“Pick and Choose” Christianity ?

I haven’t written a post about my faith in a while, but the recent dramatic events across the
world, especially in Paris, and the reactions I have observed, prompted me to write this.

Right now a dozen or more governors have declared they will not be accepting Syrian refugees. I am not necessarily surprised that many of my non-Christian friends may praise this, but I am surprised about the amount of support it gets from believers in Jesus Christ in my network. So this is mainly directed at my fellow Christians. If you are not, you are more than welcome to read this, but note that this is not really directed at you.

First, let’s talk about whether this would even help or not.

All evidence I have found makes me think it won’t help one scrap bit. The Boston bombers came to the US as small children (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was around 11 years old when he came to the US), grew up here, went to school here, went to college here. Several of the Parisian terrorists were raised in Belgium or France. Had their education, friends, work and family live in those respective countries for years if not decades. There is currently little evidence that any acts of terrorism, be they here in the US or in Europe, were committed by recent immigrants. So how long would be stop immigration ? A decade ? And for which countries ? Do we include Belgium and France ? All of Europe ? Do we now include religion in the immigration acceptance criteria ? Proverbial can of worms. Nuff’ said.

Second, let’s talk about whether this even rhymes with what our Christian faith teaches us.

We love to quote Scripture when we see things we don’t like. In the last several years, we definitely like to pull out Scripture in the marriage debate. So what does Scripture say about the “refugee” debate ? Here’s a quick shortlist for your perusal. And it’s surprisingly consistent across the Old and New Testament: Leviticus 19:34, Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19, Matthew 5:39 (auch…that’s a hard one), Matthew 25:35-36, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2

Most importantly though, this is the passage I’ve been gravitating towards. Luke 10:27-37

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

We are constantly being taught that being a Christian is helping those in need and that nothing is more important than to advance the Kingdom of God. Nothing is more important than that..not our feelings, not our desires, not even our lives. And yet…now that our lives are threatened, we seem to move away from being the Good Samaritan in favor of shunning everyone that may be a threat.

Finally, we seem to think that extremism is a new fangled “Muslim” thing.

I can assure you it’s not. Growing up in Europe in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, I recall those periods of military presence in the streets of London, Paris or even Belgium. Let me rattle some of out of the top of my head: IRA, PLO, ETA, GIA, Bader Mainhoff, Brigade Rossa, Cellules Communistes Combatantes, Bende van Nijvel, … Some of them were Muslim, others separatists, others plain criminals. I read a meme the other day that “Japan doesn’t have Muslim terrorism“. Maybe not, but they had Aum Shinrikyo. Extremism and acts of violence have been around for as long as I can remember. That the recent spate of atrocities are currently being perpetrated in the name of “Islam” is correct. But similar acts have been perpetrated in the name of white supremacy, communism, fascism, independence and pretty much any other cause one can imagine [Note: I am not downplaying the recent Paris events, I am observing there have been periods of significant attacks for decades]. I think what’s changing is the indiscriminate nature and seeming randomness of the more recent events. Which does make it more scary. And like many of you, I am worried.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some seem to say our lives aren’t really threatened. I think that’s naive as well. I do think our lives are threatened. By the daily traffic in our cities, by disease, by old age, by acts of terrorism. But then, don’t we often say: “God is in control. We don’t really know what His plan is, but we have to trust Him“. So why not now? Why can’t we trust Him now? Why do we have to go contrary to what our faith tells us to do because we feel threatened?

Overall I am more worried about creating a society that feeds extremism and provides the soil in which those of evil intent can sow the seeds that lead to heinous acts. I believe that casting out those in need or those of other race/color/ethnicity/faith/religion only creates a greater divide in society. It creates a greater atmosphere of “Us vs Them“. And an environment like that is the ideal recruiting ground for those who want to eradicate “the others“. I think that’s where the Tsarnaevs or the Abdeslam brothers got caught up. Somehow, somewhere along their path, they decided they belonged to “them“. And attacking “us” was the best choice they had.

