I’ll never forget where I was when the towers fell that awful day on 9/11.
I was 23 years old and the images of falling bodies in New York, of a burning building at the Pentagon, and of an empty field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed left an indelible image on my heart and soul.
I came of age in the era of 9/11. I remember the resolve President George W. Bush had, standing on the rubble at Ground Zero, and declaring to the world that we’d hunt down those responsible for the massacre of our fellow citizens.
Today, 20 years later, there is another indelible image I cannot shake. The desperate, brave Afghan citizens clinging to the fuselage of our C-17s as they take off from Hamad Karzai airport, clinging to slipping hope that they may escape the cruel iron rule of the Taliban.
Americans of good will are going to debate whether we should have completely withdrawn our forces from Afghanistan or left a modest presence in place. I firmly believe the latter, that a contingent of a few thousand troops, like we have in other places around the world, would have kept a modicum of stability in the country and protected the NGOs and other humanitarian work.
USA TODAY's opinion newsletter: Get the best insights and analysis delivered to your inbox.
But regardless of where you are on this debate, we can all agree that the way we withdrew was both a logistical failure and the source of national shame. That the president ignored military leaders and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle who warned of a looming catastrophe will forever haunt his legacy.
Now, however, our priority must be to expedite the removal of thousands of American citizens in Afghanistan and then we must prioritize the removal of the tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who risked their lives, for 20 years, and fought alongside us and helped serve our mission.
We made promises to these people, who came alongside our brave American soldiers with a bravery of their own, providing logistical support and crucial intelligence.
The easier path would be to believe the hollow promises of the Taliban, a regime known for their barbarism and cruelty, especially to women and children. But already, outside of the capital Kabul, there are reports of door-to-door raids, executions and women being sold as sex slaves to Taliban leaders. We know how the Taliban will treat them. And the blood of those who came alongside us will be on our hands if we fail to act.
Regardless of your feelings on 20 years of war in Afghanistan, whether you think we never should have invaded or you think we should have stayed there forever or if you are somewhere in between, we can agree that those who served our mission, at great sacrifice to themselves, deserve the protection of resettlement in the United States.
Afghans helped to keep us safe
This is not about changing immigration policy. America must have a strong border and cannot welcome every desperate soul. We should rigorously vet those who are allowed entrance into the United States. And yet, what would it say if we turned our backs on those who were crucial to us defeating terrorism and keeping America safe?
To welcome those who first welcomed us 20 years ago, who helped us hunt down the enemy who attacked us on 9/11 is simple gratitude.
This is especially important for Christians, whose lives are to be marked by thankfulness and generosity, by keeping our promises.
In Matthew 5, Jesus told his followers about the importance of keeping our word, "Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one."
Christian organizations provide aid
This is why some of the loudest voices both criticizing Biden’s poorly executed withdrawal plan and calling for safe and expedited passage of Afghans are Christian voices, working through organizations committed to caring for and welcoming these refugees when they arrive on our shores.
My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a history of advocating and caring for people fleeing terror. In 1975, the SBC passed a resolution urging the U.S. government to resettle Vietnamese boat people.
Ten years later, we passed another, marking this and urging SBC churches to continue to welcome more than 12,000 resettled refugees. And in 2016, the SBC passed a resolution urging the resettlement of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. What’s more, our disaster relief arm works with local churches to serve refugees and place them in welcoming communities.
The SBC is one of several evangelical organizations committing to applying the gospel to the most vulnerable, who stand ready to help the Christian community welcome those fleeing terror. We’ve done this before and we can do it again.
Afghans helped us so we could hunt the terrorists who killed our fellow citizens. To abandon them, to fail to expedite their safe removal, is to not only consign them to enslavement and even death in a new Taliban regime, but it is also to express the utmost ingratitude and betrayal of our word.
Daniel Darling is senior vice president of communications at National Religious Broadcasters and the author of several books, including "A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good." Follow him on Twitter: @dandarling
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Afghan refugees need American Christians to step forward to help