FearMeneutics

Wasn’t it their Jesus who didn’t care much for this life? Wasn’t it their Jesus who said to love our enemies? Wasn’t it their Jesus who said to give the tunic off your back? What the hell was the parable of the Good Samaritan all about if not endangering one’s own self to help another?

– Ruth (Out from Under the Umbrella)

My good friend Russell, of Russell & Pascal, sent me this YouTube clip last night. As some of you may know, in a previous life I occupied pulpits for a living myself. Before I realized what was required of those, not to mention what was spewing out of those, who stand in that spot.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, Baron Lord Acton told us, and the authority ascribed to evangelical mega-church (and even mini-church) pastors is about as close to absolute power as clergy can get, short of being the Pope. It is also an extended exercise in electioneering: evangelical clergy are hired, not assigned, to fill their pulpits, which means they can also be fired. Which means they get very good at telling congregations exactly what they want to hear, to the point that it becomes difficult to distinguish between sermons and sound bites.

But even more disturbing than what the pastor himself says in this video is the wild applause in the background. My friends, I give you The Lynch Mob, otherwise known as Sunday morning worship. It is emotion running on pure instinct: this is how the same group can applaud Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies” and their pastor’s support for killing those same enemies dead, all within six minutes’ worth of a YouTube clip.

This is not love, in any sense of the word; it is hate, fueled by fear, encouraged by clerical authority. And it is why I got out when I did–from flag waving to male chauvinism to homophobia, all disguised as God’s love and all justified by way of Scripture, I just couldn’t be That Guy anymore.

But let’s be clear–That Guy isn’t what Christianity is about, not completely. There are many Christians–including many pastors–who believe Ruth’s words, quoted above, and live according to them both in and outside of the church. Lest we forget that, and treat them as the above congregation wants to treat our Islamic brethren, here’s a few quotes that I found yesterday in posts about the Paris attacks, and our national response to them:

Before I knew it I felt the emotions move from my stomach to falling out of my eyes as I prayed for the leaders of this country, our current President, the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, for the prejudice in my heart, and the hate in my words-the words that I have only spoken to myself.

I prayed for the children sleeping in tents and on the road to safety, I prayed for the families that were destroyed and separated, both in Paris and Syria. I opened that prayer to every family, worldwide, that has been touched by terrorism.

The emotion made me pause as I began to pray for every mother or father boarding or placing a child on a boat in an act of love, making hard decisions, trusting the life of their child to both faith and chance; my pause provoked by both empathy and reality.

— — — — —

Act Justly: when faces of weary, worn and haggard refugees stream across my Facebook feed, I am reminded again and again that these are people. They have needs and desires. They require air to breathe, the same as do I. They have families and loved ones. They have felt love- feel love. Have been loved. Have known love. In justice, I must show love as well, offering what I have. Even though what I have might be small. It might be as small as a prayer. It might be even as faint as a fleeting thought or as fragile as the whisper of an image striking my mind in quiet, speaking to my soul. But to do justice, I must seek for the best for all human beings across this globe.

Acting justly starts small. If I cannot act justly to those I know and care for, how can I act justly for others in far-flung regions? It starts here. It starts now. It starts with me.

Love Mercy: I must cleave to compassion, strive to be kind, urgently aim toward benevolence. If I have, I must give. If I can share, I must allocate. If I can offer, so I must do. In considering others better than myself, I am showing that I love mercy. In placing others needs above my own, I am showing that I love mercy. In offering my life for the betterment of another life, I am showing mercy.

Our lives are not our own. Do we not believe that we have a Father that protects us? Is He not bigger than terror? Are we not held in the hollow of His hand? Whom shall I fear?

Walk Humbly: when we refrain from extending ourselves, there can be issues of pride involved. But so can they become intertwined in our motives when we give. We must continuously contend for humility in all aspects of our life. If we have been chastened, accept and move forward. If we have been convicted, act on our convictions. If we feel strongly, question the motive that has brought about the feeling. If we do not feel strongly, we can then ask ourselves: why not? In humility, we are made more in His image. We are more of what we could be. More of what we should be.

I ask each of us—myself included—when considering what our role is in the unfolding story of world history (whether that be a story told close to home or farther abroad: what would Jesus do?

Let it be what I would do too.

— — — — —

Dare I grieve for the misguided, angry and evil young men who convinced themselves that this was for God’s glory? Dare I grieve for the mothers of these men and wonder if this was their aspiration? Dare I grieve for those who hold their faith as preciously as I hold mine and see themselves disdainfully numbered amongst the criminally insane? I dare.

— — — — —

To be Christian is not, willy-nilly, to embrace hatred and xenophobia, as some who view the above video might want you to believe. That video is one expression (albeit unpleasant) of a wonderfully kaleidoscopic faith that takes in a multiplicity of views and beliefs, many of which are built upon the very teachings of loving action that Pastor Jeffress’ words so effectively undermine. Not all Christians respond to the hermeneutics of fear.

