I read a story today about an Iraqi man who moved to Dallas about a month ago as a refugee. He had worked for 460 days to make this a reality while his wife lived separate from him in Dallas, already having achieved refugee status. He came here to get away from the volatile and violent world he lived in in Iraq. He came here with hope that he could get a fresh start in a peaceful and free country. Then, over the weekend, while Dallas was being hit with a snowstorm, he and his wife went out on the front step to watch the snow fall.
And he was shot to death by four unknown gunmen.
This, along with a burst in religiously motivated hate crimes in Texas and outside of Texas, has Muslims in Texas living in fear. I fly to San Antonio on Friday to do a training with College Students at Wayside Chapel. I’ve got about a billion things running through my mind about how to address this real and raw situation in Texas. How do I compel these students to put away their own fears and live love in relationships with Muslims in their community? How do I urge them to walk on the pathway of peace that Jesus taught us to walk on? How do I help them see that the problems in our society today stem from, at least partially, the church not being a light to the world?
What does love look like in this situation?
What does it even mean to love our enemies?
I know many people who think that loving our enemies is simply pronouncing judgment on them, urging them to repent of their evil ways, and to believe in and follow Jesus. The only way to love, for these people, is with words of condemnation with a little dollop of hope. But, is this the only form that love takes?
How do we show love to the widowed refugee whose husband had his life stolen from him a month after he escaped the violence in Iraq?
Is the Gospel comprised simply of words? Is it good news for the whole block, even the widowed Muslim Iraqi refugee? What has happened, I think, is that the church has lost sight of its mission in the world – to participate with God through Jesus in the redemption and reconciliation of all things. We think our mission is to protect our nation, our way of life, and our communities from infiltration. We listen to false prophets and deceivers who use hateful rhetoric to tell us to be afraid of Muslims who want to not only take over our country but also the world. I call these people false prophets, not because they are (necessarily) lying, but because they are dividing us and instilling fear in us, when we are called as followers of Jesus to love everyone, neighbors, strangers, and enemies.
We think that love is impossible, so we choose instead to be afraid. And fear leads to hate. And hate leads to insanity – literally losing our minds and our ability to see that all humans are created in the image of God. In our fear, we have lost our ability to know what it means to be human beings living amongst other human beings.
What happened to the Iraqi man on his front doorstep shows that we are no different – not more sophisticated, not more tolerant, not more open to diversity. We, the church, have allowed fear and hatred to rule the day. We have chosen to demonize a people group, decrying the violence of ISIS towards Christians, but being unwilling to admit to or denounce the hateful violence that is inflicted on Muslims in our own country.
We have disabled the gospel in America. It is no longer good news for the whole block. Maybe it never was. Now, if ever, is the time for the church to begin to learn new ways of being human (patterned after the true human, Jesus) in relationships with people who believe differently than we do. Relationships are reciprocal in nature, which for our ever-increasingly conservative outlook sounds very dangerous. Reciprocal relationships give and receive – learn and teach, host and are hosted, speak and listen. We need a new level of humility, honestly admitting that we don’t have everything figured out, that some things about our religions or our nations are absolutely messed up. We need to forgive and be forgiven. We need to be willing to put down our suspicions and learn to trust people we don’t understand to help us understand. This sort of reciprocal relationship will no doubt change us as much as it changes our (now) friends.
And that is a good thing, because we desperately need to change.
If there is any hope in this world, it starts with the church choosing to take seriously Jesus’, Paul’s, and John’s call to love even those who hate us. If 2 billion people (who at least attest to believing in Jesus) were to choose to live in new ways towards their neighbors, towards strangers, and towards enemies, the world would look drastically different, and better. And, perhaps the good news of resurrection, restoration, and reconciliation will not only be heard, but seen, felt, and believed.