Syrian refugees

People, Not Issues

What happens to individuals after issues are won and lost in the political arena? For instance: when immigration bans are enacted, then put on hold, and then finally settled (Supreme Court?), what happens to the people affected by a ban or lack of a ban?

What do you mean? Either they can come into the country or they can’t.

And then what?

What do you mean, “And then what?” It’ll be over. It’s settled.

For most people, it will be over. The “issue” of refugees being received in this country will, more or less, be settled. The fighting, fundraising, protesting, and legal challenges will be over. There will be new issues to dispute. But… what happens to the refugees? What will happen to the men, women, and children who arrive in our cities? What’s happening to the refugees who are already in our cities? Do you know?

It would be unthinkable to actually receive refugees into our homes, right? Conservatives love to throw this challenge at progressives. “If you want them here so badly, why don’t you take them into your house?!” Conservatives, not wanting the refugees to be here in the first place, would never do such a thing themselves but they raise an interesting question.

A “video prankster,” Joey Salads, recently showed up at Los Angeles International Airport to conduct a social experiment on those who were protesting President Trump’s immigration and refugee bans. Carrying a clipboard and wearing a “Feel the Bern” t-shirt, Salads asks the protesters if they’d be willing to offer shelter to the refugees. He finally finds one protester who’s kind of interested:

“I’m very interested in helping,” one guy answers. “I’m a little apprehensive, and I also have a female roommate who’s, like, a very nervous girl … but I’m very interested.”

“How many refugees will you be willing to hold?” Salads asks him.

The guy says he has only a couch to spare.

When Salads tells him that would be enough — in addition to providing “food and water” — the guy wonders how long he’d have to keep that up.

“Until legislation passes,” Salads replies.

“I don’t know that I could commit to that,” the guy answers.

Of course, this is the result we’d expect. When most Americans say, “Something ought to be done,” we don’t mean us personally. We mean a law should be passed. The government ought to do something. Or a charitable organization. Somebody. Not me.

Conservatives do the same thing. Doing something about abortion means voting for pro-life candidates and maybe giving a few dollars when the representative from the pro-life women’s clinic shows up to speak on Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Abortion should be illegal.

But she doesn’t want the baby. She can’t take care of a baby right now.

Well, put it up for adoption. 

So, you’ll adopt the baby?

What? No, not me. Someone.

The easiest thing we can do about an issue is keyboard activism: let ‘er rip on the internet. Next easiest is voting. You actually have to drive to your polling place for that. But that’s typically where our efforts stop.

As we update our Facebook statuses, Tweet, or even make the effort to show up at a protest, we need to be reminded that the reason “issues” are important is because flesh and blood people are behind these issues. The people remain after laws are passed and bans are enacted or lifted.

People are precious. People are more important than issues.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind after our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Humans are created in the image of God. Therefore, people enjoy inherent worth and dignity beyond that of any other created thing. Even with this reminder and re-affirmation, there is still the temptation to allow “people” to remain a nameless, faceless, fuzzy concept. Sort like doing something “for the children.” We have to push ourselves toward another degree of intimacy. People must become neighbors.

Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him [Jesus] a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus  said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest  commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

But who is my neighbor? I’m glad you asked. A young lawyer once asked this of Jesus. Stick with me; their discussion bears repeating in full:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 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 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.” (Luke 10:25-37)

A neighbor has compassion. Not just the emotional feeling of compassion but the act of compassion. How? By showing mercy. A neighbor shows mercy by being willing to interrupt the normal routine of their day-to-day lives for the sake of someone else, particularly those in need. A neighbor gives their time (he saw him and he went to him), their practical resources (he bound his wounds, he set him on his own animal), and their money (he took out two denarii and a running tab).

Christians are to follow Christ. We follow his teachings and commands and his example. Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise.” He did not say, “Pass a law.” We follow him whether Caesar acts or doesn’t act. Caesar’s gonna do what Caesar’s gonna do. We follow Christ whether the President is Democrat or Republican (or Libertarian?!). We don’t have to wait for laws to be passed or bans to be lifted.

This is a message I had to preach to myself. I watched as President Trump enacted a 90-day ban on people entering the country from seven countries, a 120-day ban on all refugees, and an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria. I continued to watch as protesters arrived at airports and judges began to weigh in. I thought to myself, “I don’t know how this is all going to turn out, but I know there’s got to be refugees in my city right now.”

I just recently moved to Oklahoma City so I began to familiarize myself with what the Church was already doing here. Of course, Catholic Charities has a very active and wide-ranging operation. Much credit to them. However, I am not Catholic so I kept searching to see if anything else was going on. My local church is affiliated with the 405 Center (“connecting the people of our city together, for the good of the needs of the people in our city”). I signed up for 405 Center training so my family and I can be better equipped to serve. I learned about The Common, a program of The Spero Project (“mobilizing the Church on behalf of international refugees who have become our neighbors in Oklahoma City”). I’m going to attend one of their upcoming sessions to learn more about the OKC refugee community and how their network operates. I’ll also be joining El Camino del Immigrante (“a prayer pilgrimage in solidarity with immigrants and refugees who are suffering in our community and around the world”) on March 4th. Come join us if you live near Oklahoma City!

However things turn out politically, I can act now and so can you. Chances are there is ministry already taking place in your city that you can join. If not, talk to your church elders. Begin to pray. Perhaps you are the one to spearhead a new effort.

For those of us who are Christian libertarians, it is imperative that we act. Why? Libertarians are the ones who are always saying that the State shouldn’t be involved in just about everything. What if we actually got what we wanted? Would the Church be ready to step up? Would you? More importantly, it shouldn’t really matter what the State does or does not do. All the law and prophets hang on the Bride of Christ loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Let’s be good neighbors and care about people more than we care about issues. We don’t have to wait. Regardless of what Caesar does, let the Church be the Church.