The Forgotten Victims of Paris: Muslim Refugees

When I first heard of the terrible events in Paris, my heart, like most everyone’s, went out to the victims—the dead and wounded—and their families. I continue to pray that they will find the support, answers, and comfort that they need. Like all patriotic Americans, I stand with our friends in France. And as a Christian who believes that all human beings are children of God, I pray for my brothers and sisters who I’ve never met in this life.

But at the same time I mourned the dead, I feared for other innocent children of God who had no complicity in these awful attacks but who were and are likely to be punished for them anyway: the refugees from the Middle East who are searching for a new life in Europe. The people who are leaving behind everything they know in order to escape from places where what happened once in Paris happens monthly, weekly, or sometimes every day.

I decided to write a blog post encouraging charity and compassion toward these fellow human beings. This is not that blog post. At least, not in its originally intended form. I wasn’t even halfway through before this little gem appeared on my facebook feed:

And yes, the poster was serious about this.

Laying aside the fact that this reprehensible meme equates all Latino immigrants to ISIS terrorists, it’s despicable on a number of other levels. Unfortunately, the prejudice in my feed didn’t stop there. One friend of mine went so far as to declare that the refugees’ culture was “alien to the West,” implying that a person couldn’t be a Muslim and a law-abiding citizen of a Western country. That there was some kind of either/or choice between the two. And a military friend of mine posted, in part:

“Talk however big a game as you want, the fact remains that inviting these refugees in, while it may be intended as a good gesture, also invites in the terrorists and those terrorists will do what it takes to kill innocent people before we kill them. They are the wolves among the sheep.”

All this because one of the Paris attackers is thought to have come to Europe with a Syrian passport, posing as a refugee.

Two facts: One, if that particular terrorist had been stopped at a border wall, the attacks would still have happened. The mastermind appears (with the information available to me at this writing) to have been a homegrown extremist from Belgium. Two, if he was as fanatical as we are justified in assuming, he probably would have found another way in, whether legal or illegal. Walls can be burrowed under, climbed over, and traveled around. They’re not a panacea.

Now, it is baldly true that if there were no Muslims in Europe, there would be no Islamic terrorism there. But the only way to achieve that would be to forcibly expel all the Muslims living there, including ambassadors and embassy staff, not to mention all natural-born Europeans who have chosen to convert. That’s a level of government-sponsored violence on par with the Holocaust—to say nothing of violating the Western principle of religious freedom. We can’t do that and still claim to be an enlightened culture. Thankfully, no one (that I’ve heard of) is actually suggesting this.

But stopping the flow of refugees doesn’t do any good either. It just proves ISIS’s propaganda claim that the West is intentionally trying to hurt Muslims. As George Takei said:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

When we “categorize and dehumanize,” as Mr. Takei put it, we fail to see the things we have in common with those who may look or dress like our true enemies. Mr. Takei has firsthand experience with this—he grew up in one of those internment camps that Japanese Americans were relocated to during World War II. And even though the perpetrators of this heinous crime committed it in the name of their perverted brand of Islam, we have to keep in mind that most Muslims are appalled by and opposed to terrorism. Even our own news media has a hard time realizing that all “Muslim countries” are not the same—and that’s not Fox News, either. But Malaysia and Turkey and Saudi Arabia are as different from each other as Sweden is from Uruguay. Or the United States is from Malta. There are real problems that need to be addressed, but we can’t hope to resolve them if we blindly assume that the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are all somehow carbon-copies of each other. Assuming that all Muslims are terrorists is like saying that all Koreans are hackers or that all Mormons are polygamists. These statements are blatantly false. And going back to my friend’s assertion that Western culture and Muslim religion are somehow antithetical, consider this meme:

MuslimPopMeme

I don’t know if the numbers are strictly accurate, but they do a good job illustrating the orders of magnitude involved here. The number of Muslims who are terrorists is shockingly small—minuscule, even. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and so far one of them has turned out to be a terrorist. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be reasonably cautious—it would be wise to do background checks on these migrants (and I bet they would agree to them)—but we must not let paranoia rob us of our chance to love our neighbors as ourselves. As God taught the Israelites in Moses’ day, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34). If we, as Christians, claim to follow Jesus’ command to “love one another” (John 13:34), how can this Biblical principle not still apply? If we ever hope to prove that Christianity is not on a crusade against Islam, we need to begin living our own religion.

There are practical rewards for compassion as well. As one writer opined in the Rolling Stone (of all places):

“To win the War on Terror, to actually defeat the terrorists, we have to dry up their recruiting once and for all. We have a chance of doing that by showing Muslims everywhere—Muslims targeted by terrorists in their homeland—that we stand with them as fellow humans, and that when they face violence and oppression in their homelands, we should welcome them in ours. Even if the Paris terrorists turn out to have come from Syria . . . we should still open our doors to more Syrians and other Muslims escaping extremism.”

