Remember this picture? It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? This picture of a young boy from Syria that had drowned while fleeing to Europe went viral, and for one brief, shining moment most of the people of the larger world seemed to care about helping these people. I wrote a post about it, asking if you can see the face of Jesus on this boy.
Now instead of looking for Jesus in these people, we look for terrorists. Why is that? The attackers in Paris have largely been identified as French nationals and Belgians, but it seems that two of them worked their way through Greece and Serbia into Europe blending with the millions of refugees fleeing the Islamic State and the fighting in Syria. So naturally, I guess, there’s utter panic.
We’re good at panic. We’re good at being afraid. Remember about this time last year when Ebola was going to kill us all? Remember the days after 9/11 that gave us the Patriot Act and black site torture bases?
President Obama has promised that the United States will take up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. Some folks didn’t like that before, many more don’t like it now. The reasoning behind the current panic is that more ISIS terrorists will sneak into the USA under cover of the refugee program and initiate the same kind of attacks that happened in Paris one week ago today.
Look, I can’t blame people for being scared or frightened. Like it or not, for most of us it’s part of who we are and the thought of getting caught up in something like what happened last week is enough to give most people pause, and to paralyze others. I guess I’ve found myself looking over my shoulder a bit over the past week too. It’s almost instinct.
I can fault people for letting fear take over their basic humanity though. What has happened to us as a people? Our national anthem proudly proclaims that we are “the home of the brave.” After anything like this happens, our leaders come out and say something along the lines of “America will not be intimidated. We will not be bullied into betraying our values as Americans.”
Yet that is exactly what is happening.
America, let’s talk. The U.S. refugee admissions program is one of the most strictly monitored ways of entering our country. Before you can even think about stepping onto US soil, you have to apply to the United Nations, and you have to pass their program before you can even get into our system, which is highly scrutinized by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, along with other agencies. It can take from 18-24 months before you’re even approved.
Is it perfect? No. Is there a possibility that it might be exploited? Sure. The point is though that if you’re a terrorist and you want to come into the United States, there are much easier ways. Back when I was getting my degree in Criminal Justice and taking classes on terrorism and homeland security, we knew and we were taught that the visa program is far more vulnerable than the refugee entrance program, and this was in 2006. Unfortunately many security experts still feel that way today, nine years later. Clamping down on refugees isn’t going to stop a terrorist that really wants to get here, but it’s going to put a lot of vulnerable people out in the cold. (The NY Daily News did a short write up on the refugee admissions program here.)
But setting all of that aside, how are we to respond to this as Christians? The words of Christ are pretty explicit in Matthew 25:
“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
I don’t know how we as Christians can read those words and slam the door in the faces of the needy, no matter what religion they are, no matter what the color of their skin is, no matter how much we are afraid. But that’s what’s happened, isn’t it? We’ve given into a culture of fear in this country.
My friends, I haven’t seen the fear machine revved up this high since the days after 9/11. Why is it so high? Well, because there’s an election at stake and fear is an extremely good election strategy. You see, you might not have anything to offer that the other candidate or party doesn’t. You might not really have cohesive vision on how to govern the country, but if you can make people afraid of what will happen if they don’t vote for you or agree with your position, then you’re golden.
Politicians are more than happy to exploit fear to gain status. Then that fear brings with it a whole lot of other baggage: racism, xenophobia, ignorance, and anger. You make otherwise reasonable people afraid, and all of the sudden they start to give up their values and even their freedom a little bit at a time, as long as you promise to keep them safe. Maybe George Orwell was on to something:
But as sad as I am about our country and it’s politics, I feel even worse about my brothers and sisters in Christ giving into this. It seems like when the Bible speaks about homosexuality it’s the inerrant Word of God that MUST be followed. When it speaks about helping others, it’s merely a suggestion or something that only really religious people should do.
Christian Fundamentalism is confusing, isn’t it?
The argument goes something like this: “Jesus would not have us compromise our safety in order to serve him or serve others.” My friends, if you believe this or any form of it, then I’m sorry, but I think you’ve missed the whole point.
Serving Christ and serving others in His name has gotten people killed for 2000 years. Not once does Christ ever promise that the life of a Christian, the life of following him in His Way will be easy, or safe. In fact, he suggests the opposite.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
That’s also from Matthew, chapter 16 this time. Let’s take a look at John 16:
For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.
So Jesus is flat out telling the disciples that they’re gonna get killed. The church holds that all of them were eventually martyred, save John. Peter was crucified. Paul was beheaded. In more modern times Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung by the Nazis after helping Jews (refugees) flee Germany during WWII.
Folks, Jesus never once promises that following him is going to be easy or safe, but we’re called to do it anyway just as all of the men and women who served him and died for it did. We’re not special in that regard.
These people who are fleeing Syria are not our enemies. They are everyday people just like you and me who are trying to keep their families safe. What kind of example are we setting for the world if we slam the door in their faces? Even France herself is going to continue taking refugees!
What a witness it would be for the Church here in America to stand up and boldly say “Yes! We will continue to accept these people in love and in Christian hospitality!” What a statement it would be about how the power of love and Christ can overcome fear, racism, hate, and anger!
Instead we sit and cower. Showing that not only can we be intimidated, but that the attack doesn’t even have to happen on the same side of the world and we’re out for the count.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the goal of terrorism.
But we don’t have to submit to that. We can overcome fear and even death should it come to it, because we know Christ and are the Image Bearers of The Father.
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.