The Tale of Two Baptist Responses on Syrian Refugees


Nabil Costa, second from left, and other dignitaries met with Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2004. (Photo: Robert Parham)

Lebanon has an estimated 1.2 million Syrian refugees. The United States might permit 12,000 by the end of 2016.

Big difference: 1.2 million vs. 12,000.

Big difference in actions and attitudes expressed by two Baptists - spiritual and theological kin who share the same Bible, baptismal water, Savior.

One is named Nabil Costa; the other is Glen Casada.

Costa is a friend of mine. He's a remarkable Lebanese Baptist leader with whom I spent a week in Beirut in 2004. We even visited Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in his private home, where I learned that Lebanese had no love for Syrians. A few months later, he was allegedly assassinated by the Syrians in 2005.

On a day trip to the Ain Dara Baptist Church, I saw the damage caused and learned of the looting by the Syrian army when it occupied the building. A Syrian military post was across the street. Lebanon and Syria were adversarial.

Fast forward 10 years.

In a 2014 EthicsDaily.com column, Costa confessed, "For years we prayed for God to take our revenge, to destroy their land [Syria] as they did to our land."

Then, he said that through the Syrian refugee crisis God changed their hearts. Lebanese Baptist churches began tending to the wounded, feeding Syrian children, providing health care, offering remedial classes to displaced students, winterizing refugee camp tents.

Speaking to European Baptists several months ago, Costa said, "At first, Christians in Lebanon were afraid of helping the fleeing Syrians. A contentious history between the two nations is the reason for the animosity. We were afraid of helping Muslims."

"It has not been easy, but God has broken down barriers between communities and encouraged both Christians and Muslims to see each other in a more compassionate light," he added.

The Costa story stands in contrast with that of another Baptist: Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada, a member of Brentwood Baptist Church, a good congregation.

"We need to activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop them from coming in to the state by whatever means we can," said Casada, according to The Tennessean. "We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, 'They're not coming to Tennessee, they're yours.'"

He added, "Tennessee is a sovereign state. If the federal government is forsaking the obligation to protect our citizens, we need to act."

Having compared himself to Paul Revere, Casada rejected the historical comparison between his statement and the internment of Japanese in World War II.

The Paris attacks killed 120 and have shaken many of us. Most of us have reacted.

Few of us were shaken the day before Paris when a suicide bomber killed 43 and wounded 239 in Beirut.

Terrorists have no boundaries. Nations do and have a responsibility to guard their borders. That's why the U.S. has such a stringent process for vetting refugees before they enter our country.

Before Americans in general and Baptists in particular are two models for responding to Syrian refugees. One is the Costa model; the other is the Casada model.

I hope goodwill Baptists will favor the Costa model over the Casada model.

If a small country like Lebanon can help more than a million refugees, surely a large country like America can handle a few thousand.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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Tags: Baptists, Lebanon, Refugees, Robert Parham, Syria


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