I don’t know the answer to the challenge of extremism. I’m not advocating we don’t do anything, we have to do something. However, I don’t know for sure that if we beat one organization, another one won’t rise up. I’m also not convinced that if we do eradicate ISIS, we’ll have conquered extremism once and for all. I don’t know how we can keep ourselves safe. But I am convinced that shutting out those in need will not guarantee our safety either.

Funny thing is, based on my faith, I am not sure my safety is what really matters after all. What I do know is that my faith doesn’t allow me to pick and choose which passages I like and don’t like. My faith clearly spells out that we are to show love, mercy, hospitability and kindness to those around us, especially to those in need. My faith also clearly tells me that I will die. How, when and where, I don’t know. But I cannot in good conscience forego to treat my neighbor like myself in the hopes of controlling my own destiny. I just can’t.

I refuse to pick and choose. I’m “all in” with this Christian faith thing.


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8 Responses to “Pick and Choose” Christianity ?

  1. Micchel Bannert says:

    Thanks for the post, Michael. You ask some good questions. So here are a few thoughts from another perspective, that may or may not be useful.

    FIRST — would this help at all? All estimates are just that–estimates. No one has hard facts on either side. But my stance would be– we know we are already at some level of risk with “home-grown” terrorists, so how is it prudent and wise to knowingly take on additional risk? And I’m only speaking of refugees and illegal immigrants here. There is no reason to stop legal immigration, because they do seem to be quite well vetted. But from what I read from the FBI and CIA recently, the more chaotic a govt is, the more difficult it is to vet their citizens. We do fairly well with Iraq refugees, but only because we had such a presence there for so long, and worked so closely with the new govt and security forces. That is not true for Syria. Basically, unless a would-be refugee has previously been identified through intelligence as an ISIS sympathizer, there is NO WAY to know their intentions for their stay in the US. At least until ISIS is no longer a “growing” threat to the Western free world (the standard might be unanimous agreement by NATO, for example) we should avoid taking on additional risk by expanding the number of refugees here, especially military age males from places with an active ISIS presence. Let’s use that money and help secure an area for them closer to where they live. That can be done, and has been done before. There are many things we can do to help, without bringing them halfway around the world to a strange new culture.

    SECOND — Does it square with Christian values? Basically, convictions are personal. I have been astounded to find that many Christians apparently do NOT find any convictions in Scripture which lead them to speak out FOR male-female marriage or FOR the life of the unborn. Astounding! Christian values are simply not monolithic and easy to nail down (apparently). But even if I agree that Christ commands believers to love the stranger and help the poor, I disagree that I should therefore demand that my government must formulate policy that complies with my conscience, at the taxpayers expense. That is wrong on so many levels, but primarily because it is not the main priority or duty of the federal govt. to show/share the love of Christ, which I’ve already related on the FB post.

    THIRD — Extremism is something brand new. I admit you have a long list of extremist groups that I’ve never even heard of, much less been afraid of. No, extremism is not new. We’ve experienced bombings here from the stray extremists that go unnoticed. And I also agree — we will never be “risk-free” this side of Heaven. But here’s the difference — ISIS is actively seeking to export their violence everywhere. And they are succeeding in some measure, so far. Did any of the groups you named announce to America, “We’re after you, next!!” ? I’d be surprised if that were true, and also ashamed that I don’t know history better. But what I do know now is that ISIS is a growing risk and growing threat to our national security and our NATO allies. So, as a national policy, let’s just be prudent and wise in the short-term, by minimizing the terrorist risk where we can, rather than be cavalier about it. Just like we try to minimize risk to ourselves personally by using seat-belts and following the doctor’s orders, and learning to use a defense weapon (perhaps)… we do these things without abandoning our trust in God. We don’t just say, “I trust God” and then go camp out on the freeway to see if He’ll protect us. We do what we can to minimize risk. And that should be no different for national policy, either.

    A word on extremism — The way to beat extremism is show the world that they are losers. Right now, they seem to be winners, of sorts. That’s what drives their recruitment. But no one wants to die for a clearly lost cause. We have the power, along with our NATO allies, to relegate them to the ash heap of losers. We MUST do that, or the threat will grow until it may not be containable. And evil (extremism without regard for human life, as a very secular definition) will always exist in some form this side of Heaven. Each generation will have some form of it that threatens, and each generation will have to choose to find the courage to relegate that threat to the ash heap of historical losers. It will go on this way, until Christ returns.

