I've always identified myself as a conservative Christian. But as I figure out more and more what that identification signifies, I find myself backing further away from it. I could use a plethora of issues and examples to explain why I feel this way, but I think the Syrian refugee crisis hits home the most.
As I've been thinking about whether or not Syrian refugees should be allowed to enter the country, I've been slightly torn. While I overwhelmingly feel as though it is our moral duty to help our fellow image bearing kin, I understand that issues are often far more complex than simply helping on the surface (see the posts on "When Helping Hurts"). And while I believe it is the Christian's moral duty to help others, like the Syrian refugees, I think it is very clear that the government's role is largely to protect and bear the sword. Living in a democratic republic kind of muddies these waters, as we aren't just ruled by a government who completely makes their own decisions - we influence those decisions through our votes and our voices. So if my job as a Christian is to love and help and serve, and the government's job is to protect and maintain law, what does that mean for the Christian as we influence our government?
In the end, I came to the conclusion that it is very clear that our individual moral duty is to seek the allowance of Syrian refugees into the United States. But what has amazed me is the number of conservative Christians who have adamantly opposed this notion from the start. What was the cause of such a vitriolic reaction? Fear that some terrorists may be among the refugees. Fear that some physical harm may befall us. Fear that we'll have to spend money to support the refugees. Fear that the refugees will enter the workpool and compete with "true" U.S. citizens. The Syrian crisis made me finally realize what drives many conservative Christians - fear. The Bible is clear about notions of aiding the foreigner, the poor, the oppressed, our enemies, and our fellow man (Ex. 22, Lev. 19, Prov. 19, Jer. 22, Micah 6, James 1, I Jn. 4, etc), yet fear pushes many conservatives away from doing what is right.
Surely such rebellion against God's command to love is unprecedented. Unfortunately, history teaches us otherwise, as conservatives have often been driven by fear. Whether it was Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Abolition, or the Pharisees of Jesus's day, conservatives have chosen to be transformed by fear, rather than to transform the world through love. Christ said that the way the world would know we are his disciples is by the way in which we love one another. But the way the world now judges Christians is by how we live up to our own standards, because that's what conservatives are putting forth as the metric for identifying Christians. But whether the standard is premarital sex, divorce, molestation, abortion, or any of the other soapbox issues for conservative Christians, the news is rife with examples of Christians breaking their own standards. That should not be surprising! The whole point of the Bible is that God's people fail, but they can rest in an unfailing God who pursues them with mercy, grace, and love. If mercy, grace, and love were put forth as the metric for Christianity instead of perfectly following moral guidelines, Christians would still be sinning and falling, but that wouldn't matter. Brothers and sisters would be there to walk beside the fallen, bringing light into the darkness, and love into despair - and that would show the world God's true identity and magnificent power.
But as it stands now, conservatives align themselves largely with the conservatives of Jesus's day . They "purify" their hearts by covering them with laws and rules. But as Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, all the conservatives are doing is whitewashing tombs of death and destruction. They do their best to keep their own moral law and destroy any hint of evil from coming to light, as they attempt to maintain purity.
So why do many conservatives ignore Christ's command to love? As I said earlier, I believe it's fear. But while the Syrian crisis may make it seem as though conservatives are fearful of physical and economic safety, that answer doesn't make sense to me, as conservative Christians are some of the biggest givers to church and charity, and they strongly encourage missions and prosytelization, even if it puts them in harm's way. So what drives conservative fear?
Ultimately, I only had to look at myself to determine the source of the fear, as I am a conservative at heart. The fear that undergirds me stems from doubting God. I may not fear death all that much, but I do fear that God and his grace will not truly change or affect me or others. Why do we conservatives put forward so many laws and rules, shake our heads at those who trip over our moral code, and directly or indirectly ostracize those who remind us of sin? Because if a reminder of our sin was ever before us, our need and insufficiency would be as well. If I ever let myself come to the realization of what my heart is truly like, and how truly wicked I am, I don't truly believe that I will encounter grace, mercy, and love in enough measure to change and heal me. Therefore, my whole life is built around blinding myself to my need.
Now, as we think about allowing a multitude of people into our country - all of whom legitimately need help (even/especially those who may be enemies) - we are faced with a clear call to love. Yet as conservatives who have this tendency to doubt the power of God's transformative grace in our own lives, how are we to believe that God can transform the lives of those so broken by poverty, war, terror, and indoctrination? What conservative moralist wants such a reminder ever before them? It is far better to send missionaries and money to "them," rather than to have them become "us." We all understand that a response of love never comes without some cost, and often not without significant cost. We are moved by the priest who houses the prisoner Jean Valjean at risk of his own life and possessions. We are moved by Atticus Finch who defends a black man in the deep South at the risk of his well-being and social standing. And we worship a God who loved his enemies, even unto torture and death. Love is certainly transformative, but so is fear. Conservative Christians are now at a crossroads where they must decide to continue transforming their tombs into pristine, whitewashed monuments to their decaying, fearful hearts, or be transformed from the inside by God's regenerating, life giving love. If truly transformed by God, we will reach out to others with the same love. And by this, they will know that we are followers of Christ.
My prayer is that as Catalina and I move out into the world, we remember that the gospel begins in our own hearts. We are sinners in need of mercy, love, and grace. We are called to be transformed by that mercy, love, and grace, and to share that with everyone. As we seek to do mission work in Romania, it is not us being sent out from a place of higher position, but rather more like the blind leading the blind to the feet of the one who restores all our sight. We are hopeful in our endeavors - wherever they lead - because God has promised to change us, and has already begun that work in us. We want to share that transformative love with the world, by throwing off our self-absorption, our perceived need for perfection, by putting on humility and openness, and by genuinely loving and edifying in relationship all with whom we come in contact. We pray that the same becomes true of all those who seek to uphold the orthodox doctrines and commands of God. Let's just make sure we start with the greatest of those doctrines:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”