A photo of a tiny refugee boy who drowned and washed up on the shore propelled the five-year-old Syrian Civil War onto front pages in the United States in the summer of 2015. Suddenly, people cared about Syrian refugees.
Then, in November, DAESH coordinated a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, France. For couple of days some media outlets reported that one of the attackers may have been a refugee from Syria who had resettled in France. That turned out to be false, but Americans did an about face on Syrian refugees and expressed fear about those currently headed our way. On Social Media, people began choosing up sides.
Some people express that their sudden fear is really about the cost, that we can’t afford to help foreigners when some of our own citizens are homeless. Of course, as the wealthiest nation in the world, we can afford to take care of our own citizens when they are dealing with setbacks as well as help refugees.
As a Christian, my faith tells me to come down in favor of caring for refugees. As a baby, Jesus was a refugee. That, along with plenty of Bible texts that promote compassion for refugees, makes care for refugees an important aspect of Christianity. But that isn't the only reason to support the longstanding US policy of resettling refugees after a long, careful process. Removing refugees from camps and normalizing their lives lessens the chance that terrorists will succeed in recruiting them.
The United States has an unusually extensive vetting process for refugees. We have taken in three quarters of a million refugees since the Iraq war started, many from Iraq, and so far none of these refugees have committed any acts of terror on US soil. There are much easier ways to enter the US if you are interested in committing an act of terror.
Coincidentally, this week The New Yorker published a story about how interactions on social media led Megan Phelps-Roper, a member of the Westboro Baptist church, to question her beliefs, and finally leave the church altogether. After reading the very interesting article I got involved in a disagreement with a friend of a friend on Facebook, who called my facts “BS” and “Baloney” and claimed she had five other sources telling her different, more troubling facts. When I asked for these sources she answered, “I am not going to do your homework for you.
Now, here is where things began to get muddled. I have to admit that the “five sources” bit and her refusal to enumerate them reminded me of the scene in that classic film The Manchurian Candidate when the Congressman tells a reporter that there are 57 Communists in Congress…while he is looking at a bottle of Heinz 57 Steak Sauce. I suspected her of making things up or utilizing a single, sketchy source and claiming “sources” to make it seem credible. Her writing had a lot of typos and her grammar was so poor I had trouble understanding a few of the points she was trying to make. At this point I began to have trouble taking anything she said seriously so I called her on several things. I probably crossed the line between sarcasm and irony. In fact, I think I left that line far, far behind. Eventually she made an Ad Hominem attack on me, utilizing several insults including “unchristian.”
I posted a question on several forums asking people if they had ever been called or called someone else “unchristian,” and also what they thought it means. Many folks responded, most saying that they had been called “unchristian.”
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, a seminary classmate and Progressive Christian blogger, wrote,
Are you kidding? I used to get called BLAPHEMOUS all the time. Which I found funny, really, since I don't really believe in the concept of blasphemy. But anyway, yeah. As for what it means . . . I think it means that someone reads or hears something that is the exact opposite of their beliefs, etc. So of course those claims, and the person making them, are unChristian.
The consensus seems to be that “unchristian” is a garden variety insult these days, and that it is best not to get too hurt or upset by it.
A staff member at a Christian organization that helps the needy said,
Anyone can call you un-Christian, but generally they aren't getting their way about something. If you are acting according to the Word you just need to pray for them and move on.
In my sample the person who is called “unchristian” generally seems to be more left leaning than the person who says it (my sample may be skewed by the fact that I posted in some forums with a Progressive Christian label.)
