As I was settling into my hotel room in Richmond Friday night I turned on the television to see the terror unfolding live in Paris. Unpacking my running shoes and not too-short running shorts went to the back burner as the world watched the tragic events unfold. As anchors and experts tried to make sense of the unfolding chaos my social media streams were filled with petitions for prayer, calm, and solidarity with our oldest allies. Facebook profile pictures quickly turned into Eiffel Towers and French flags. Instagram became a platform where the world united in prayer. The world came together to ensure that the people of France were undoubtedly aware that they were not alone in this tragedy.
On Sunday morning our church prayed for the people of France as I am sure most churches did. The United Methodist Church issued statements. The president of the World Council of UMC Bishops, Warren H. Brown, Jr., said the following:
“Let us be in prayer for Paris and the people of France. These events have impacted them in the way September 11, 2001, grieved the U.S. Also, please pray for communities around our world that will not make the news, but cringe under the threat of violence.”
Social media quickly reminded us that while France was hit in the gut in the most tragic of manners there are still communities around the world that we should be in prayer with and aligning ourselves beside. These communities are in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even in the United States.
The Middle East has been plagued by violence and terror for much of my life. I do not really remember a time when our nation was not involved at one point or another in some form of military action in that region. Refugees are pouring out of Syria with one of the last nations willing to take them in, France, closing their boarders
Africa is a continent that has been ravaged by civil war, famine, and outside exploitation. Like the Middle East, I do not remember a time in my life when Africa was not in need of international assistance. We are willing to adopt children on a monetary level but what about seeing to it that the infrastructure and systems need for longterm change are in place?
Asia is a continent that offers the world one of a kind cuisine. It is also a continent that is constantly exploited for cheap electronics and dollar store trinkets manufacturing. We all agree that sex-trafficking, slave labor, and poor environmental conditions need to be addressed but we need our latest iDevice and Banana Republic belts manufactured at the cheapest price possible.
I wrote a few weeks ago about a county in The United States, McDowell county West Virginia, that has been torn apart by an economic disaster which as led to a humanitarian crisis that most people only expect to see in Third World nations. Those people, we often say, should just move or find a job. Those people have become the butt of jokes and iconic stereotypes for most of our country.
What do we (the Church, Christians, Americans, individuals) do in the face of refugees, poverty, and terrorism? Over the past weekend we have seen the best and worst in international support for France. While some have rallied in prayerful support others are arguing that this is just another example of why we need every citizen armed with assault rifles. While the POTUS stated that the US would begin accepting refugees from Syria, people who are literally fleeing for their lives, governors and political pundits began playing using these people as a political punching bag. All of this is going on while most of the nation is unaware of the consequences associated with their newest tech device or the desperate need in Appalachian America as winter is quickly approaching.
“I just signed an Executive Order instructing state agencies to take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees to LA.”
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) November 16, 2015
I’ve issued an executive order directing state agency heads to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in GA. https://t.co/4b41tsIYcm
— Governor Nathan Deal (@GovernorDeal) November 16, 2015
What are we to do a Christians in the face of these staggering situations? What are we to do as a Church? 24 governors so far have stated they will not allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states (they need to be re-educated on how federal law supersedes local law but that’s for someone else to do). It frightens me that governors of states are quickly allowing fear to paralyze them from doing what is right. These governors are the same people (for the most part) who when it comes time for re-election will quickly be lining up pandering to local churches about how they are the candidate who will most uphold the “Christian values” that most voters claim influence their vote.
What is the role of the church here? What is the role of the church in addressing terrorist attacks, refugees & famine, human-trafficking, and poverty right under our noses?
The obvious and easy answer is prayer. Praying for the people dealing with terror attacks, displaced by violence and lack of food, those who are held in sexual bondage, and the people we call neighbor. But more than that this is another opportunity where the Church and local churches can stand up and be the light that we are called to be. We can stand up without apology and say you are welcome here.
To the person who is hurt or afraid: “We will care for you.”
You who has been displaced and are unsure of where to go now: “We have room. You are welcome here.”
You who are hungry: “We have plenty, come and share.”
You who has been sold to the highest bidder and reduced to a piece of disposable property: “we love you and your Father loves you.”
To our neighbor who is in desperate need: “We will serve you. We will help you. We love you.”
We have an obligation to treat these groups as more than political punching bags that we turn to when we are in need of a poll boost. It is time that the Church and local church lives up to the standard set for us by the One who we claim the be disciples of.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,o what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”