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Protesters on opposing sides of the Syrian refugee resettlement issue rally in front of the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash., Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said the state will welcome refugees and has criticized other governors who have threatened to stop accepting them following last week's terror attacks in Paris.

Readers' responses

A question posted to the Times Free Press's Facebook page asked readers what they thought should be the response of people of faith to the Syrian refugee crisis. Half of those responding thought national security trumped assistance (food and shelter) and refugees should not be allowed into the United States. One-fourth believed assistance should be provided; the remaining 25 percent responded with answers that were either inapplicable or were related to the subject but did not answer the question.

Here is a cross-section of readers' opinions.

' " We can't even feed and shelter our own. We should feed our hungry and shelter our homeless before taking in refugees. We have veterans who need to be taken care of before the refugees."— Sheila Taylor.

' "The Bible doesn't carve out exceptions for when you should ignore the poor, the weak and the needy. So neither should anyone claiming to be a Christian. Have conviction in your faith. Stand up for it."— Sam Gibson

' "Individuals should take care of each other, feed and clothe the homeless, etc. The government's job is to take care of its citizens — not to endanger them."— Kara Ericson Smith

' "We help them because we follow Jesus's teachings if we are Christian, or because we are humans who value and help other humans. There are screening procedures in place. We are at risk already by people who live here. Chattanooga should know that, especially this year."— Heather Blair

' "We can't even get the president to shelter our homeless and feed our children that are homeless send them back! It's not a race issue, it's a fix American first." — Melanie Harris

' "How can I feed the hungry, shelter the homeless if I or any other resident gets blown up or shot? Yes, there are women and children who need help; however, it only takes one bad apple in the bunch." — Roger H. Groot.

' "We have homeless, hungry and people not equipped for winter in the U.S. Veterans are suffering after giving so much. If we have the funds to assist 10K refugees who are infiltrated by the enemy, how do we not have the funds to ensure that no one here is hungry or without shelter?" — Lindsay Smith

' "I believe we should be open to helping those in need, but we need to screen the refugees to ensure that ISIS doesn't use the opportunity to infiltrate the U.S." — Stephen Horten

' 'We can feed them, protect them and shelter them. However, because of the safety for Americans they need to do this somewhere else and not American soil. I know they can arrange refugee camps." — Tina Wilson Newby.

"Don't let them in! We are just asking for trouble." — Russell Whitfield.

' Why does Christianity have to be brought into the equation at all? This is a question that will impact the nation as a whole, not just Christian Americans." — Aaron Miller.

Pastor Fred Smith has a simple view on how to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis.

"Not to be cliché, but 'What would Jesus do?'" asks Smith, an ordained bishop and pastor of East Chattanooga Church of God. "I think he would be open, loving and caring.

"That's not to discount national security by any means. I don't think God would ever expect us to knowingly bring harm to anybody," he says. "But as the church, we have to be open to analyze how Christ would have handled this — and I think he would be very loving, caring, compassionate and open to it (resettling refugees)."

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 by members of the Islamic State group, President Barack Obama's decision to admit 10,000 displaced Syrians into the United States during the current fiscal year, which began in October, has fired up politically polarizing discussions. No place has this been more evident than on social media.

Proponents say assistance is Americans' humane — even Christian — responsibility, to give food and shelter to refugees and assist in resettling them within our borders. Frequent references are made to Matthew 25:35-45 in which Jesus exhorts followers to feed, clothe and shelter those in need because "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me."

The parable of the Good Samaritan has become the go-to Scripture for those who believe assistance should be given refugees — but maybe not in our own cities. They quote Luke 10:34-35, in which the Good Samaritan helps the traveler from Jerusalem by leaving him in the care of an innkeeper, whom he pays to feed and tend the injured man's wounds.

On the other side of the issue, opponents to sheltering Syria's refugees call them a threat to national security, believing that Islamic State-affiliated terrorists will slip into the U.S. under the guise of displaced Syrians. Others opposed to the idea say Americans have a responsibility to first help the homeless and hungry already within our country before opening the gates to 10,000 more people in need.

"It's a tricky issue. I know social media is blowing up over it right now," says Smith.

More than 7 million refugees have been displaced by Syria's civil war. It's a refugee crisis that Rabbi Susan Tendler at B'Nai Zion says she predicted to her congregation more than two years ago.

Many Syrians already have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. As of February, Turkey had taken in 2.2 million Syrian refugees, according to the Los Angeles Times, more than any other nation in the world.

The U.S. has spent more than $4.1 billion since 2012 in humanitarian response, supporting food and refugee operations in Jordan and Lebanon, but it has not admitted a comparable amount of refugees. U.S. government officials told the LA Times that this country has a lengthy vetting and screening process intended to keep out terrorism operatives.

So what should be the response of people of faith? Or is there a "right" answer? The Times Free Press asked religious leaders of area congregations their opinions.

"I'm very interested in what's going on with Syria and the refugees. I have traveled many times to Israel and the West Bank," says the Rev. Dale Wyrick, pastor of Signal Crest United Methodist Church.

"It's not an easy answer. I think ISIS, or ISIL, is infiltrating these refugees and sneaking into other countries, including what could be ours," he says. "I struggle with this because you see pictures of children dying, and there are a lot of people who need our help. Scripturally we are called to do that, but for national security we need to have a good screening process."

"I can't find a specific verse which clearly commands our nation to take in refugees, nor one to justify turning them away," says Phil Evaul, pastor of Sale Creek Presbyterian Church. "We must approach this thorny issue from principles of logic, relying more on reason than emotion."

The Rev. Bernie Miller, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship, describes himself as a businessman as well as a pastor, so he notes his thoughts on refugee assistance are tempered by both perspectives.

"First, as a businessman, where are you going to get the extra resources and money from? From a biblical point of view — the poor you'll have with you always and, when you decide to do them good, it's a decision you have to personally make."

But, as Miller and the well-known adage say, charity begins at home.

"What about the homeless that are already here who are not being given the same attention as the refugees?" he asks. "We are spending more time and energy on illegal immigrants and refugees, and it doesn't seem like we are spending any time on the folks who fought for our nation, the veterans who can't find resources to live from day to day and are homeless, as well as other homeless we have here. We should be taking care of our home first, then reaching out if we have the resources."

Until decisions are reached inside the Obama administration, the Rev. Bill Mason, pastor of Morris Hill Baptist Church, believes prayer is the answer.

"The most important help the church can give right now is prayer. We can pray for (the refugees') physical and spiritual needs. We can pray for wisdom for those in places of decision."

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

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