    Love you, my brother! Thanks for letting me “blog” on your blog!

    • Mick Mick says:

      Thanks for the very lengthy and well thought out response. As mentioned, since we know each other personally, it makes it easier to have this discussion face to face. Which is something I still prefer over written media which doesn’t convey our sentiments and feelings very well.

      One final written clarification perhaps. I am not advocating we shouldn’t do anything. I know we have to do something. But what I have a hard time understanding is that we seem to want to convince the government to act according to our beliefs when it comes to certain matters (marriage and abortion being the main ones), while at the same time calling for the government to act contrary to another one of our core beliefs, e.g. to take care of our neighbor. Why ? Because we are scared ? Because we are at risk ? Because it threatens our safety ? My safety and personal welfare are nowhere guaranteed in Scripture. The opposite however is predicted repeatedly.
      Hence I just don’t understand this call to government for agreeing with some of our beliefs, while at the same time disregarding others. To me, that sounds too much like “Pick and Choose”. I guess I’m an “all or nothing” guy, but I look forward to talking and trying to understand how we can rhyme them together.
      In Christ

  2. Micchel says:

    I understand your concerns about being consistent in our influence toward government. But the consistency question cuts both ways. Ask yourself, do you or did you personally quote scripture to influence our govt or culture when the topics of abortion or gay marriage have been current? Do you personally and publicly ask the govt to follow scripture on these particular social issues? If so, you are consistent. If not, then the question of your blog is also to yourself — Why do you pick and choose?

    • Mick Mick says:

      Great point and you would indeed be correct were it not for the fact that I have not called or tried to influence the government in the refugee matter. That is not what this post is about. It is about pointing out that IF you want government to adhere to our Christian ethics, it’s an all or nothing debate. Now, if you want to know whether I believe the government should adhere to our Christian ethics or not, feel free to swing by and chat since we have the luxury of having that discussion face to face.

  3. Micchel says:

    Neither have I tried to specifically influence govt on the refugee debate. But you didn’t specify the Christians you were speaking to, or limit it to only those who HAVE tried to influence govt. Your blog is a general accusation. Personally, on social media I have noticed that many of the Christians who are relatively silent on the social matters of gay marriage and abortion are suddenly all about posting links about obeying Christ in our national policy, and trying to “guilt” other Christians into the cause based upon Scripture. So that’s why I say, the question of consistency cuts both ways, although you only one point out one side of the inconsistency in your blog. Yes, we can chat face to face anytime. I just do better, honestly, in writing, partly because I can think through my thoughts better, and also I’m kind of an introvert. Take care, my friend.

    • Mick Mick says:

      ISIS/Daesh has already won if they can sow this much division amongst Christian brothers and sisters 😉

      • Micchel says:

        I don’t think disagreement necessarily means division. There has been disagreement at every stage of Christian history, and we have worked through much of it. It’s disrespect that leads to division. But I do not disrespect your blog or your opinion; I only seek to show another side respectfully. Thank you for letting me do so. (and you can delete this thread b/c my comment at 12:20 was not finished when I entered it. See the one below at 12:33, thx.)

  4. Micchel says:

    Neither have I tried to specifically influence GOVT on the refugee debate. But you didn’t specify the Christians you were speaking to, or limit it to only those who HAVE tried to influence govt specifically. Your blog post does seem to attempt to influence opinions on the matters of receiving refugees (point #1) and also attitudes about extremism (point #3), and not exclusively about ethical inconsistency (point #2). Personally, on social media I have noticed that many of the Christians who are relatively silent on the matters of gay marriage and abortion are suddenly all about posting links about obeying Christ in our national policy, and trying to “guilt” other Christians into the cause based upon Scripture. So that’s why I say, the question of consistency cuts both ways. Yes, we can chat face to face anytime. I just go more deeply, honestly, in writing, partly because I can think through my thoughts better, and also I’m kind of an introvert. Take care, my friend. And you can delete that “undefined” post which was entered before I was finished. Sorry ’bout that.

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