Many commentators and pundits are writing articles and issuing statements of how they fear this new administration is eroding the basic fabric of our democracy. I share some of their fears. But, I also fear that the basic fabric of the Christian faith is eroding before our eyes. I hear talk of “Jesus” and “Christianity” but what follows looks nothing like Jesus, and resembles nothing of the faith that he came to bring us.
It’s not just “America First” that concerns me—though it certainly does. But, it’s the constant drumbeat of we will only take care of our own before we even think of caring for someone else that scares me to death. Starbucks offers to hire 10,000 refugees, and people go nuts. We will handcuff elderly women and small children in airports because “inconveniencing” them is preferable to us being in any danger. Maybe we’ll think of taking in refugees, but only if they are Christian.
Jesus’ life was defined by being sacrificial. He gave of himself, and asked us to give of our selves. As Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus emptied himself that he might humble himself to live among us as one of us—even to the point of death. Before Paul launches into the Christ Hymn, he precedes it by saying, “Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus emptied himself. And we are to do the same. The faith of Jesus is not about us putting ourselves ahead of everyone else. No, Jesus’ faith is the opposite. We are to empty ourselves in order that others may go first. And, sometimes that means putting ourselves in harm’s way. Sometimes that means so aligning with the persecuted, that we become persecuted too.
Now, I get it, it’s hard to build a national security policy around this. We need to protect our people, our children, and the vulnerable people who are here. But, if we are going to say that we are followers of Jesus we cannot get there by casting others aside so quickly.
Damn the Vulnerable
Our faith—from the opening pages of the Hebrew Bible right on through to the closing pages of the New Testament—is build solidly on the foundation that we care for the vulnerable, the poor, the downtrodden. In the Old Testament there is a triad that we see over and over and over again: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. God repeatedly says that we are to care for them, and woe to anyone who afflicts them.
Then Jesus ramps it up in Matthew 25 identifying himself as the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the stranger. By serving them, we are really serving him. And, this whole section is summarized as the “judgement of the nations.” It’s the nations who don’t care for the vulnerable who are cast to eternal torment, and the nations who care for the vulnerable who are ushered into paradise.
Whether it be immigration policy, access to healthcare, or policies towards the poor, the homeless, and the hungry—the followers of Jesus are always called to stand with the needy. Always. No exceptions.
Jesus was a refugee. After he was born King Herod sought to kill him, and his parents took him to Egypt for safety. Jesus was literally a refugee in Egypt. The cries to keep Syrian refugees out of our country is antithetical to the faith we are supposed to espouse.
The Old Testament is filled with references to caring for those who are in your land.
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
Again, it is hard to build a national security policy around this. I understand that. Terrorism is a real threat, and we need to protect people from it. But, we cannot claim to follow Jesus if we are so willing to throw people fleeing the horrors of their homeland under the bus. They are trying to save their lives, and the lives of their children. You would do the same.
That we have a dark history when it comes to this should give us even more pause. While Hitler was exterminating the Jews, we turned many boats full of men, women, and children away from our shores. And because of that, they perished. Their blood is on our hands.
Demonizing other Faiths
The Hebrew Bible is pretty clear that the People of God are not to partake in other religious devotions, and that idolatry is expressly forbidden—but, there is no wholesale condemnation of other people whose nations worship differently. Jesus certainly never does this. Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, which was the worldwide headquarters of the “Pan” cult. In festivals celebrating and worshipping Pan, devotees in Caesarea Philippi would perform ritual sex acts on goats. I mean, it’s about as dark of a place in the ancient world as you can imagine. But, Jesus takes his disciples there—and what condemnations does he rain down on the Pan worshippers? None. He doesn’t even mention it. It’s not how Jesus works. Jesus would rather bring Light and Truth to people. and have them come to a decision to follow him, than demonize people who have yet to find it.
Followers of Jesus cannot get caught up in the denigrating of other faiths and religions. We just can’t do it. We are to love them as our neighbor, and show everyone the Light and Truth of God as we have come to believe it. The way we proclaim our faith is primarily through our lives of outrageous love, forgiveness, and grace.
Lies, Lies, and Darned Lies
Speaking of Truth… Well, you know what I’m going to say. We absolutely cannot traffic in “alternative facts” and utter ridiculousness—whether it be about crowd size or birth certificates. Someone once said that the truth will set us free (John 8:32), and we need to feel secure in the truth, no matter what it is.
Remember who the Father of Lies is. (John 8:44)
People living 2,000 years ago were told that you could tell who was a Christian by how they loved one another. If you tried to say that today, it would be followed by riotous laughter. We have utterly failed to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. We have certainly failed to follow his command to love our enemies (Matthew 6:43–48). If anything shames God about his self-professed followers today, I think it’s this.
Today you are more likely to know Christians by their hatred of Muslims, by their willingness to slash healthcare and welfare, and by their acceptance of detaining women and children in airports. But, you will not know Christians by their love.
And, that has to change.
If we stay on this course, we will make a mockery of Jesus and the Christian Faith until there is nothing left except the words “Jesus” and “Christian”—but they will be words that resemble nothing of the actual Jesus and the actual faith he brought and taught. That notable “Christian” leaders with last names like “Falwell” and “Graham” champion such heresy is a sign to the world that Christianity is completely unmoored from the life and teachings of Jesus.
You can be a Christian and be a Republican or a Democrat. You can be a Christian and have voted for Trump or Clinton. You cannot be a Christian and put yourself before others, forget the vulnerable, demonize religions, and fail to love your neighbor so spectacularly.
The Constitution may just be strong enough to hold our democracy together, come what may. I fear that the church isn’t as strong, and that those who are ready and willing to love sacrificially, care for the vulnerable, and see everyone as their neighbor will pass us by.
And, if we continue down this path, maybe they should.