What’s a Christian To Do?
As a pastor, I am used to people asking me questions, mostly about matters of faith. Recently, someone greatly concerned about the new president’s actions on the banning of immigrants and refugees from sev- en Muslim countries, posed this question: “What then is a Christian to do? What does our faith teach us about these things?”
After some thought, I decided to respond in this format because I believe it is indeed such an important and timely question for all of us who profess our faith in Jesus Christ. And, too, perhaps it will open the door for more of us to come together to share our thoughts and concerns as members of the Body of Christ through what John Wesley called “Holy conferencing.”
My response is to offer two perspectives.
First, as a citizen of the United States and an avid student of American history (my minor in college),
I do acknowledge that one of the duties of the president is to protect the freedom and insure the safety of all citizens. And, yes, it is true we live in a time when our nation is under constant threat from those whose greatest desire is to bring devastation and fear to our homeland. We have already witnessed such acts of hatred and violence, as have other countries, perpetrated by various radical elements of Islam.
This is a fact.
However, I find very troubling the manner in which the president’s order came into being. For something this important and which impacts the lives of so many people, it is obvious it was “rushed through” without much attention to detail, particularly in regard to some of those who have been affected. There have been reports that some of the top heads of various agencies tasked to oversee these matters, along with mem- bers of Congress, apparently knew nothing of the details of the order until it was signed. If this is true, then that is a bit scary for me and not how things should be done. As Republican Senator James Lankford (Okla.) stated, “This executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out.”
But there is an over- arching concern here for all of us, and it has to do with our identity and values as a nation. Think about it. America is a nation of immigrants. I am descended from John Holder (1810 census) who arrived in America, likely from England, in a wave of immigrants after the Revolutionary War. On my mother’s side, the Finchers likely came from Germany about the same period. And so did your ancestors, too, coming from all parts of the world at different times in history.
America from its beginning has offered the promise of a new life for those seeking prosperity or sanctuary. And, let us not forget that many of the people who came to these shores were refugees. Is it not at the very core of who we have been as long as our nation has existed? And is it not who we are today as America? For me, it is in our DNA. That’s why I love the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty –“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest- tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Let me be clear. I am not questioning the fearful responsibility of every president to provide security for our country. It is part of the oath of office. However, I am very troubled over the method, wisdom and outcome of these actions for both the immediate and long-term. Too many good people have been caught up in the unintended consequences of this order, and I do not believe that is right nor does it reflect the values of America.
Now I come to the second perspective I want to offer, which is based on what
I believe as a Christian. For nearly 32 years, I have strived to serve Jesus Christ and his
Church to the best of my ability as a pastor. I have tried to live the kind of life that becomes a “witness” for Christ while also preaching the good news of Christ. There have been plenty of times when it wasn’t easy, times when the circumstances were very trying or when the words I wanted to say were elusive.
But always, I have known that even when the way wasn’t as clear as I wished, Christ walked with me… and I knew that the best I could do is to trust him.
So, what is a Christian to do in these times? And what does our faith teach us? Yes, important questions, for sure. And where else do we start than the scriptures? “What does the Lord require of us?” the prophet Micah asked. The answer: “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
In many respects, I see this as the very minimum we can do in living a life of faith. We are to work for justice in this world and often that means standing against injustice in all its forms. And we are to practice kindness in our everyday lives—that is, we are to treat everyone in the same way we want to be treated. But the key to all of this comes down to the kind of relationship we have with God. How are we honoring God with our own lives? Are we truly “walking” with him each day…or just every now and then?
Jesus gave us numerous examples of what walking with God means. His first teaching came as part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” which was Jesus’ way of setting the priorities for his followers. And at the core of this teaching were the “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the meek…blessed are the peacemakers… blessed are the merciful…and the pure in heart…and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
(Matthew 5:1- 12). You might say Jesus was laying out a higher standard for his followers.
But then came what Jesus called “the greatest commandment,” which is for us to “love God with all your heart…and soul…and strength…and mind”—that is, love God above all else. And in loving God, we are “to love our neighbor” (Matthew 22:37- 39).
Finally, if we ever had any question as to Jesus’ expectations in our dealings with our fellow humans, he put himself in the place of the poor and hungry and naked and sick and imprisoned and said, “When you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:31- 46).
And he also said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Friends, our mission of welcoming the stranger has always been a part of extending our love and compassion to others as Christ followers. And that includes “refugees,” people and families fleeing persecution and conditions in their home countries. I think Jesus was very clear on this, don’t you? It is what we are to do as Christians.
I am always blessed (and even amazed) as I witness the many and varied ways we as a church have moved out into our community. Our task—our calling—is to witness to Christ by offering our love and service to “the least of these,” and you do it well, my brothers and sisters.
All of this is to say that we will keep on being the church of Jesus Christ in our community and in the world, and we do this in and through our ministries of compassion and care. At the same time, we strive to be true to our Lord as we work for justice, practice loving kindness, and walk each day with our Lord. And, too, let us continue to pray for wisdom and discernment in these challenging times, and also that we will have the fortitude to speak for all that is right and against all that is not right.
If you would like to speak to me about these things, I would welcome that as well as a means for any of us to come together for discussion. We may agree on some things, and we may disagree. But in all things, may we walk humbly with our God.