“It will take a very long time to make a difference—generations. But if we want a world where terrorists can no longer recruit young people to give their lives to senseless murder, we have to show that the United States is not their enemy. Welcoming those fleeing terror is a critical first step. And rejecting refugees won’t keep terrorists determined to attack us from finding a way in.”

America is a country of immigrants, and we’ve learned time and again—with the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, and now the Latinos—that immigrants gradually do assimilate. Don’t expect it of the first generation, but do look for it in the second and especially the third. And a warm, loving welcome to a peaceful new home will only serve to accelerate the process. Coldness and hostility will have the opposite effect; ostracizing immigrants will make the terrorists’ invitations seem all the more reasonable and enticing.

Let us give our Muslim brothers and sisters a new home, one where they can feel welcome, wanted, and accepted. We have so much we can learn from each other. And in truth, we all face the same enemy. Terrorists kill far more Muslims than they do anyone else, and they have throughout this millennium. Let us refrain from acting out of anger and fear in ways that fit the terrorists’ twisted narrative. Let us instead act according to our Christian values of charity, hope, compassion, and love. Let us be the good Samaritan in this international crisis, not the people who look the other way.

I believe that we as a people will be blessed with peace according to our compassion and cursed with more terrorism according to our heartlessness.

UPDATES
First of all, a good Christian on the Internet created this meme:

GoodSamaritanMeme

(Funny how so many of the states rejecting refugees are in the “Bible Belt.” If they don’t follow the Bible, should the belt be renamed?)

More importantly, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sending out a letter encouraging all members of the Church to help refugees. If you’re a Mormon who’s against taking in said refugees, this should give you pause.

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An Unpopular Opinion: Why Same-Sex Marriage Qualifies as Apostasy

I’m a bad blogger. It’s been a month since I’ve posted.

I have excuses, of course—a brother’s wedding, a particularly time-consuming editing project, etc.—but the truth is, I write when I have something to say. Usually something controversial—after all, I have to make trouble, or I’m not living up to my blog’s title.

So let’s talk about the big Mormon story of the week: the Church’s update to the Handbook of Instructions, which I first read about in this New York Times article. Predictably, these changes produced a rash of shock and outrage from those with a vested interest in the issue and a “what’s the big deal?” reaction from many other members of the Church. (With all such news, I imagine that the reactions elicited are exactly as strong as the reactor’s personal investment in the issue at hand.) Knowing this would happen, the Church simultaneously published a 10-minute interview with Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles providing context to these changes. The interview is worth watching in its entirety, and it gets particularly cogent toward the end.

My Background

I’m a straight man married to a woman. I also have friends and family members who are gay and living that lifestyle. I was raised in the Church, and I have my own personal testimony that it’s true. That background informs my viewpoint, just as your background informs yours. That being said, my gay friends will probably not like what I’m about to write. In fact, this will probably be one of my most conservative posts. If that’s not what you want to read, then by all means stop now. Otherwise, you’ve been warned.

Some Groundwork

First of all, the love between gay couples is real. As an emotion, it is just as valid as love between a man and a woman. A conversation that denies this fact will go nowhere. Second, no one chooses to be gay. Something in the brain is structured in such a way that the individual finds people of the same sex attractive. Likewise, my brain is structured in such a way that I find people of the opposite sex attractive. There’s neurochemical stuff going on here that no one fully understands yet. Experiencing attraction is, in and of itself, uncontrollable. A gay man has as much choice about being attracted to other men as a married straight man has about being attracted to women who aren’t his wife: none, except to choose how to react to that attraction. As the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi said, “man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed” by something (2 Nephi 2:16). Once that choice is offered, we can either follow our natural inclinations or God’s commandments. This distinction is important. I believe that one of Satan’s biggest lies in our age is that a gay person cannot be happy unless they’re in a homosexual relationship. But then there are people like this awesome guy (not to mention all the people of every orientation who, throughout the centuries, have willingly lived a celibate lifestyle) who prove that false.

I’m not saying that it’s easy. It’s not. I was a virgin until I got married at age 25, and I remember the raging hormones and the frustrated desires—and how much better things got after my wedding night. I have no reason to imagine that it would be any different for an LGBTQ person. They’re just as human as I am, so why should it? I am suggesting that an approach contrary to the world’s popular opinion might just be the one God wants you to make. After all, most of the other commandments are also contrary to the lifestyles the world glamorizes. Why should chastity be any different?

