Friday, November 20, 2015

I mean this question sincerely: When Jesus said love your enemies, did He mean Muslims, too?

*Community is happening in real time here, friends.  A couple of people who love me deeply had the courage to call and push back on some the of the words and stories I used in the first draft of this post.  I realized that I was being "pre-defensive" and bogging down the bigger points I'd hoped to make.  I've updated the post, and removed some of what was here originally to reflect my response to them. You may also want to read my first post on this subject from 2 days ago:  This Is Why I Broke A Promise To Myself On Facebook*

Nigerian Christians surrounding Nigerian Muslims to protect them during prayer

I remember the first time I heard my grandparents use a racial slur.  I was in middle school, just old enough to be aware that, perhaps, the adults in my family, whom I adored, might also be imperfect.  I certainly wasn't old enough to outwardly correct them (is one ever with their grandparents?).  

In the self-righteous haze of my adolescence, I was somewhat aware that their language represented a different experience than my own.  This was before the time when I could watch a blockbuster re-telling of World War 2, but I knew my grandfather had first met certain races of people as an enemy in obliterated war zones.  In many ways, his view of other nationalities was shaped first as an enemy.  I remember my grandmother lightly, nervously, correcting my grandfather, and the rest of us feeling a bit awkward.

I vowed to be different in this way from my grandparents, but still adored them because we were family and I knew their story.  

In the last few days, I've been facing a similar dilemma with friends on social media.  I understand we've watched a lot of news, heard a lot of stories, sent our family members into violence in places of the world that we've mostly only ever known through the lens of war.  

I recognize the fact that, politically and militarily, we need our leaders to know the difference -- sometimes vast and sometimes razor thin -- between radical and moderate expressions of a religion that oppose freedoms that define our cultural, national, and even spiritual identities.  I've been listening, and I think a good bit of the frustration so many of my friends are expressing, in varying degrees of coherence, is a fear that our leaders will place political correctness above their duty to protect those they've been charged to defend. 

Wars have been started with less to go on than we've seen on YouTube, and we're afraid the people in places of authority will take political gambles with our safety.  It is appropriate -- not only appropriate, but authentically American -- for us to speak our will to those in office: do not gamble with our safety with your partisan, poll-formed, special-interest funded swaying convictions.  

I do understand this, and join the call for prudent governance. I do this because I am an American citizen, and it is right and good to do so.  For reasons of conscience, I'm an independent voter, but I understand that most of my friends are the sort of Americans who have chosen to be Republican or Democrat.  This is also good, and an important part of our short history as a good nation. 

I think being a good American is an important quality of being a wise adult.  I want to be a good American like my grandfather, the youngest son of three to fight in World War II who, even after his brother's narrow escape from death on Omaha Beach, got on a ship and went to the Pacific battlefront.  This is a heritage that makes me proud, even as I discern all the ways my family suffered from those invisible war wounds my grandfather brought home with him.  Wounds like the one that made it difficult for him to see certain races of people in any category than an enemy to belittle.

When I read the articles and watch the videos my friends share online this week in response to the latest acts of war by the Islamic State, I am aware of all of these things.  I know that my friends desire to be good Americans (or, in some of my friend's cases, good citizens of countries other than America) -- Republican, Democratic, Independent citizens.  I stand with them in this desire.

What I can not ignore is that many of my friends are also Christians.  And maybe I should just clear my throat and walk out of the room when they say things that remind me of my grandfather's racial slurs all those years ago, like I did then?  Maybe I should.  For some reason, this week I can not do that.  I can not.

I can not ignore the subtle, and not-too-subtle, inferences that because a human being is Muslim, they should be treated in a separate category of dignity from other human beings.  

The bigger problem is that we are not Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals or Independents -- first.  We are Christians first, and by that very definition we follow (even obey and love) the teachings of Christ.

When I get the courage to protest, I've been told that since some evil people who use the teachings of their religion to commit atrocities against other human beings, then we are justified -- wise, even -- to treat all Muslim people as potentially guilty of the same crime.  

I've been told that because a child's father or uncle or brother or neighbor might use that child as a human weapon of warfare, wisdom dictates we treat that child as if he, himself, were a soldier in the war against us.  I've been told that it is justifiable, wise even, to look the other way when a woman who has been terrorized by her own country -- persecuted, maimed, raped, widowed -- for the reason that if we attempt to do good to her, we will also welcome the same atrocities on our own wives and children.

