A Thanksgiving Meditation – Betting on our Hopes

The national discussion (screaming match?) regarding the treatment of refugees from Syria presents this question: Are we called to extend compassion only when there is no risk in doing so? Committed members of a faith community ought to first ask themselves that question as members of their community even before asking it of themselves as Americans. I believe that, for a Christian, there can be only one answer: Of course not.

Christ’s Sermon on the Mount makes it plain enough. There we are told to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, walk the extra mile, and volunteer our tunic when someone steals our cloak. These are hard teachings, but we know the passages well. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” Matthew 5:46 (NIV). None of these admonitions is conditional. Jesus did not say, “Love your enemy only when he cannot possibly harm you.” If these teachings set the standard for treatment of our enemies, are they not even more compelling in the case of the mere stranger?

According to Leviticus 19, the Lord told Moses to instruct the assembly of Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Verse 18 - NIV). The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us the full meaning of this command. When the legal expert sought to know who our neighbor is, Christ instead responded with a story that taught how to be a neighbor. “’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who feel into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37 - NIV). The parable teaches that “doing likewise” requires us, as neighbors, to transcend geographic, cultural and ethnic boundaries and to instead respond to any victim in need. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul put a punctuation mark on the lesson: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14 - NIV).

The Sabbath commandment, lying at the very heart of the Decalogue, extends its blessings to the “stranger that is within your gates.” Listen, too, to the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow . . . ” (Jeremiah 22:3 - NIV).

The writer of Hebrews hearkens back to the story of Abraham – father of three great religious traditions – and reminds us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 - NIV). We are not cautioned to avoid hospitality to strangers for fear that some may be devils; instead, we are taught to be hospitable on the chance that some may be angels. Christians place bets on their hopes and not on their fears.

We know these things, but in seasons of stress it is hard to remember.

While we are taught to be “harmless as doves,” we are, in the same breath, told to be “wise as serpents,” Matt. 10:16, and so Christians are not called to suicide. We need not invite across our thresholds those whose only and obvious purpose is to eliminate everyone inside. We are, however, called to take a measured chance, to take a risk for the sake of kindness. Is it possible, therefore, that for a Christian, a reasonable screening of refugees is enough? Is it possible that we cannot be true to our Teacher while closing our arms until that tantalizing moment when security can be guaranteed beyond any doubt? That moment never comes in life. It does not come in our relationships with each other or with domestic strangers. Why, then, would we claim entitlement to that moment in the case of foreign strangers?

A nation’s traditions are an inadequate standard for Christian behavior. Therefore, whether hospitality to immigrants truly is part of the American ethos is irrelevant to the question of Christian duty and the two discussions should not become confused with one another. Nonetheless, our national history does point to one salient observation. As context, let us recall that the record on American attitudes towards immigrants is mixed. On the one hand, there is the American self-conception embodied, for example, in this quotation from Harry Truman, which I saw on display during a recent trip to the Truman Presidential Museum and Library: "Whether discrimination is based on race, or creed, or color, or land of origin, it is utterly contrary to American ideals of democracy." On the other hand, there are many instances in American history where our behavior toward the “other,” whether domestic or foreign, fell far short of this ideal. Nevertheless—and here is the observation—it is not those particular moments that we view with pride as a people. Instead, as we study past times when our anxieties squelched the inherent American spirit of optimism and manifested themselves in prejudicial treatment toward the “other,” we cringe in embarrassment. Somehow in our hearts we know that, just as with individuals, national greatness blossoms when we surmount our fears and overcome evil with good.

There is reason for concern when national rhetoric draws so much strength from our fears. Calmer and more measured souls may sit back quietly in the storm, believing that it will blow over soon enough, but history teaches the dangers of waiting too long. Analogies to Nazi Germany are at risk of being overblown and, perhaps worse, of trivializing the darkness of that era. Still, it is worth remembering that Hitler did not take control by force. His path to leadership was cleared in a democratic election in 1933. It was incomprehensible to many Germans that such a rude, narrow demagogue would remain in power. For example, consider this passage from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas: “The Bonhoeffers saw through Hitler from the beginning but no one believed his reign would last as long as it did. Surely the Nazis would have their moment, perhaps even a long moment, but then it would be gone. It was all a terrible nightmare that, come morning, would disappear. But morning never seemed to come” (pg. 143).

