–Daniel S. Ferguson
Last week’s news was dominated by bombings. First, we had the chemical attack by the Assad regime on its own citizens. Then, we had the US retaliation, which destroyed a fifth of the Syrian air fleet. And finally, unrelatedly, ISIS bombed two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday, killing dozens.
It almost doesn’t matter which experts you ask or what plans or ideologies they support, nearly everyone agrees that the Middle East is at a tipping point. The US and Russia have both been entrenched there for decades, and the uprising of multiple factions and surprisingly well-funded terrorist groups have begun literally changing the lines on the map. Those terrorists have shown a remarkable ability to strike across the globe, even as far away as France, ensuring that, whatever happens, the whole world is going to be involved.
And, just like in prior major wars, the world will look to the church for comfort, support, and hope. But unlike the previous major wars, I don’t know if the church is willing or even able to provide them.
Even the Nazis treated churches with a sense of sacredness; they famously wouldn’t attack a known Allied Forces medical outpost in Angoville au Plain, for example, because it was a church, and the church even treated the German wounded, too! But the repeated bombings of churches in Egypt and elsewhere demonstrate that there is no such respect for sacred places in this conflict. They’ve even attacked the sacred sites of their own religion; why would they not attack ours?
But that’s not all I’m talking about. I’m also talking about what I perceive to be an unwillingness (or perhaps an inability) by Christian churches in the United States, which are far from any real danger, to provide comfort, support, and hope during this conflict.
We are, it would seem, much more concerned with our own safety. After all, it was largely white Evangelical Christians who supported the President’s refugee and travel ban regarding Syria and other nations back in February, in what I consider one of the biggest moral abdications of my generation by the church. It is a not-at-all-funny irony that the same Christians who wanted to keep Syrian refugees out of this country were outraged to the point of bombing when chemical weapons were used last week for what was absolutely not the first time.
The outrage was sudden, but the cause of it was nowhere near new. Assad has been using chemical weapons against civilians for at least four years, but it was only when the candidate that white Christians liked won that the church is suddenly outraged and demanding of action.
Just so long as that action is far away and safe for them.
To be fair, plenty of Christian organizations have been involved in Syria from the outset. They’re doing good work, but there are far too few doing far too much with far too little help. They’re overwhelmed by a scenario in which they can’t possibly win, and where their definition of success is simply fewer children dying each day.
The church doesn’t just need to be involved here; we are, I believe, morally obligated to dive in deep–dangerously deep–to save everyone who can be saved, even at the expense of safety here at home. We are, I believe, called by God to throw open our borders to refugees, even knowing that a terrorist could slip through and attack us. We are, I believe, required by God Himself to cast away our own lives for the lives of others. That is what Jesus did, and that is what we should do.
It’s hard to know which side is the right side here, so let me make it clear. While there isn’t necessarily a good side militarily to be on in this war, and while I do not advocate for any particular decision for the United States government itself, the church’s side is clear. We’re on the side of the refugee. Of the starving child. Of the orphan. Of the widow. We’re on the side of the destitute, the displaced, and the disenfranchised. We’re on the side of the least of these, the trampled on, and the hated. We’re on the side of the poor and the dying.
At least, I hope we are. That’s the church I want us to be. That’s the church the world needs. That’s the church the lost need to see, not the church that keeps itself safe, but the church that keeps others safe. The church of bravery and self-sacrifice. I know we still have it in us to be that church, but it’s going to take a lot of work. We’re not there right now. I just hope we can get there in time to do some real good.