Friday, November 20, 2015

You Don't Have to Live Near a Refugee

I don’t do this as a matter of practice or principle.  Politics and religion, man!  I grew up in the church.  I was taught from my earliest years that it is good to treat people well and evil to treat them poorly.  It was pretty easy to understand from the Bible that God expects us to get along and do nice things for each other.  My intent in writing this piece is not to debate religion.  In fact, if you get hot about this and want to go all crazy on my comments section you're probably missing the point (and will be sorely disappointed).

Likely no one in my intended audience will ever read this post.  You might ask why I go ahead and post it anyway.  This is part of my narrative.  My feelings on this and related matters are complicated.  Complicated, but clear to me.  I am not confused in my understanding of the Bible.  I am conflicted over how Christianity is practiced in the modern world.  Not confused...conflicted.

These days I am continually baffled by the cognitive dissonance that reverberates through American Christendom.  I’ve seen YouTube videos that teach that as a Christian, if you’re not arming yourself (the preacher in the video is target shooting an AR-15) that you are not doing your Christian duty to protect your family.  I’ve heard people I once respected say that poor people don’t deserve their help and that “yes, God said give to the poor and needy, but my government has no right to legislate how much.”  I don't understand the attitudes and politics of most of my Christian friends when my understanding of God's will has less right to bear arms and more love for my neighbors.

I’m saddened by the greedy and heartless attitudes that have crept into the church.  It has been befouled by modernity and capitalist values.  I even had one friend from my childhood who continually argues that “only Christ and capitalism can save America.”  He goes on to shoehorn Jesus into capitalism and translate scriptures for me in ways I think are somewhat blasphemous.  He is a paid gospel preacher.

After Friday he posted on his facebook wall a tirade comparing Islam to Christianity and it paints ALL Muslims as evil and ALL Christians as good.  He ends with this:

“In short, when one follows Christ and the teachings of the New Testament, you get intact families, good citizens, honest workers, faithful spouses, generous givers, kind people…”

Oddly enough I have to disagree.  In theory this statement is true, but my boots-on-the-ground observations don’t support it.  Christian families are dysfunctional and sometimes broken.  Christians aren’t necessarily any better citizens than average--and sometimes use their Christianity to avoid doing the right things.  I have seen plenty of Christian workers that grumble and shirk responsibility while their worldly counterparts outshine them.  And it’s been my experience that worldly organizations far outgive the church.  Kindness is starkly absent in my experience of the church.

I have a few observations to make based on my understanding of the written Word of God.  I’m not professing to be an expert.  I’m not preaching from a holier-than-thou pulpit.  This is just my take on the current refugee dialogue.  I may borrow snippets from others, but in general this is just my take on the situation.

Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  I always took this verse, along with the passage about the birds and flowers not worrying about how they are clothed as a reassurance from Jesus that if I have faith and put my trust in him that regardless of what happens to me on this earth that I will forget suffering in the next world.  That kind of gives us a free pass to do the right thing.  We may suffer on earth for doing right, but we have to look beyond temporal boundaries.

So if I let fear rule my life—fear of harm from my brown-skinned neighbors, fear of bedraggled refuges, fear of government, and fear of my less well-to-do fellow Kentuckians—and it prevents me from helping my neighbors then my faith is weak. 

In Leviticus 19:33-34 it reads: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and  you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."  Again, the ending seems to say you might think it’s better to follow your gut, but TRUST ME, I’m God.

A few friends have commented that we already have a problem with homelessness and illegal immigrants, and that we can’t afford to take on more welfare cases.  In regards to the Syrian refugees I don't see any evidence that shows these people don't want to work.  They're fleeing war and oppression.  What really bugs me about these kinds of statements is that they reflect a complete blindness to the issues that they cite as a reason to turn our backs on even more people.  God never promises that doing the right thing will be easy or bear no cost.

I look at it this way: I’d rather have Syrian refugees living next door to me than the druggies, pillheads and thieves that live in my community.  And I have a feeling I could have less contentious conversations with foreigners than some of my radical right-wing acquaintances.  I don’t fear brown people.  I have no reason to.  And I don’t want them to fear or revile me.  From a Christian perspective I should love them just because they exist.

I could go on.  I’ve been wrestling with this post for a week and I know I’m not saying all the things I wanted to say, or making my case as clearly as I would like.  In short I want to end with a final Biblical passage.  I think it speaks for itself.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.   And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,   I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’   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.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46