I have a bone to pick with Christians this morning. Not all Christians. Not even the majority of Christians in my (limited) circles. Not by a long shot. No, my concern is with a smaller subset of Christians that tend to make a disproportionate amount of noise. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Christian people about the Syrian refugee crisis. I’ve observed a lot of reaction and response from Christian people online. And I’ve noticed some of these Christian brothers and sisters buying into the fear and the hysteria that attempts to convince us that we need to keep our nation’s doors resolutely closed to refugees from this part of the world.
A few examples. I’ve noticed Christian brothers and sisters posting cartoons of a Trojan horse outside the gates of Europe with a sign saying “refugees” on the front and “ISIS” on the back. I’ve seen Christian brothers and sisters gravely posting articles about ISIS flags in Germany and about Muslim refugees throwing Christians off boats in the Mediterranean. I’ve had Christian brothers and sisters say things to me like, “Well, don’t you know that those refugees make more than our own senior citizens get on pension?!” Or, “I’ve seen pictures of refugees with mobile phones. [Insert knowing, condescending eyebrow raise] How desperate can they really be?” Or, “What about all those rich Arab Gulf States?! Why aren’t they taking in all these refugees? Why do they have to come to our country where we have such different values?” Or, “You know that this is all part of Islam’s plan to take over the world, right?” Or, “You Mennonites can get the hell out of our country and take that Muslim trash with you.”
(I’m not joking. How I wish I were).
Now, some of these specific comments are laughably absurd and are unworthy of response. But the general trend of fearful, reactionary bashing of refugees and, more particularly, Muslims by Christians is what concerns me, and it concerns me for a very specific reason. It’s not because I think that welcoming refugees from a hotspot of global violence will be gloriously trouble-free. It’s not because I am naïve about geopolitical global realities. It’s not even because I think that it’s impossible that “terrorists” might find ways to use the present refugee crisis for more nefarious ends.
No, my concern is very precise, and it is very specifically directed to Christians. If you’re a mostly secular person who couldn’t care much less what a dusty Jewish rabbi taught on a Palestinian hillside once upon a time, I’m not particularly concerned with what you post or say. If your worldview is unencumbered by any particular convictions about God or duty to neighbour, I’m not talking to you here. If self-interest is the main consideration that informs your views about life, then, fine, you can throw around whatever reactionary, fear-based propaganda you can find to prop up your cause. I don’t agree with you, but I can, I suppose, understand the protective logic that undergirds your desire to speak and share in these ways.
In sum, if you have no interest in Jesus or his teachings, then you can splash around the hysteria, the fear, and, all the anti-[insert threatening people group/category here] rhetoric you want.
But if you name Jesus as king? Well, then I’m sorry, Christian, but you don’t get to make that move.
And this is true no matter how many “yes, but’s” or “what if’s?” we can think of.
Even if all of the wildest and most imaginative prognostications that we encounter in conversation or online are true—even if the Syrian refugees at our door are actually a smokescreen for a frothing horde of Muslim terrorists hell-bent on the destruction of all that is good and true in the world, even if opening our doors will hasten the demise of Western civilization, even if there are only a few short steps from granting asylum to Syrian refugees to the widespread implementation of Sharia law, even if the welcome of desperate war-torn refugees somehow (inexplicably) means that we are ushering in certain death of all that we love and hold dear…
Even if all of this is (unimaginably) true, as Christians—as followers of Jesus—we live by a different script when it comes to what we’re supposed to do with the threat of bad people doing bad things. Jesus said a lot of weird things that are sometimes hard to make heads or tails of. But one thing Jesus wasn’t at all ambiguous about was how those who followed him were supposed to think about and treat their enemies. On this matter, he was painfully, uncomfortably, crystal clear.
Love them. Pray for them.
So, as Christians, there are certain things that we just don’t get to do.
We don’t get to hunt around for excuses for why we don’t need to include “those people” in the category of “neighbour.”
We don’t get to look for justifications for why it’s better to build a wall than open a door.
We don’t get to label people in convenient and self-serving ways in order to convince ourselves that we don’t have to care for them.
We don’t get to speak and act as if fear is a more pragmatic and useful response than love.
We don’t get to complain that other people aren’t doing the things that we don’t want to do.
We don’t get to reduce the gospel of peace and life and hope to a business-as-usual kind of political pragmatism with a bit of individual salvation on top.
We don’t get to ask, as our default question, “How can I protect myself and my way of life?” but “How does the love of Christ constrain and liberate me in this particular situation?”
And all of this is, of course, for the simple reason that as Christians, we are convinced that ultimately evil is not overcome by greater force or mightier weapons or higher walls or more entrenched divisions between “good people” and “bad people,” but by costly, self-sacrificial love. The kind of love that God displayed for his friends and his enemies on a Roman cross.
So please understand, Christian, that how you speak about people and the things that you share online matters. It matters a great deal. Please understand that you’re on a team that is supposed to play the game by different rules. And please understand that Jesus of Nazareth will be no ally of yours when you attempt to make arguments about how the (real or imagined) badness of other people means that we have no obligation to them. As followers of this king, as citizens of this kingdom, we don’t get to make that move.
UPDATE: The amount of interest/feedback/affirmation/anger that this post has received has been rather remarkable to me. Many of the more negative comments seem to traverse rather well-worn paths on this comment thread. So, before commenting, I warmly invite you to read the follow up post that I wrote in an attempt to clear up a few misconceptions that have appeared with some regularity below. Thanks.