Why Chastity Is So Important

Chastity is a bit different from the other commandments in one very important way, though. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that “the means by which mortal life is created [is] divinely appointed” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”). To explain it another way, the power that man and woman have to create life together is literally a part of the creative power of God on loan to us mortals. We have the agency to use it or misuse it as we choose, but it is God’s power, not ours, and at the end of the day, he will hold us accountable for whether or not we used his power in the way that he directed. As Paul wrote, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost . . . and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Apostasy: A Definition and an Implication

Which brings me to the most interesting change in the Handbook’s language (at least to me): the fact that entering into a same-sex marriage is now officially considered apostasy. (Most other people have latched on to the policy regarding children of such couples, but I think Elder Christofferson does a good job of explaining the logic behind it, even if it doesn’t cover every single situation. Handbooks can’t do that; that’s why we have local leaders who can get to know individuals and their specific situations and then recommend a course of action. But I’ll let other people debate the merits of that item of policy.)

So how does marrying someone of the same gender qualify as apostasy? Perhaps a better question to ask first is: What is a religion? I’ll give a layman’s definition and define religion as “a group of people who all believe the same stuff.” It then follows that if an individual no longer believes all that same stuff, he or she should probably not be part of that group anymore. Usually they leave by themselves and find a different group (which, if you look closely in the manual, is one of the other things that counts as apostasy), but sometimes a person is not content to leave the Church alone. They’re so aggrieved by slights imagined or real that they try to get other people to leave the group with them. Sometimes, before they even leave the group, they pressure the group’s members and leadership to change the stuff the group believes in. This is fine in a democratic government or even in a group of people who all happen to believe alike, but if you believe that your Church is the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t work. If God’s the King, then he makes the rules. You can either stay and abide by the rules (a.k.a. God’s laws), or you can go to a different Kingdom. This is a bit oversimplified, but the point is that if you believe that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and most importantly, all-loving being presides over your church, you’re under obligation to do what he says, not the other way around.

Like all trials, this is a test of faith. Do you believe God when he says that in the long run, you will be happier if you live the lifestyle he outlines for you? Keep in mind that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his definition of “long run” is probably significantly longer than yours. Some trials are designed to last for an entire lifetime—and I imagine trials of sexual orientation are included in this category. In this life, a gay married couple might be happier together than they would be either single or married to someone of the opposite sex. And while God does want his children to be happy in this life, he’s much more concerned about the billions upon billions of years that follow this life. That’s a perspective that’s hard for us to comprehend, and we don’t know a lot about how things will be done there. We truly are like children who don’t like the pain of getting a shot—but God, our loving parent, knows the immunization will be beneficial for us somewhere down the line. He doesn’t like to see us in pain, but he knows that it will give us experience and be for our good (see D&C 122:7).

So back to apostasy. The Greek root of the word means “to revolt.” Going back to the idea of the Church as the Kingdom of God rather than a group of like-minded humans, apostasy is the equivalent of a formal rebellion or insurrection that is trying to depose the monarch. It is a rejection not just of one law, but of the King’s right to rule. In human history, where one man ruled over others, this needed to happen—and rather often. But when the ruler literally created the universe, he does have a right to rule it. Thankfully, God is a merciful monarch. Rather than crushing and destroying the rebellion like earthly kings, he has another place prepared (actually several) where people who don’t like his rules can go. They won’t be as happy there as they would be living under him, but unhappiness is their choice to make, so if they insist, he lets them go. (Again, this is oversimplified. He loves his children and does everything he can to persuade them to stay, but he always respects agency when all is said and done.) The one thing God wants to avoid is those rebels, while still within the Kingdom, persuading other children to rebel with them. Hence, excommunication.

So when a gay couple gets married according to man’s law, what are they doing in God’s perspective? If they are members of the Church and understand the doctrine, they are openly revolting against and rejecting his law of the appropriate use of his life-creating powers. It is open defiance—an official and public act declaring to the world that this couple will follow their own laws rather than God’s. The only possible response to such rebellion is exclusion from the Kingdom through the action of God’s authorized representatives.

Closing Thoughts

Lest I end on a depressing note, let me talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ for a minute. Is a couple like the one described above cut off forever? No! Of course not! Repentance is available for all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It follows the same pattern as all repentance: confessing that the action was wrong and forsaking it (with all that implies—see D&C 58:43). Jesus Christ does the rest. It’s amazing. It is glorious. It is wonderful to me. And it is freely available to all who are willing to come.

Now, what I’ve said is all well and good in the eternal scheme of things, but what about life here on Earth, right now? Well, I may be conservative on this issue, but I’m still a Democrat. I believe that no one should be discriminated against in employment, housing, legal rights, etc., on the basis of sexual orientation. Inasmuch as the Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage the law of the land, we ought to submit to those laws just like we did in 1890 (see Official Declaration 1)—provided, of course, that churches not be required to act against their beliefs in religious matters. Utah passed a good compromise bill that I would love to see adopted in one form or another throughout the nation. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the nothing we had here before. In all things, we should treat all other people with charity, respect, and kindness while standing true to the things we know to be right and wrong. It’s a fine line, and only Jesus walked it perfectly. Inasmuch as I have erred in this article, I apologize. But to all those who are outraged despite that apology, I merely direct you to 1 Nephi 16:2.