Last week, a host of Republican governors openly declared that their states would not welcome Syrian refugees fleeing the terror of ISIS and their war-torn country. I was deeply troubled by their remarks, because before the Constitution was even ratified, it was already clear that the control of immigration would rest squarely with the federal government. (See Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492 (2012), for a history.) But even more troubling for me has been the response from the community of people who claim the name of Jesus.
This is just one more heartbreaking episode of a recurring drama in American political life. Those who claim to know Jesus—the God-man who summed the entirety of the Old Testament law in two commands: Love God and Love Others—are the very same people who more often than not assume a political posture that is cold if not outright hateful.
In one conversation I had with another Christian on the subject, I was belittled for thinking that the Bible says we are to care for the marginalized and the oppressed, even at great cost to ourselves. Beyond that, my knowledge of the law was questioned because it did not comport with his view that Obama wishes to be king and the States are doing a brave and noble thing by saying no to those in need.
“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
—Jesus, Matthew 25:41-43 NIV (emphasis mine)
If there is one thing that Jesus makes abundantly clear, it is that we are to care for those in need, including welcoming in the strangers who need a place to stay. Jesus goes so far as to say that if we do not love the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, we do not love him. Jesus was poor. Jesus was oppressed. Jesus was marginalized. God himself identifies with these people, and if we as believers are unwilling to love them, then we cannot claim to be a people who love him.
If we take the words of Jesus seriously, then the irony of this whole drama over the governors and the Syrian refugees is that by fearing the few ISIS fighters who might be smuggled in among the refugees and failing to love these strangers on our doorstep who need a place to stay, those who claim the name of Jesus are in fact putting their souls in danger of spending an eternity with the very people they’re trying to avoid, for I am quite certain that the ISIS fighters are the angels of Satan himself.
And why? Because they’ve misplaced their hope. As believers, our hope should not be in this world but in the promised world to come; but since Ronald Reagan first uttered the blasphemy that America was “the last best hope of men on earth,” conservatives in this country have believed that if America falls, it is the end of the world. They are, in fact, placing their hope in a false god, an idol, and like Golem and his precious, they refuse to let it go even though by clinging to it they are suffocating their souls.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that as believers we are called to compromise the tenets of our faith to love others. Doing so would be failing to love the One in whom those tenets rest. But I am saying that as long as the Church continues to believe that America is our last best hope, we will remain a weak and neutered force for good in this world.
The reason that the Church was such a threat to the forces of evil in its early days was because the earliest believers got this right. They placed their hope not in the things of this life, but in the promised Kingdom, and lived as though the Kingdom were on their doorstep. They were known for taking absolutely wild risks in the name of Jesus, for being relentless with their love. Instead of running away from cities fraught with the plague, they would run into those cities to care for the sick and the hurting, often at the cost of their lives.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
—Jesus, Luke 9:24 NIV
When the people who claim the name of Jesus choose to place our hope in the things of this world, we cling to this life at the expense of our souls. But neither should we be detached from this world, as some have chosen. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that our mission is here. He calls us to be in the world, without being of it, to love the world without becoming attached to it.
So, to my fellow believers, to those who claim the name of Jesus, I ask: where is your hope? Is it in America? A spouse? Have you placed your hope in anything of this life? Where is your treasure? For “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”