What Threatens Christianity and America

A response to concerns about Syrian refugees.

I’ve come to believe that the Christian religion and America are balanced on a precipitous ledge. Our central values and beliefs—what makes us Christian, and what should unite us as Americans—are beginning to fracture, thanks to the Syrian refugee crisis.

If we, however, accept the omnipotence and omnipresence of our God, then it is abundantly clear that any sort of ISIS infiltration of our country, real or perceived, cannot and will not prevent the beneficence of God from pouring down upon his people, and assuredly the peaceful Muslim émigrés won’t. Granted, there are very real concerns about letting members of ISIS sneak their way into our country under a façade of refugeeism—On Wednesday an alleged ISIS spokesman said they had already snuck thousands into this group—but if God could conquer the Midianites with only 300 of Gideon’s army, then surely even a few of us can withstand any onslaught. If God could rescue the Israelites from bondage, surely Christianity can be rescued from any who wish to tear it down. In fact, ISIS has no power over Christianity whatsoever.

The dismemberment of Christianity, or our own personal relationship with our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, is not and can not be caused by any outside force, however large, however ominous, however powerful. The Bible teaches us that “God is faithful,” and “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Even a cursory reading of Biblical stories should offer some solace: God will never abandon us. If we ever find ourselves without God, it is because we have abandoned Him. The opposite cannot be true.

I contend, then, that the biggest threat to our faith and values is not ISIS, but ourselves. And by fearing ISIS, we distance ourselves from Christ. Of course it’s not easy; ISIS is an awful organization involved in very wicked, terrible things. But if Christ commands something we can accomplish it, and Christ taught to “be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-5).

Are we allowing fear and uncertainty to sway us? Is fear a determining factor in how we decide to deal with the many refugees looking for safety? It shouldn’t be. It is in violation of God’s commandments, the greatest of which is that “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:30). If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, do we have anything to fear? No, for “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Let us love God with everything we can offer, and then do the same to our neighbors, for “the second [great commandment] is like [the first], namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). So, we may ask ourselves, “who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:33). Is it the family with the flat tire on the side of the road? Is it our colleague? Is it those with geographic proximity? Yes, yes, and yes. But “if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?” (Matthew 5:44). Christ’s response to the question “who is my neighbour” is telling

“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” — Luke 10:25-37

Jesus was a Jew, and that Jews and Samaritans did not get along. During Jesus’ ministry, he visits Jacob’s well and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She was taken aback: “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:12).

We can apply this story in multiple ways—and I think we like to think of it as one that instructs us to take time out of our day to help those in need, even when inconvenient. And it certainly is instructive on that matter! But knowing that Samaritans and Jews were enemies makes this a much more pertinent and challenging story. Our neighbor is not just our friend, our neighbor is our enemy. Our neighbors are Syrian refugees. And we need to love them. We need to take care of them, bind up their wounds, and use our own resources to help them. Otherwise, we are not Good Samaritans, and we violate the second great commandment. There is real substance in the command to “[l]ove your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). We can apply it right now.

We already know that our own safety and serenity should not be our first priority. Christ perfectly sacrificed Himself for me, an unworthy soul, and we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for Him. I hope to be the kind of person that would rather give up his life in the cause of good than spare it by eschewing the commandments of God. Granted, I am sympathetic to these refugees. I don’t share many of the same concerns that other people have, although I recognize that their concerns have just as much validity as any of mine.

Nevertheless, we should consider our grand history before we lock ourselves away from those looking to get in. America is a nation of refugees, and stores are selling Mayflower pilgrim effigies. Modern-day refugees are reaching Holland, just like our pilgrims did earlier to flee places where they were “taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood” (History of Plymouth Plantation).

Many of us can easily trace our genealogy back to some sort of persecution. As a nation, however, we tend to forget our roots and have repeatedly suffered from our own xenophobic nonsense. The Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment Camps, Jim Crow Laws, and many other events are embarrassing blots on our history. Let us not repeat these mistakes. We can't make America "great" by building walls and locking doors, but by validating our appellations as “the land of the free” and “the home of the brave,” .

Indeed, we surely cannot deny the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to others and maintain our own. We remember the “sacred & undeniable” truth that Jefferson penned: “all men are created equal & independent.” As an “undeniable” truth, we cannot withhold independence, life, liberty, and happiness.

The Declaration of Independence teaches that all men—the Muslim, the Jew, the Christian—are created equal, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We have no right to take said rights from the innocent. If anyone is guilt, let them prove it by word and deed, not by race, religion, or status. All men are created equal.

It is imperative that we stand firm and resolute in our values and not allow fear, uncertainty and doubt to take them away. Look to Lady Liberty as a physical monument of these ideals,

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
“The New Colossus”, Emma Lazarus