I no longer think of myself as a Christian, but I would be remiss if I failed to defend the many men and women in my acquaintance who still are, and who would be just as horrified as I am to hear Pastor Jeffress’ message of violence and hate. In the hearts of many, God actually is love, and to be a Christian actually means living that love in a way that transcends the legalistic and the literal.

So, before you judge too harshly the whole based upon the part, remember what we’re talking about this week: if it is unfair to turn our backs on the Syrian refugees because of what the very few among them may believe or desire, then it is equally unfair to reject all Christians because of what this congregation has done to the Christian message.

Hatred is a mirror:
the only person you ever see in it is yourself.

8 thoughts on “FearMeneutics

  1. I’m so grateful for your recent posts on the refugees, Vance.

    My wife found a perfect quote from Sam Houston.

    Do right and risk the consequences.

    There are serious believers who are so primed for fear and hate that they won’t or can’t do that. Many others are thinking rationally but want to keep the refugees out because they believe what is right is to protect their children and loved ones. That’s a noble thing and I don’t oppose it, but how much risk is worth the lives of other suffering children? It ultimately comes down to genetic preference. The further away someone is from our genes, the less we tend to value them (on average). So a complete stranger from another culture is automatically seen as less worthy than one close family member. There are many good ways to combat that evolutionary valuation. One of them is through spending time identifying with the refugees – imagining that they are you or your spouse or your children. I hope more people who are struggling with how to think on this issue try to see themselves and their children as refugees.

    Another great way is built right into most religions and philosophies specifically to counteract this evolutionary drive so that we can cooperate and live together in larger and larger societies. It’s the idea of connectedness, loving your neighbor as yourself, humanism, etc. Fortunately, for most Christian believers, it’s built right into the faith. In this sense, doing what is right means what is right for the refugees (widows and orphans) and is clear through enlightened self-interest in the following sense of the Great Commission.

    The refugees are a “mission field” they’ve been praying for — a mission field that is literally pleading, begging to be allowed to survive long enough to fall into their lap. Many are desperate for a warm coat and a meal and a place of shelter for their child. A truly Christian response would make the refugees much more receptive to the Christian message.

    Here’s an organization that gets it over seas and I support what they’re doing in the Middle East regardless of their overtly religious reasons for helping. They just need to continue that level of openness and caring here in the US.

    Turning refugees away to they can watch their families and children suffer and die, or only accepting Christian refugees while turning away Muslims — that will only nurture their hatred toward those who barred the gates. The result will be a hard culture in a foreign land that is even more receptive to the extremist propagandas that call incessantly for hatred towards the sub-humans in the “Great Satan.”

    The moderate Muslims fear the extremists and their methods. They will die if they don’t take on those extreme views themselves, but some of them also partially blame America for helping to create the situation that led to the death of their loved ones and their present refugee status. Many of them are refugees, as they see it, because we invaded their land, bombed their innocents, destabilized their governments, indirectly funded their radicals, and forced the radical sects to organize and fight back in self-defense any way they can. This included becoming more radical so they can use their primary advantage (solidarity and terrorism) against a technologically superior aggressor. That, in turn, required taking more territory and collecting and radicalizing more subjects for the war – ultimately forcing more people from their homes as refugees to escape radicalization or death.

    It’s also true that many are inundated with anti-west and anti-American propaganda and are taught to hate and dehumanize the infidels from a young age. Given that background for some, it’s easy to lump all of them together and forget that almost all refugees are fleeing because they fear and reject extremism. Many are thinking, moderate, intelligent people. They are not radicalized and are not a threat. They understand the Muslim culture and are a great moderating force against extremism. They are our biggest allies in the battle of ideas.

    I understand that terrorism from extremists who sneak in as refugees is a legitimate fear that does need to be managed. But that’s what vetting and threat assessments are designed for. We need better, unbiased public education on what the current vetting process is like and how safe we should feel. Otherwise the “fearmeneutics” take on a life of their own and this becomes a popularity contest to see if the nation has more people who put fear over compassion, or compassion over fear. As a software engineer/architect I see these as problems for which we can find a solution if we care enough to try. A team of very smart people (maybe a governmental or UN challenge to universities and the public) could come up with a way to make a compromise to satisfactorily classify threat levels and communicate that mechanism in a way which would reduce that fear and let the vast majority of refugees in right now.

    The point is, none of the Republican governors or pastors I’ve seen who have spoken out against allowing refugees are saying, “Let’s let them in by threat rating and improve that system as we go.” As I understand, that system is already quite extreme and takes years to pass through. Instead, most of the talking points tend to be, “no refugees,” full stop. Or, “Only Christian refugees,” as if that’s not just a threat-level system that treats everyone who claims Christianity as a non-threat and everyone who claims Islam as a high threat. They all need to be vetted and not solely based on the religion they say they follow. To say “only Christian refugees” is to greatly solidify anti-Muslim sentiment in the culture which is not only extremely biased and against what our culture stands for – it only serves to drive more division. That increases the likelihood that future devout followers will be radicalized here due to the stigma and hatred.

