The last couple of weeks have been discouraging. That says more about Americans—and a good many people who claim to follow Jesus—than it does about terrorists and radical Islam.
Terrorists shot up and bombed parts of Paris, and all hell broke loose on this side of the Atlantic. Presidential candidates who most vigorously court evangelical Christians talked about shutting down mosques, suggested creating a database of Muslims in America, called Syrian refugees “rabid dogs” and recommended giving Christian refugees preferential immigration status. And their polling numbers went up.
Yes, we live in a dangerous, disconcerting world. Unfortunately, many of our sisters and brothers appear ready to sacrifice their Christian principles, Baptist birthright and historic national values upon an altar to security.
We’re facing a crisis of faith as well as courage. The short-term winners of that crisis may well be politicians and pundits who manipulate and exploit fear for their own gain. The ultimate winners will be the terrorists themselves, as they watch our society succumb to trepidation and turn in on itself.
Now is the time to think clearly, follow Jesus, remain true to our values and be brave.
You don’t have to do much research or ponder long to realize politicians hyperventilating over the Syrian refugees are either (a) preying on fear or (b) not all that smart.
We’ve considered resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees, victims of dictator Bashar al Assad and civil war. It’s an idea that sounded not only reasonable, but compassionate, just a few months ago, when images of that drowned preschooler who washed up on the Greek seashore flooded our hearts and minds.
The protocols for admitting refugees require a waiting period of 18 months to two years—time to verify identities and vet qualifications. And yet, by the sounds emanating from statehouses and Washington, you’d think they’ll be blowing up a theater or restaurant near you next week
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Meanwhile, the visa waiver program—already in place—allows citizens of 38 countries to fly to the United States with only a passport and stay 90 days. No waiting. Last year, 20 million people entered our country through this program. Syria is not on that list, but France and Belgium are. Most of the terrorists who wreaked havoc on Paris were citizens of France and Belgium. Only one was listed on the U.S. No Fly list. They could’ve come here on the visa waiver program the week before, but more people are more afraid of the Syrian refugees who must wait at the national gate at least 18 months.
When we let fear override our ability to gather information and think critically, we allow politicians and pundits to play us for chumps. And, ironically—as a comparison of the visa waiver program and the refugee-resettlement process reveals—they don’t make us safer.
Christ & culture
We need to conduct a serious, biblical discussion about how our faith should inform our behavior, even—no, especially—in times like these. Callers, emailers and posters on all kinds of Internet sites lately indicated security trumps faithfulness to the Bible and Jesus’ teachings. This poses at least two serious questions:
First, are security and faithfulness mutually exclusive? Can we affirm national actions that make the world safer but also ensure the safety and protection of the innocent and vulnerable, including Muslims as well as Christians? Do we posses the wisdom, courage and imagination to discover and demand solutions that hold evildoers accountable but refuse to sweep ordinary people all over the Middle East and elsewhere into their net?
Second, even if the answer to the first question is yes, what is our Christian responsibility? Jesus affirmed the second half of the Great Commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he defined “neighbor” as one from the most despised group on earth. If he were telling the accompanying parable today, he would talk to Christians about the Good Muslim. Faithfulness to Jesus requires risk and demands thinking of Muslim children and mothers as tenderly as we think of our own. Jesus demands we consider the weak and vulnerable as reverently as we consider him.
We still may wage war with militants. But God help us if we refuse to show compassion, if not Christian love, to the noncombatants and mercy to the persecuted, whatever their faith.
As we’ve said in this space before, Baptists come from good stock. Our ancestors numbered among the persecuted on both side of the Atlantic in the 17th century. They understood what it was like to be a religious minority, and they became great champions of religious liberty, not merely for Baptists and other Christians, but for people of all faiths and no faith. Our heritage should give us courage to stand up to prevailing culture—sometimes even in our own Sunday school classrooms—and advocate for justice and liberty on behalf of the victims of evil on every continent.
Americans—influenced by those Colonial Baptists and other free thinkers—share a similar birthright. We are children of the First Amendment, which guarantees all kinds of freedom, including religion, for everyone on these shores. We are the heirs of true patriots, who spilled blood fighting despots and protecting victims, not only to preserve our freedom but to preserve the principle of freedom and the actual gift of freedom on foreign soil. We desecrate the honor of our principled and gallant forebears if we do no less in our generation.
An astute observation rings down through the decades: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” May our generation refuse to undermine America’s greatness.