The Interests of Jesus
The news continues to be dominated by the Syrian refugee crisis. And, given our little church’s efforts (along with other churches and groups in our community) toward bringing a few families to Lethbridge, my time is increasingly being dominated by the same. I have found myself doing very odd things this week—things like speaking about our project on radio programs and being interviewed by television and newspaper reporters. Yesterday’s foray into the media world reminded me that there’s a reason why I prefer writing to speaking. You get a bit more time to think and measure your responses when you can hide behind a screen!
Nevertheless, these have been interesting experiences. Most of the questions have been fairly standard. Tell us about your initiative in Lethbridge. How did it get started? Who’s involved? What’s the timeline? How can others get involved? Describe the sponsorship process. What’s motivating you to do what you do? These are all fairly routine and easy enough to answer.
But there were a few that I received over the last few days, whether in an interview or comments on social media about things I had posted, that threw me for a bit of a loop. These questions sounded like this: What do you say to those who worry that we’re throwing open our doors to terrorists? Don’t you think that Canada has an obligation to look after its own citizens first? How do you think Canada’s economy could handle an influx of newcomers? One commenter online didn’t beat around the bush, saying quite baldly, We don’t want any Muslims here. Canada is a Christian nation!
Um, right. Well, why let the facts get in the way of an enthusiastic opinion, I suppose.
On the one hand, I (kind of) understand the anxiety. The last thing we need is some kind of hastily assembled national refugee policy that will ultimately prove unsustainable and shortsighted. And, yes, it is of course essential that refugees go through the appropriate background checks. As Neil McDonald put it in his article this morning, we cannot ignore the fact that “Syrian refugees are emanating from the world’s current epicentre of ethno-religious violence, and they require screening.” Nobody is well-served by a reactionary explosion of poorly channeled good will.
But it felt so peculiar to be answering these kinds of questions in the first place. What do I know about the foreign policies of nation states? Why would anyone care about my opinions on how an influx of refugees would affect our national economy? How should I know how many refugees Canada can reasonably handle? Why am I being asked about Canada at all?
The dissonance was, of course, due to the fact that I was (trying) to respond as a citizen of two kingdoms. As a citizen of a nation called “Canada,” yes, I should think about things like the economy, national security, and the potential for religious intolerance and conflict. But as a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, my answers look and sound very different. They use different metrics and rely on different logics.
As a citizen of Christ and his kingdom, my answer to the question, “What if you’re letting terrorists in?!” will not appeal to statistics about religiously motivated violence and global conflict, but to statements like,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
(I might also mention that there are ‘terrorists’ born in places like Canada and the USA and Europe, too…)
As a citizen of Christ and his kingdom, my response to questions like, “What if they come and take jobs away from ‘hard-working’ Canadians?” or statements like, “We need to take care of our own before looking after others!” will sound something like,
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
(I might also wonder aloud about how my interlocutor would feel about having the logic behind the question retroactively applied to his ancestors, who were once welcomed to Canada as strangers…)
As a citizen of Christ and his kingdom, my response to xenophobic statements about Muslims and Arabs, while not blind to global realities, is bound to wrestle with statements like,
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(I might also point out that very few of us appreciate being uncritically lumped together with the least savoury members of the groups to which we belong…)
Sounds pretty naive, I know. What can I say? It’s an unusual kingdom.
At any rate, the questions I have been asked about Canada this week have at least helped me to order things in my mind appropriately. They have reminded me that my default setting is not, “What will be best for Canada?” but “What responses do my identification with Christ and citizenship in his kingdom invite me into? Happily, I think there is often good deal of overlap between the latter and the former. And when there isn’t, I will trust that those whose task is to look after the interests of Canada will do what is best with questions like the ones above about national security and the economy and whatever else. I will follow these issues with interest and contribute where appropriate. I am a Canadian, certainly, and very grateful to be one. But this identity is not my primary one.
The “interests of Canada” may or may not be well-served by what I hope will be a broader and more determined effort to welcome Syrian refugees. I happen to think that they will. But even if I should turn out to be wrong about that, I am reminded that the interests of Jesus are not synonymous with the interests of Canada (or any other nation). And I am (or at least am trying to be) more interested in the interests of Jesus than the interests of lesser kings and smaller kingdoms.