I have a friend who has begun using this phrase in her social media conversations: "I mean this in an utterly serious, unsarcastic way".  I want to make the same request, because we're not actually sitting in a room together where you can see my face and hear my voice.  

It is not sarcasm that fuels this question, but true love and a sincere desire to understand:  How can we say we love our enemies when we judge all Muslims by the same standard as some Muslims? And, even if that were true - that all Muslims were guilty of the same evil -- how can we say we bless those who persecute us when we turn our backs on the people knocking on our door for refuge?  How can we say we love the orphan, the immigrant and the widow when we are willing for them to starve, drown or return to unimaginable persecution?

When I've asked my friends who are both Christian and American these questions I've heard variations on the response that, as Christians, we're also taught to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  I've heard that it is natural -- even God-created in us -- to seek safety for ourselves and our children.  I agree with these things, most certainly. 

It's wrestling with this fear of trauma that especially causes me to recall the heroes of the faith, including our very own Savior, the Son of God, who, when caught between the tension of personal safety and obedience to Scriptural commands, laid themselves down in the path of suffering.  This includes our Christian brothers and sisters who in the past couple of years spoke the name of Jesus and were killed, entrusting the care of their own wives and sons and daughters and husbands to the crucified and risen Christ.  (May I note here: In that entrusting, they most assuredly hoped the people of Christ would be the hands and feet to offer refuge to those they left behind.)

And I mean this with all love and sincerity:  How do we reconcile the teachings of Christ and say that personal (or even national) safety is our first priority? 

We are grateful to serve a God who does not require of us a sadistic sort of self-sacrifice in order for us to earn favor with him, as some gods demand.  It is true our heavenly Father cares about our safety, and that He calls us to imitate Him in this way for our own families; to care about our children's safety -- at times, to even fight for it.

As followers of the Risen Son of God, we also know that our lives are eternal; we are already living in a kingdom of which there will be no end.  In this confidence, we follow our King into all sorts of environments that are unsafe.  We know this when we send our missionaries into countries where safety is barely a civic expectation (including Muslim countries).  Why do we assume our role in God's kingdom should be different?  Do we think that since we are the ones who stay in the United States, we should expect a different level of protection in God's economy?

Here's another way to ask the question. (And, forgive me, for returning to story in the middle of conversation about the Bible, won't you?) So many of my Christian friends (including me) love the image of God in the Great Lion Aslan. In this fictional character, imagined by the masterful storyteller C.S. Lewis, we've been given a deeper understanding of our Almighty God's good character.  We love the description summed up by the unwitting profundity of Mr. Beaver, "Who said anything about being safe?  'Course he isn't safe. But he is good."

I wonder if these current global crises give us a fertile opportunity to become a little bit more like the God in Mr. Beaver's description?  To remind each other, when we hear the latest terrifying news, when we are faced with ethical -- Christian, even -- obligations to love our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, to feed and clothe and shelter the widow, the foreigner and the orphan, that we are the ones who follow the good and unsafe God.  

I wonder if we might also encourage each other that by rejecting this unsafe part of God's character, we are actually rejecting the life and death of the Suffering Servant, his Son?  And if we know that we are called toward suffering in this world, let's take hope in the fact that we are also empowered to be and to do good?  Not safe, but good?

Yes, let's pray and talk and argue about the best places for refugees to actually survive and thrive; let's talk about the responsibilities of all the countries of the world, in addition to our own; let's even talk about the role of religion in human behavior.  Let's consider the necessities of military response.  Let's hold our elected officials to high standards of governance, defense, and investigation.  Let's encourage each other, as American citizens, to remember our past and of all the ways we've vowed to repeat the good and reject the ugly chapters of our national history.  

But if I can only say one thing, it's this: My Christian friends, let's remind each other that while we are American, God is not.  When we see another article posted of all the reasons to fear Muslims, let's remind each other that all humans are created in the image of God, and that our Creator desires that all nations be blessed by those who belong to Him.  

And, if for some reason, all of that feels too hard to say, maybe we can evoke the sincere and courageous Mr. Beaver: 
" 'Course we aren't safe. But like our King, we are good."

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