I can hardly watch any news channel for more than 10 minutes these days. It’s as if opposing views have dug in their heels and are entrenched on one side of our polarizing social and political climate or the other. The polarization only increases when an assumed Christian position becomes enmeshed with a particular political view. My fear is that for Christians, we have allowed this political coloring of our worldview to short-circuit some of our most sacred ideals.
As a pastor, here is the question I keep coming back to: “What am I called to do?” When a person or group are being maligned or mistreated for whatever reason, how does my response reveal the way I have been taught to live out my faith? When vulnerable, powerless people cannot find relief in their circumstance, how does my faith inform my response, regardless of my political view? So, in light of these questions I continue to wrestle with personally and in conversations with some folks who agree, and plenty who disagree, here are a few things I humbly offer for us to consider:
We are called to be peacemakers. This goes for inside and outside the church. We are exhorted in Ephesians 4:2-3 to always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. Several times in Paul’s letters to churches, he pleads with those embattled with each other to work out their conflicts so that their light in the world would not be diminished. I have been so disheartened by the way words have been used as weapons in social media and online platforms. I can’t even express how strongly I believe that the apostle Paul would be feverishly blogging, preaching and challenging us to bind ourselves to each other in peace today.
As Jesus travels toward Jerusalem in Luke 19, he laments: How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. I think his sadness is twofold: they will miss out out on peace pouring into their lives and flowing out into the lives of others, because they have become blind to what peace really looks like. We of all people should understand this way to peace, but who is going to miss out on experiencing that peace because we have become blind to what real, tangible peace looks like?
We are called to welcome and care for the stranger. This includes the vulnerable orphan and widow, as well as our perceived enemy. It doesn’t mean we roll out the welcome mat for obvious danger to overtake us. But, we have all at some time labeled a group or person as our antagonist when in reality, it’s just that we have allowed our differences to become divisive.
Over and over again in scripture, God challenges his people to hit the reset button on who we say is out that he says we should welcome in. There are two incredible women in Jesus’ family tree who were strangers and outsiders. Rahab the prostitute was a Canaanite who likely ran a brothel and came from a people group who were a source of constant conflict with the Israelites. Yet, she took an enormous risk to hide Israelite spies, and helped them escape, which basically saved their lives. Ruth came from a family that worshipped other gods and when her Jewish husband died, she was told to go back where she came from, but then was welcomed because of her loyalty to his family. I can’t shake the similarity with those Iraqi translators and support staff who have risked their lives to help the U.S. in combat, and who now need to be welcomed to the safety of U.S. soil.
In the early church, Peter initially would not welcome the Roman officer Cornelius because he was considered a pagan worshipper, yet God speaks to Cornelius’ heart directly and assures him his prayers and offerings on behalf of the poor have not gone unnoticed. And Jesus kind of shocks his listeners when he throws down the challenge that by welcoming or rejecting strangers, we could very well be welcoming or rejecting him–because he identifies with the one who needs help, not the one who wants a pat on the back for having more undeserved power or resources.
We are called to do something. Too often, the Christian pilgrimage has become a static exercise in going nowhere. But, believers in the first century were called people of The Way for a reason. They made extending peace a way of life toward everyone they met, even though they were often in danger and even gave up their lives for it. God invites people to come to him when they are weary and burdened, restores them, and then tells them to go so that others will also be invited to come. It breaks his heart when we think it’s our job to edit the guest list.
So, doing nothing and arguing that millions of innocent, endangered people are not our problem seems in direct conflict with God’s heart. The scriptural opportunities to be a peacemaker and extend welcome in this humanitarian crisis are everywhere and none of them can be categorized by any political leaning: give financially, offer resources, acknowledge hidden prejudice towards Muslims, break bread with people who believe differently, advocate for the foreigner, the child and the oppressed, be a good neighbor by helping a refugee get their life started in the U.S. Doing something may look different for each of us, but doing something in any way that demonstrates God’s unfailing love is the way we are called to live.