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There Aren’t Two Sides.

By January 5, 2017 23 Comments

by Kate Kooyman

“…ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate.”

Sometimes there just aren’t two sides.

Or perhaps there are two sides, it’s just that one is wrong.

My job is to talk about “controversial” issues in churches. I explain how refugees are vetted — a robust and extremely selective process that can take years, that involves up to five federal agencies, that simply has not failed to screen out those who wish the U.S. harm. When I tell people this, often someone says, “But that’s not what they tell us on the news.” Someone says, “I think you need to check your facts.” Someone says, “Well, there are two sides to every story.”

But the thing is, this story doesn’t have two sides.

There is the truth: that refugees who are resettled in a new country (any new country, not just the U.S.) are just 1% of the world’s refugees — the luckiest of the lucky to be selected. That the U.S. has the most robust screening process — years long, up to five federal agencies, biometric iris scans — of any country in the world. That many refugees spend more than a decade in a camp, a temporary community where they likely can’t work, where their kids likely can’t go to school, where there is no chance to build a life. That most refugees are children. There is the truth.

“The other side” of that story is a lie. “We have no idea who these people are, where they come from” is a lie. That Syrians are “definitely, in many cases, ISIS-aligned” is a lie. That “Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country” is a lie. “Lots young males, poorly vetted”: lie.

I am alarmed by this. I am alarmed to be so frequently defending the plight of refugees to a group of people whose Study Bibles are replete with the command to “welcome the stranger.” I am alarmed that these are people who likely gave their own children Biblical names, the name of someone who probably crossed a border to find safety, food, or a future. I am alarmed that these Christians’ own blessed Savior was himself a refugee, and once told his sheep, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

I am alarmed that we are people who proclaim that “the truth will set you free,” and then we cling tightly to the lie that there are two sides to every story.

There are not two sides to this story.

But perhaps there are two ways to respond. We can insist on fear, falsehoods, and faithlessness. Or we can open our hearts, our churches, our communities in welcome; we can advocate to our lawmakers to protect our refugee resettlement funding and programming as a sacred obligation. We can demand that our politicians speak truth, especially about the world’s most vulnerable people, and cry foul when they lie. We can be people who put our faith into practice.

I think that there are many good, Christian folks who have been lied to about refugees, and I think we have an obligation to tell them the truth. Our witness is at stake. Our faithfulness is at stake. Perhaps our very experience of Christ in our midst, the one who hides in the face of the stranger, is at stake. If you ask me, those stakes are much higher than what we give up by risking our precarious “unity” that insists that every issue has two equally valid perspectives.

Sometimes, there are not two sides.

For more information about how refugees are vetted, check out these links:

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • abookchick says:


    If you can believe it, I have seen articles that say Jesus was not a refugee.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Powerful. I appreciate your dedication and I know I can trust what you write as the truth. Thanks so much, Kate. The best to you and your “boys” in 2017. Keep up your good work!

  • Shannon Hollemans says:

    Well said, Kate.

  • Belinda Geertsma says:

    Preach it, Sister!

  • Daniel Meeter says:


  • Ruth Boven says:

    Yes! Thanks, Kate!


    This is a wonderful, powerful statement of the Christian obligation to give hospitality and welcome the stranger. This is also a powerful statement on the importance of being a courageous truth teller. Thank you Kate! Bob De Vries

  • Dana says:

    I love everything you write. But wow, this one is such a home run. Thank you for being tireless in speaking truth!! I am so grateful for someone who can condense so many of my feelings and thoughts into an easily shared article. 🙂

  • Michael Weber says:

    Hear! Hear! May your tribe increase!

  • Karl says:

    Thanks, Kate!

  • Susan Sytsma Bratt says:

    Thank you for this piece, Kate! I serve a church in Dallas, TX that has a robust ministry with refugees. Our state resettles a large number of refugees, and many come to Dallas. These lies have disrupted an important national program that has run well and without any issue since the Reagan era. People have forgotten that and allowed this post-truth world we live in to reign. Also, thank you for your work for the CRC.

    Indeed, there are not two sides to this story, and I choose welcome, and now advocacy.

  • Mary Buitendorp says:

    A wonderful article. Thanks for getting the truth out!

  • Thank you. So well put. I work with refugee youth, and am very thankful that while you are hearing from people who have believed the lies, I am hearing from others who want to welcome and love these beloved strangers. Of course, many of these people aren’t Christians.

  • Dan Walcott says:

    Very well said, thanks.

  • Wendy McFadden says:

    Thank you, Kate!

  • Douglas Kindschi says:

    Excellent. Thanks, Kate.

  • Christopher Giofreda says:

    Thank you for the post. I have to say that it does trouble me a bit when you use Christianity as a basis for social policy. You open up the possibility that someone will use the faith for their own political purposes, and these will not always be progressive. I’d let every refugee in tomorrow, but as a Christian I try to remember that I can’t silence people because their point of view upsets me. If you want a thriving participatory democracy, then you will inevitably suffer less intelligent points of view. I am confident that you will engage in the hard work of helping people address their paranoia. False equivalence may be a thing you hate, and I do too, but I wouldn’t let anyone dismiss you because of your own heuristics, so I thought I would give your opponents the same courtesy. Take care.

  • Brenda I Mott says:

    I have worked with many of these families for years, I understand the trials and tribulations they have gone through. I have held their babies in my arms and loved them as my own as I have watched these parents grow and change their lives for the better. I like to think I have faith in our system but at the same time I know it failed so many. I pray each day our country finds a better way to make this transition quicker and less painful for those deserving families.

  • Jason Brown says:

    It wasn’t like Trump made any of this a secret during his campaign. I wonder how many of my Christian friends who are now openly decrying this ban, voted for Trump? Make no mistake about it, Christians, or people who claim to be, put this man and his ideological puppet masters in office. One issue voting has come home to roost. How many Syrian kids will die so that we can defund Planned Parenthood? Part of me is glad this is happening because the next four years might be God’s way of telling us we, as Christians, need to reevaluate what is important when selecting leaders.

  • Willie Cooke says:

    One problem is that liberals are adamant that the United States is NOT is Christian country. They say it is bigoted to make such a claim. They say basing public policy on Christian religious values is a violation of the separation of Church and State. They mock and belittle the teachings of Christianity, and attack Christians who profess their faith in public. But at the same time, anything said against Islam is hate speech. That is the world we live in.

    As far as the situation of refugees, it is an unsolvable tragedy. We live in a fallen world that will continue to get worse until the return of Christ. There is no human solution to “fix” it. There will always be far more people who are deserving of refugee status than the U.S. could possibly accommodate. There is literally a BILLION people that would come here if they were able to. We take in refugees every year, but it will never be enough to eliminate the need.

    That being said, I support organizations that seek to help people have better lives in the countries they currently live in. We can’t bring half the world to us, but we can take part of our “world” give it to them. Even though I realize it will never “solve” the problem, it is what I am supposed to do to help others while I am in this flesh.

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