Immigration continues to be in the news with Donald Trump calling for a ban on all Muslims who want to immigrate to the United Stated. In the wake of widespread criticism, Trump is holding his ground on barring Muslims and tracking the Muslims who already live here until we can determine “where this hatred comes from and why”:
“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.
Meanwhile, Loretta Lynch, the highest prosecutor in the land, pledged she will take aggressive action against anyone who uses “anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “edges toward violence.” She has since toned down her own rhetoric following backlash on the grounds of freedom of speech, but she stuck to her guns on the pledge to protect Muslims against violent actions that might be inspired by “hateful speech”:
“We always have a concern when we see the rhetoric rising against any particular group in America, that it might inspire others to violent action — and that violent action is what we would have to deal with,” Lynch said on Monday.
These heated words on opposite ends of the spectrum follow on the heels of the mass killing in San Bernardino, which the FBI now says was planned out by a couple who had been “radicalized ‘for quite some time’”. We barely had caught our breath from the mass killing in Paris by another group of radicalized Muslims who may or may not have had direct ties to ISIS.
Whether the San Bernardino killings and/or the Paris killings were directly tied to ISIS may not be as important as the fact that these killings and many others over the last year have been inspired by the radical bravado, well published brutality and unabashed call to jihad against the Western world by ISIS. Attacks that have been linked to and inspired by ISIS not only in Paris and California, in the last year, but in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Turkey .
The fear of terrorist attack is real. We have seen it play out on our own soil and in Paris, the birthplace of American democracy. So how do we respond? The political responses sway between military, to the point of blatant disregard of fundamental rights, and tolerance, to the point of vulnerable exposure to a real danger that likely lurks in our midst.
I am not in a position to influence national policy, and neither are most of the people who will read this. Yes, a ground swell of popular opinion can influence national policy, but I am more interested in reaching the right position for the right reasons than holding any illusion that I might be able to steer the national ship on these issues.
The right position for the right reasons, for me, means the position for which I am accountable to God. As one who has proclaimed allegiance to Jesus as my Lord and Savior, there can be no other position to be grasped. As Peter said, “Where else will I go?” There is no alternative.
I may be wrong in my attempt to divine the mind of Christ in all of this. I don’t ultimately have His vantage point, sitting on the throne at the right hand of God. But, my goal should be to conform my perspective in line with His as best as I can understand what His perspective might be.
What I know of Jesus is that He summarized the entirety of the law for us in two simple statements: 1) Love God with all your heart, mind and strength; and 2) Love others as you love yourself. In case we might misunderstand, these words Jesus clarified that “others” means not only my brothers and sisters, but my neighbors … and even my enemies.
Yes but, some of my brothers and sisters will say, we must protect our loved ones, our communities and our country. I agree that loving others means protecting our loved ones, communities and country from known risks. I would never advocate against that.
On the other hand, the commandment to love others cannot be reduced to protecting ourselves, our families and our country. Jesus did not tell us to make sure that our families are protected first, and then go love our neighbors. Jesus simply said, “Love your neighbor”.
He didn’t give us much wiggle room either.
Among other things, Jesus said, “do not resist the one who is evil”, but turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); if anyone sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak also (v. 40); if someone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles (v. 41) “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44); “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27); “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:2).
Jesus was pretty clear on these things.
As if that were not enough, Paul reveals that the early church took these things to heart. He says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14); “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (v. 17) and “never take your own revenge” (v. 19); and “’if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (vv. 20-21)
For the average Christian who is not the President of the United States or in a position to influence the powers that be, how do we respond to these things that Jesus said and Paul repeated?
The truth is that we can take every possible measure to protect ourselves and protect our families. We can have locks on our doors, alarm systems on our houses, guns in our bedrooms and demand that our government do even more to protect us, and we may still be vulnerable. We might take every possible action to protect our family and still fail.
It may not be terrorists that break through that vulnerability. It might be a stray bullet from a gang shooting. It might be a drunk driver or a driver texting and not paying attention. It might be an ATV or motorcycle accident, a foul ball at a baseball game or any number of events that take lives in our community every day.
That knowledge and feeling of vulnerability might make some of us hunker down even more. But, is that the way Jesus taught us to live? To be fearful and defensive and to shut our neighbors out?
That is not what I read in my Bible.
Jesus simply said, “Love your neighbor”. And He added, “Do not worry about your life” (Matt. 6:25); “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness….” (Matt. 6:33)
I don’t honestly know how I would react in the midst of a terrorist attack, but I as I sit here I realize I can not control those circumstances by worrying about them any more than I could add one hour to my life. Worrying and stewing about the possibility of a terrorist attack, I am pretty sure, is not how God wants me to spend my time.
Jesus said this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
We are to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father!
God, then is not going to measure us on how well we protected ourselves, our families and our country.
God will measure us on how well we loved our enemies!
It occurred to me this morning as I was chewing on these things, that I could do everything within my power to protect myself and my family and still fail to accomplish the goal of keeping them safe because of some unforeseen circumstance that I could not prevent and could not control. But, I can control whether I love my neighbors and love my enemies.
Does this mean that I should not try at all to keep myself and my family safe? No! Love for them suggests that I should take reasonable measures to protect them, but that should not be my primary focus or attitude. My primary focus and attitude should be love for my neighbors and love even for my enemies.
In light of the immigrant controversy, and specifically, the controversy swirling around Donald Trump’s idea to keep out Muslims, we must be vigilant to guard our faith. Christians must be on guard to be sure that we are following Christ, and not giving in to our fears. We must be on guard against failing to love others because we are too wrapped up in protecting ourselves.
We must guard our hearts against the leaven of the Pharisees and yield to the desires of our Heavenly Father who makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. Our relationship with God is tied to how well we love, not how well we protect ourselves. We can leave our protection in God’s hands; we cannot leave our neighbors out in the cold and be called children of God.
Our main priority must be to guard against failing to love as God commanded. The primary evil we must guard against is the evil within ourselves that threatens to overwhelm the love of God and His command to love others.
Postscript: For those who say that “we” (our country, the United States of America) should have a strong military and defend against the evils of the world, like terrorists, I would concur. But, we must be careful here. Paul stated clearly in Romans 13:1-4 that we are subject to the governing authorities, that those governing authorities are instituted by God and those governing authorities carry out the justice of God on wrongdoers. It is not incongruous, therefore, for a Christian to support a strong military for the defense of the country against potential attack. As individual Christians, however, we must be careful about our own posture and our own attitudes. Individually, we are to love our neighbors first and foremost, and loving our enemies is an extension of loving our neighbors. Our faith is in God, not in our governing authorities. John Piper addresses these things in more detail in his article, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves.