Syria, Lutherans, and Refugees

I think Obama's decision to seek approval of congress for a strike in Syria is a good move in a complex situation. It's constitutional and ethical. It puts the decision to go to war in the hands of the people, but calls for a decision. 

You can read more by reading this short piece, 9 questions about Syria you were afraid to ask.

In the meantime, I'm reminded that our nation says at one of its main points of entry

"Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Do we believe this anymore, or not? Why don't we follow our own deepest value? Why do we only admit about 90,000 refugees per year, including last year only 12,000 from a country (Iraq) where we created millions of refugees?

If we care about national security, and if we are in solidary with those seeking asylum, we should be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees to the United States each year, building an infrastructure and resources to make this a reality, expanding our services for refugees in refugee camps abroad, and encouraging our partner countries to increase their admission of refugees also. 

It would be the right thing to do, and the most peaceful and faithful. It would build good will, and in all likelihood reduce factionalism and resentment against the U.S. and the West.

To learn more about helping with refugee resettlement, and to participate in advocacy, visit


I would like to be a pacifist, but I'm not. I am a Christian who believes in "just war." Politically I am probably a dove of the John Kerry variety.

Our intervention won't stop the civil war, but we can change the course of things to a degree. A congressional debate and focused conversation in the United States can help us as a nation to be more clear on our practices of intervention around the world. Often our intervention does not follow just war criteria. Given that by our size and military might we have been thrust into the role of having to make decisions about intervention both as a matter of national security and international justice, we need to be more intentional in taking responsibility as a citizenry for our actions and preparations both at home and abroad.

And the fact remains there are now 2 million refugees in Syria alone, and half of them are children. The UNCHR estimates there are 16 million refugees worldwide, and an additional 12 million displaced persons (internally). 

We have a responsibility to do something about this if we can. As intractable as the situation is, refusing to get involved is not an option. In fact not doing anything would itself be immoral.

A good friend and fellow pastor, David Housholder, recently posted ten reasons not to get involved. Looking through his list, I think I disagree with him on every single point. 

I've learned the most from resources like Stratfor that try to take a big picture, non-biased perspective.

There's one point on which David Housholder and I agree. We both agree that we need a public discussion of the topic of whether and how to go to war as a nation, and we need a discerning public, and a praying church, to not ignore a situation of such global and national import. Christians often like to give pat answers. It takes courage, intelligence, and pluck to live like a Niebuhr and actually weigh in, as best we can, on the side of justice as we understand it.

So here is to opening space for civil discussion. For more on just war, see To read more from the ELCA on peace, see our social statement, For Peace in God's World.

Have you read really great analysis, or written helpful prayers? Share them below. And thanks for reading.

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