National fear quickly can empower forces that call out our darker instincts, instead of appealing to, as Lincoln so beautifully put it, the “better angels of our nature.” Therefore, at such a moment as this, when our nation celebrates the very holiday instituted by that rag-tag band of immigrants seeking a religious haven so long ago; surely at just this time, it would be well for a powerful Christian voice to be raised against the demands for a risk-free guarantee in exchange for American compassion.

Image: Abdullah, a Syrian refugee with a blood disease, who sleeps outside the Central Station in Belgrade, Serbia.

Jeffrey S. Bromme, Esq. is the Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for the Adventist Health System.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7205
1 Like

There is no better time for us to be reminded of Christ’s parables of our responsibility to the destitute and homeless in our world. We in the most prosperous and welcome to immigrants in the past appears to have been forgotten, even by the grandchildren who owe their citizenship to America’s open arms to their ancestors.

The assumption that allowing refugees would be welcoming terrorists is greatly overblown, but fear is planted and powerful for some. The vetting is a laborious and lengthy process that will ensure that such fear is minimal.

Of all people, Christians should be living their moral beliefs in difficult situations, not when there is nothing to be questioned.

1 Like

A Thanksgiving Meditation – Betting on our Hopes, 25 November 2015, Jeffrey S. Bromme said:
” Are we called to extend compassion only when there is no risk in doing so? Committed members of a faith community ought to first ask themselves that question as members of their community even before asking it of themselves as Americans. I believe that, for a Christian, there can be only one answer: Of course not.”

Well said Brother Jeffrey! Your wise words should inspire us all to “bet on our hopes”, instead of our fears. When we fear those that we are called upon to help and minister to then we have bet on our fears and we will surely lose! We are all refugees. We all want to know that we’re not alone, and not forgotten. In the days following a terrible tragedy, we don’t want to talk about the silver lining, or to get into deep discussions about God’s will, destiny, national pride, or karma. We’re damaged, in shock, and in terrible pain. We just need love and acceptance. The refugees need this today, now is even better!

What would Jesus do in our situation? We know that He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We can weep with the same passion Jesus had when He cried at the death of a friend. We can meet the refugees and love them with welcoming arms as Jesus did. We are reminded in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” The comfort God has given us is not only His loving ministry to us, it is His call to us to minister to others. We have experienced the pain of loss, but we have also begun to experience the comfort that only the Lord can give.

We need to pray that God will give us His love and wisdom as we minister to the refugees and the brokenhearted all around us, particularly during these holiday season. We need to take our sorrow and doubts to the Lord. Ask Him to heal our hearts, renew our strength, and fill us with the love and comfort of the Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction. “ —2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

Refugee camps in the countries bordering Syria are overflowing. There are now 2 million child refugees who have fled Syria. That’s more than the combined under-18 populations of Los Angeles and Boston. Many will face another bitter winter in makeshift shelters without adequate clothing or protection from the cold.
To support Syria’s children, UNICEF has helped mobilize the largest humanitarian operation in history, supplying food, water, education, warm clothing and blankets, and critical immunizations in Syria and neighboring countries. More than 2.9 million children have been vaccinated against polio. Nearly 17 million people have received clean, safe water. Some 3.7 million children and adolescents have access to formal and non-formal education opportunities. UNICEF is fighting to protect Syrian children, but they need your help. Donate to help UNICEF meet their urgent needs.
Please, I beg you make a single tax-deductible donation to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, now, PLEASE!

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
—Jeremiah 29:11

In the darkness, we can see the brightest light of God’s truth. … In how we choose to respond to these refugees, we can celebrate the end of the story in the way we never have before. … May we look through the darkness and see Christ’s light.

1 Like

Thank you Jeff for this beautiful and timely homily. I am happy to see that John Kasich is speaking forcefully against the rise of fascism in the Republican Party. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCQhBYEMRQI. When we empower forces that appeal to our darker instincts, we ultimately undermine everyone’s safety.