    We’re either embracing non-radical Muslims as our fellow humans or we’re dehumanizing them along with the jihadists. We must choose… then make our choice known. Social media is a great place, but we need to remember to alert congress in mass.

    There is always risk, but if this is an ideological war as the pastor in the video states, I’m wondering which attitudes and behaviors he thinks will lead to better outcomes overall with more de-radicalization and fewer incidents of terrorism in the future.

    A)
    -Continue dehumanizing them.
    -Our political and Christian leaders joining together in an angry chorus of “Bomb them!” in reference to the extremists, followed by a conflation between extremism and the rest of Islam (many of the refugees) in the next breath.
    -A message to the American society from the top down and bottom up that says ALL Muslims should be stigmatize, feared and seen as a risk.
    -A cold-face rejection of asylum which sentences the moderate majority among them to more death and others to hatred and the further affirmation of why it is holy and just to rid the world of infidels.

    Or…

    B)
    -Welcoming the suffering victims with compassion that leads to mutual respect, trust, assimilation, understanding, intellectual engagement, humanization, and love.

    It seems as though much of the Republican Party is opting for A, mostly our of the more immediate fear of terrorism. If you’re a Christian or a Republican and you don’t agree with A, please stop right now and send a quick email to your congressman.

    The Democratic party on average seems to be opting for B which I believe would be Jesus’ response.

    Let’s do what is right and risk the consequences.

    Go to http://www.house.gov/htbin/findrep, enter your zip code and email your congressman.

    If someone wants to draft a few template emails (or find some that already exist) which can be shared on social media to get others to sign and send – or create an online petition – that would be real action and a force for good.

    It might also help to create a hashtag that people can submit their ideas to and search through for practical ways to literally do something to support refugees rather than talking into the wind. For example:
    –Donating to organizations who promote it in congress
    –Volunteering for companies that create information for public education on the subject to shift the needle of public opinion.
    –Actually offering to host a refugee family that’s made it in.
    –Creating an online or in-person community for relationship-building and aid for refugees (either sponsoring them as they’re coming or welcoming and helping them after they arrive).

    These are just some thoughts. Thank you for making the time investment to consider them. Thanks, again, for your posts! 🙂

    Gentleness and respect,
    —Russell

    1. Russell,

      Thank you for your response. I always enjoy reading them.

      The Sam Houston quote is a good one, and might be applied to a number of life situations. Rule of thumb, if you will. And something that falls by the wayside far too often in our culture and political processes.

      The vetting process for incoming refugees is, as you say, already quite rigorous. Here is a breakdown: http://www.rcusa.org/uploads/pdfs/Refugee%20resettlement%20-%20step%20by%20step%20USCRI.pdf

      Unfortunately, there is (as I understand the situation) no option for private sponsorship of incoming refugees in the US. I’m not sure where the hosting thing stands; still doing research on that. If anyone knows, please chime in. But there are volunteer opportunities, and you can encourage larger groups to which you belong (churches, local nonprofits, etc.) to consider sponsorship. I’ll be posting about that soon.

      It is somewhat counterintuitive on the part of Christian groups to turn away potential converts. However, I hesitate to couch the situation in those terms: this is a matter of right and wrong, of welcoming these people as they are, not about bringing them here so we can change them to match our specifications. That is import imperialism, and totally beside the point. (I know you know this already; I’m just saying.) We need to encourage all groups to open themselves to the Other for the sake of the Other, without qualifiers or conditions. “I was a stranger and you took me in”; no evangelism, no sermonizing; no value judgments beyond “this person needs help.”

      Let’s bring them here and let them live their lives. There is no substantive difference between Muslims in Syria trying to force Christian Syrians to convert to Islam, and Christians in the United States insisting that Syrian Muslims convert to Christianity. Not as overtly violent, to be sure, but equally invasive.

      Let’s bring them here and let them live their lives. That’s really the whole point.

    1. That’s my point, though: “the faith” has been a positive influence in many ways through history, from the abolition of slavery to the fostering of human rights in the Soviet bloc (not just religious freedom, but basic human rights, like freedom of speech of all kinds). If you throw out the faith entirely because some people misuse it in some ways, then you also throw out all the potential it offers.

      I understand what you mean: there are days when I’d like to destroy the lot of it. But I have to stop myself and consider where that emotion is coming from. I cannot let my bad experiences dictate my perception of the whole, any more than I want people to base their opinions of me on the more militant wing of atheists out there…

      1. On one hand, I agree. On another, I don’t think that religion does enough good to outweigh the bad. That’s probably impossible to calculate and it is hard to imagine what humanity without religion would have looked like. Maybe we are better off, maybe not, but I find it hard to believe that ridding ourselves of superstition would plague us more than faith currently does. I don’t know, friend. I just know we must be better regardless of creed.

  2. I agree. There are many, many Christians who practice, however imperfectly, what they believe Jesus taught. Empathy, compassion, serving others. “These three things remain; faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

    We must not, we cannot, judge the whole from the part. No matter how loudly and obnoxiously the part squeaks.

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