Amy Hillgren Peterson, a Journalist and Playwright, said,
I get that from time to time -- there are those conservative Christians who believe if you're not 100% anti-abortion, do not want one of the uber-"Christian" presidential candidates as a leader, teach your children about conducting themselves thoughtfully and ethically in relationships instead of stressing purity at all costs, don't share the Stand up for Jesus posts or quote scripture on your page all the time, that you're not really Christian. It can be any of those things or other things, too. I've had it a lot this week as I try to share the facts in love about refugees -- how coming into the U.S. as a refugee is the hardest path and I link to a page from the UN that talks about the process (yes, for the U.S.) It hurts. I feel exhausted at the prospect of trying to lovingly show them why I am the way I am and why I do what I do. Then I remember my job is to love them, not to change them. I certainly wouldn't want them to start investing in "showing me the way.
The second definition of “unchristian” mentioned by those I polled is, basically, “unkind.” Here is what Davida Foy Crabtree, a retired Conference Minister (Bishop equivalent) of the United Church of Christ, had to say about the subject:
Oh, believe me, I've been called that many times. Usually it means I am taking a stand for something far from their comfort zone. Sometimes it means I've had to tackle a public leader in a strong way and so I wasn't seen as "kind". I did get called that and worse when I came out a couple of years ago for death with dignity -- got told by a couple of people that they were sure glad I wasn't their loved ones' pastor. Not sure the loved one would feel the same...but one has to learn to shed such things like water on a duck, while still taking genuine feedback seriously.
Must Christians always be kind? Of course not. If someone is trying to kill your child, for example, for God’s sake don’t be kind to them—at least, not until the child is safe. I’m going to say even pacifist Christians, who would not raise a hand to a violent person, might not worry so much about being kind in that sort of situation. On the other hand, when you can manage to be kind to someone who is being terrible to you, it can cause them to repent.
Some folks had called others unchristian on occasion.
Joel Davis, a 30-year community journalist, said,
I call people un-Christian when they use verses from the Bible to justify their hatred and bigotry, or when they call themselves Christians and promote hatred and bigotry. Because it's true.
I have called someone unchristian once, but I instantly regretted it and asked to be forgiven. It was a heated exchange. Yet, I believed, and still do, that to call someone unchristian is blasphemous since God is the only judge of that. I can challenge ideas, attitudes, etc, but I cannot judge the soul.
The third definition that came up is “un-Christ-like.” Some folks think this should be a separate term and that un-Christ-like behavior is the only one anyone should concern themselves with.
On a Progressive Christian forum, Rachel Hedin wrote,
For me, it's much more offensive to be called un Christ like than to be called unchristian. That there's a difference between the two insults is telling.
I don’t think my behavior was “un-Christ-like.” Jesus could be harsh in calling out people’s sins and hypocrisy, and he had some not-nice things to say about some people. However, I am not Jesus, I am a follower of Jesus. There is some indication Jesus’ directive to “turn the other cheek” is outlining the sort of non-violent resistance espoused by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. I love that idea, but now we need to learn how to do that on social media. How do engage in discussions like those that helped Megan Phelps-Roper take control of her own life and break free from a powerful ideology?
This is an important question, because when it comes to public opinion about the refugees, and many other situations, the stakes are high. As David Hunter put it,
Since I don't call myself ‘Christian’, I don't think it would bother me much but has not happened to date. I keep a pretty low profile. The BS I'm reading about the refugee problem is really bothering me. Probably some idiots that want to harm us will get in anyway, or are already here, or are white "Christians", so we will turn away truly needy folks and deny folks that want to help in the name of "safety" which we don't and will not have either way. Makes my heart heavy.
You can’t engage constructively with everyone who is on social media. Haters gonna hate, and trolls gonna troll. But what about people who think they have a better grasp of a situation than they do, the well-meaning folks who get out of their depth and then flail, lashing out in the process?
So, engage! Then blog, tweet, Facebook about it, and use an appropriate hashtag such as #speakthetruthinlove and/or #jesuswasarefugee and/or thechurchofyesand
Thanks to all who participated in discussions related to this subject. I had to leave out some awesome quotes! I hope to continue to draw from your discussions in future posts.
Also coming soon: Jesus was a Refugee T-Shirts available for purchase in time for the holiday season!