As we think of the Syrian refugees, let us be reminded that the Christian life is a life of suffering. Suffering was such a prominent theological focus for Martin Luther that he believed that Scripture is best read according to the three-fold practice of prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and trial/suffering (tentatio). Flacius in his Clavis Scripturae Sacrae that he wrote in 1567, which is credited by Dilthey as the first systematic codification of hermeneutics, echoes Luther in his quote of Isaiah 28:19 for the proposition that suffering facilitates understanding.

The hermeneutical importance of suffering is not solely that receptivity to biblical truth might be heightened. Since Schleiermacher, we have understood that the text is not the only object of interpretation. The author also is the object of interpretation. The great goal of interpretation of Scripture is to know the divine Author better than He knows Himself, assuming that such a thing were possible. As we endure persecution and alleviate suffering, as we do what Christ did, we not only exhibit a Christian concern and love for humanity but we come to a greater understanding and knowledge of God.

Timely, provocative and true. Nicely done Jeff and keep our feet to the fire.

2 Likes

The question is, has Christianity been privatized or not? If not, then I expect Spectrum to be running articles about how the government must re-criminalize adultery and abortion. I expect to see Spectrum running articles about how no one should vote for a candidate who supports same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality. I expect to see Spectrum running articles about how young earth creationism should be taught in the public schools, since it is the foundation of the theistic worldview, and of Christianity.

What’s that you say? Those are matters of private conscience, of private religious belief, not matters for the Christian to seek to enshrine in public law? Well, I feel the same way about Scripture’s directives to be hospitable to the foreigner: these are matters for the individual Christian to implement in his own private life, not to seek to enshrine in public immigration law and policy.

There are numerous good reasons, beyond terrorism, for U.S. immigration law (and that of other Western countries) to discriminate against Muslims and in favor of Christians. Islam does not play nicely with other religions, but demands to be supreme, and demands that sharia law be the law of the land. Believing Muslims do not and cannot believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, because sharia law preempts these freedoms and subjects them to Islam. Islam has contempt for the way we make law in the West–through elected legislatures–dismissing such law as “man-made” law inferior to sharia law, the law of Allah, and not binding upon Muslims. There is no separation between mosque and state in Islam; indeed the concept does not even exist. Islam is both a religion and a polity, and the believing Muslim’s first loyalty is to the ummah, the Muslim religio-political state, not to the Western nation-state he happens to live in. All these factors, and many others, make believing Muslims very poor candidates for functional citizenship in a Western democracy. These are some of the reasons why I and most of my fellow Americans are not thrilled about large-scale Muslim immigration. Hectoring us with Bible verses and calling us Nazis is not going to change the facts about Islam, nor change our prudent calculus about Muslim immigration.

3 Likes

I remind David Read that in Matthew 25:32 Jesus says “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…” The criterion, spelled out in later verses, is whether they welcomed, fed, and clothed the stranger. Yes, he did say “the nations.”

If you have it in your power to supply the necessities of life to a whole class of people, but are averse to doing so because that would involve some kind of collective action, do you really think you can get off the hook by pleading that doing good for others is “for the individual Christian to implement in his own private life”? I don’t think so.

2 Likes

Please remind me…

  • How many Syrian refugees are we talking about when it comes to the US? - Compare to European countries, let alone Lebanon.
  • How many people die of firearms in the US each year? Most of the perpetrators are moslems, I guess. I seem to remember a text about splinter and beam.
  • What exactly did Jesus say about “enemies”? When it comes to refugees the Bible texts on “enemies” don’t even apply. People who flee war, torture, terrorist murder can hardly be seen as enemies.

The “Christian” logic of some of the replies to the refugee crisis is astonishing. Being American apparently comes first. “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” … Very strange Adventists need to be reminded of this.

2 Likes

Great job, Jeff.

David Read: I understand suspicion about Islam. We all worry about what is going on. Still, the refugees are fleeing from some of the very evils you mention. It’s risky, but, as another commenter said, we are alled to “bet on our hopes, not our fears.”

Chuck

1 Like

The China shop rule applies–If you break it you own it. We created the Middle East Problem. We must be there to pick up the pieces. Tom Z

1 Like