Elder Patrick Kearon, of the quorum of the Seventy, gave a moving talk about the Church's call to help refugees during the Sunday afternoon session of the April 2016 General Conference.
Many Mormons were clearly moved by his talk. However, there were many of Mormons who felt conflicted about his talk. I can see this conflict in debates among members of the Church after General Conference on social media sites.
Before I explain the conflict felt by many members in the Church, I want to make it clear at the beginning that we are all for helping refugees. We fully support the Church's efforts in mobilizing members to gather food, water, clothing, bedding, and bags full of sanitary items so that they can ship it to refugee camps in the Middle East and Europe.
Elder Kearon's talk certainly pulled at our heartstrings. Elder Kearon raised the valid point that Christ himself, at one point in his life, was a refugee when his parents fled to Egypt when he was a little child. He talked about how Mormons were refugees when they were forced to flee from place to place by angry mobs and ultimately had to leave the United States to find peace beyond the western frontier of the United States by moving into what was then Mexican territory. We know that many in the Church were once refugees. We clearly heard the call to be compassionate and charitable towards refugees that are escaping war, famine, and economic uncertainty in their homelands.
It was clear that Elder Utchdorf was moved by Elder Kearon's talk afterwards. Elder Uchtdorf talked about being a refugee prior to Elder Kearon's talk in General Conference.
However, many members couldn't help thinking about the ongoing political debate in America and in Europe about letting refugees into their homelands during his talk. Many of us were thinking about how Europe suffered repeated terrorist attacks because they allowed people to come into their country without asking any questions about who was coming in.
Elder Kearon didn't mention anything about opening the borders and letting as many refugees in as possible. His talk simply focused on the need for members of the Church to help the refugees. He explicitly stated in this talk that his desire was to focus on refugees themselves and not on immigration policy or the debates over the definition of a refugee.
Yet, many members were torn between having compassion for these refugees and the desire for security against terrorism by refugees coming from certain parts of the world. Clearly, the hot topics of immigation, terrorism, and other issues came to mind to some people when they heard this talk even when Elder Kearon explicitly stated that he would be avoiding these issues.
Correctly or incorrectly, some people got the impression that we should sacrifice our desire for safety and security in the name of compassion. Many of us have a legitimate concern about sacrificing security for compassion by opening up our borders to people who wish to do us harm. The United States government, through both the FBI and DHS, have admitted that we have no way to verify who is coming into our country. Many members of the Church want to help the refugees, but they have a legitimate concern about their safety not being compromised while helping others.
We fully acknowledge that not every refugee is a terrorist bent on hurting as many as possible. Refugees do flee from all parts of the world to come to places of safety. Not all of refugees come from the Middle East. But some of the terrorists did come into Europe during the large wave of refugees who came from the Middle East last summer. And this fact certainly is still a presence in many people's minds.
Its clear that the recent events in Europe have affected some people's reception of Elder Kearon's talk. Under different circumstances or had the recent terror attacks not occurred, the response to his talk would have been more universally accepted. Instead, many people felt conflicted about his talk. Many debates erupted on social media sites about the issue of compassion versus security.
I don't know how to resolve the conflict between the call for compassion and the legitimate desire for personal safety while helping others. I don't know what the answer to that problem is. I felt this conflict while I listened to his talk. I confess to having participated in these online debates on various social media platforms.
I have been reflecting on this inner conflict and thinking about the points raised by both sides. I decided to write this post to ask the readers for solutions on this conflict. I don't want a debate. I want answers. I want to be Christlike but I also want to protect myself and others at the same time.
How can members of the Church balance their desire for compassion and safety? Is such a balance possible?