A Flock of Sheep: Iceland Responds to Syrian Refugee Crisis

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

A herd of sheep on the road.

This is the famous parable Jesus told about the sheep and the goats.  Noteworthy is the fact that the righteous in the parable did not know that they were behaving in an exemplary “Christian” way.  They were committed to helping others for the sake of helping others.  They had no agenda.  They did not identify as any particular group.  They did not seek to convert anyone. They were not trying to establish a Christian nation.  They did not seem to define themselves by creating a litany of sinful faults in others.

Iceland has a population of 329,100 and an area of 103,000 km. (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Temperatures range from the lows of 26 degrees Fahrenheit in January to a high of almost 60 degrees in July. No one’s idea of a tropical Paradise. Iceland has a left and right multi-party system–  in other words, whether they like it or not the right and the left must work together.  Iceland has no standing army.  In 2013, it was ranked as the 13th most developed country in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index. Renewable geothermal and hydropower provide around 85% of the nation’s total primary energy consumption. article-2306868-0297FFB1000005DC-86_964x580Iceland expects to be energy-independent by 2050. The country’s health care system is one of the best in the world, ranked 15th by the World Health Organization. Traditional Icelandic cuisine includes skyr hakari (cured shark), cured ram, sheep heads, and black pudding (pork blood and oatmeal)- a cuisine that would not hostile to so-called “foodies.”  And most interesting, Iceland has a population of 23 percent who identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, making Iceland among the top ten atheistic countries in the world.  While the official state relgion is Lutheran, the government remains a secular independent republic.

Recently, when the Icelandic Government said that it would take in only 50 Syrian refugees, the citizens raised a collective, “WHAT?”  With Europe experiencing the greatest influx of refugees since WWII, Icelandians knew they had to do better than that.  And so author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir created a facebook page entitled “Syria Calling.” Almost overnight, 12,000 Icelandians have pledged to open their homes to Syrians fleeing from the ongoing war in their homeland.

Some in the United States have offered a slightly different Christian approach to the Syrian refugee crisis.  In February, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), said that accepting Syrians would create a “federally funded jihadi pipeline” to the United States. In June, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called a hearing on the issue, arguing that terrorist groups might use refugee programs “to carry out attacks in Europe and America.” Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has warned that we have to be “very careful about who we let enter this country.”

Martin Luther King gave a stirring sermon in which he brought the Christian response down to the asking of one of two questions: the first, “What will happen to me if I help those who suffer?”; the other, “What will happen to the sufferer if I do not help?”

Icelandians are currently asking the second, and the world is better for it.


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