Few issues in the past year have been as polarizing as the Syrian refugee crisis.
Millions of people displaced by the Syrian civil war have been traveling to the European Union seeking asylum. In some countries, they were welcomed with open arms and recognized as helpless victims of political turmoil happening in their homelands. In other countries, they are treated, essentially, as ISIS until proven otherwise.
After the terrorist attacks in France, Muslim refugees who had barely just arrived immediately faced the stigma of terrorism unfairly attached to their religion. After the attack at the Brussels airport, leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump doubled down on his infamous call to ban Muslims from entering the United States for fear that Islamic terrorism would cross our borders and threaten our security.
Muslims all over the world face prejudice and political turmoil simply for being Muslim, which is difficult even if you're not desperately fleeing from your home country.
In America, the Mormon church is making a dedicated effort to welcome refugees with kindness and compassion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as Mormonism) was founded in the 1800s with the belief that it was a restoration of the original church of Jesus Christ. There are over 15 million Mormons and the church is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States.
Mormons believe, more than anything, in sticking to the exact teachings of Jesus Christ, which mostly involved things like being kind to other people and having empathy for strangers. Teachings that — when it comes to the treatment and rejection of Muslim refugees — often seem to get ironically lost.
Through a new campaign called I Was a Stranger, the church is encouraging Mormons to help refugees get settled in their new neighborhoods.
"Look around your neighborhood, school, workplace, andother places you frequent for those who might need your help and love," say the campaign's guiding principles. After all, in the Bible, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
The I Was a Stranger initiative asks Mormon women (due to their more traditional roles in Mormon communities) to simply offer what they can, whether it be a meal, a place to stay, or even a simple act of friendship. The campaign encourages LDS members to have empathy for the difficult journey refugees take to get to their new lives, as well as for the culture shock many refugees experience, and to use that empathy to be kind and loving to refugees as they build their lives anew.
The campaign even set up a hotline in the United States for people to call and learnabout opportunities to serve refugees in their communities.
While based strongly in the teachings of Jesus, the I Was a Stranger initiative reaches across religious barriers to spread a message of hope.
Regardless of faith, when people reach out to help others and build community, that's a pretty inspiring thing. In a time when religion is often used to divide people and turn them against each other, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' decision to help all people, regardless of religion, just goes to show how religion can be used for good to make the world a better place for everyone.
At the end of the day, we all have a lot more in common with each other than we think; we all want a happy and safe life for ourselves and our families, and we all want to be treated fairly.
"Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side."
Sounds like a Bible verse, right?
It's actually from the Quran.