A Thought Experiment: What If We Had Responded Differently?

Fifteen years ago, the Fall 2001 edition of Shalom!, a publication on peace and justice issues I edit for the Brethren in Christ Church, was on “Restorative Justice.” As I said in my introductory editorial, I had originally planned to apply the concept to the criminal justice system, prison and offender ministries, situations of abuse, and so on. But in the middle of my planning, September 11 happened and almost immediately, I also began to think about what a restorative justice response to the terrorist attack might look like.

To define restorative justice, I quoted Howard Zehr, an expert in restorative justice theory and practice: “A restorative approach to justice would understand that the essence of crime is a violation of people and of harmonious relations between them. Instead of asking first of all, ‘Who done it? What should they get?’ (and rarely going beyond this), a restorative approach to justice would ask, ‘Who has been hurt? What can be done to make things right, and whose responsibility is it?’ True justice would have as its goals restoration, reconciliation, and responsibility rather than retribution.”

In my editorial, I went on: “So how might we apply these ideas to September 11? Clearly, the attacks were crimes that violated people and their relationships. But what is justice in this situation? How might we identify the needs of the victims and the obligations of the offenders (terrorists) so that things can be made right? How might it be possible to create a process that would achieve more justice?

“My understanding of justice involves more than judgment and meting out punishing that may be deserved. Justice includes making things right; in fact, in the Bible the same word is often used for both justice and righteousness. In the Old Testament, the call to justice (or righteousness) is often in the same context as calls to goodness, love, kindness, mercy, and peace (Micah 6:8 is just one example). To what extent is the response to September 11 motivated not only by the desire for some kind of justice in the sense of appropriate consequences for behavior, but also for what will make things right over the long-term, that will consider the needs and obligations of everyone involved, that will restore relationships rather than further fracture them?

“Admittedly, these are difficult questions with no easy answers. I’m well aware that this situation feels different than many others for various reasons. However, I still yearn for more thoughtful consideration of how things could be better if we worked harder to apply restorative rather than retributive justice principles to the situation.”

Fast-forward 15 years, and I’m still wondering what it would have looked like if we had responded differently to the September 11 attacks, and done a better job of taking into consideration the principles of restorative justice. One of the questions that was frequently asked in the aftermath of the attacks was “Why do they [terrorists] hate us so much?” and it’s a question that continues to be asked. When I googled the question while I was writing this post, I found lots of responses from 2001 all the way up to 2016. In the aftermath of 9/11 before wars were launched, many countries around the world supported the U.S. as we sought to recover from the devastation and loss of life, and we had the opportunity to think creatively together about how we might address the underlying causes for people hating us so much that they would plan and execute such an horrific attack. Instead, the U.S. government launched first the war in Afghanistan to go after Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, and then manufactured reasons to invade Iraq as well.

In that same Fall 2001 edition of Shalom!, I reprinted a talk that Terry Brensinger, my pastor at the time, gave at a peace rally in Harrisburg called, “Sowing the Seeds for Peace: Prayers and Petitions for Nonviolent Action.” He offered three possible nonviolent seeds for peace in the aftermath of 9/11:

  1. Develop meaningful channels of communication with all members of the Arab League and Muslim countries through which we can begin to understand the obvious hostilities toward the U.S. and its policies in those regions of the world.
  2. Aggressively pursue a viable and long-lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Although this conflict seemingly centers on a relatively small piece of land and directly involves but a few million people, it serves as an arena in which American foreign policy is widely displayed. In the eyes of many observers, our involvements here in the past have served to worsen relationships with much of the Muslim world.
  3. Use our multiplicity of resources – financial, educational, and social – to assist the struggling and underdeveloped countries in the Middle East and Asia. Rather than answering violence with greater military force, the U.S. has the opportunity to respond with a wide range of creative initiatives in the region. In so doing, we might begin to undermine the very conceptions that breed terrorism.

Terry concluded: “In short, America faces a strategic moment in its history. This world of ours has for so long lived with…violence that we now consider [it] normal. We have this opportunity to break the cycle. We can begin converting enemies into friends.” (You can read Terry’s whole speech, as well as the rest of the issue of Shalom!)

Here’s the thought experiment: What if we had responded differently, more along the lines of what Terry suggested and in keeping with the principles of restorative justice rather than retribution? What if we had not gone to war in Afghanistan and then invaded Iraq under false pretenses? What if we had not spent trillions of dollars on endless war, putting the U.S. more deeply in debt? How might things be different now? Is it possible that we might have prevented future terrorist attacks and not helped create the conditions for entities like the Islamic State to take root? Could a different approach in 2001 have changed the mood of the U.S. so that we wouldn’t currently be facing what feels like increased levels of hatred toward the other, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, racism, and generalized anger?

Obviously, I can’t answer those questions, and I have no way of knowing how a different response would have worked. But when I think about what has happened in the intervening years – endless wars, the loss of tens of thousands of lives (American, Afghani, Iraqi, and others), ongoing political instability in the Middle East, more acts of terrorism, brutality on a massive scale, repeating cycles of violence, and so on – I wish we had made the effort to see how creative nonviolence might have changed the trajectory.

A few closing caveats:

  • I have not been directly affected by terrorism nor am I personally connected to any of those who died, were injured, or lost family members on 9/11, so I know my musings may ring hollow. I really don’t want to demean their experience and their ongoing pain and feelings of loss.
  • I also don’t want to minimize the sacrifices many people have made doing what they believed was right to fight terrorism and try to make the world safer. Many have lost family members in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many veterans continue to live with debilitating injuries and significant mental health issues.
  • “What ifs” can seem a little like armchair quarterbacking and a luxury not available to everyone. But I also believe that thinking about the “what ifs” is sometimes a useful way to help us imagine more creative alternatives.

So what if we had responded differently 15 years ago? What might that response have looked like? What can we learn now from asking these questions that will help us respond differently in the future?

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A Defense of Political Correctness

In the most recent Republican Presidential Debate, the moderator prefaced a question to a particular candidate with a comment that he had made political incorrectness a hallmark of his candidacy, and then asked the candidate directly what he would like to say at that moment that was not politically correct. He didn’t really answer the question, but he also didn’t object to the premise.

In fact, during this election season, several candidates are wearing their political incorrectness like a badge of honor, and they are being praised and supported for saying out loud what many people are thinking but feel like they can’t say because it’s not politically correct. Their political incorrectness is often wildly popular, and nothing seems to be off limits to say, even when it’s insulting, mean-spirited, sexist, racist, xenophobic, or profane.

“Telling it like it is” is not a bad thing; saying what you’re honestly thinking even when it goes against the grain of what’s generally considered appropriate in polite society is also not necessarily a bad thing. Honesty, truthfulness, and forthrightness are important for genuine conversation and dialogue, especially on controversial and difficult topics. But the question is whether it is possible to be honest and forthright without offending someone’s sensibilities or demeaning others. Which gets at the heart of “political correctness.”

Merriam-Webster defines being politically correct as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people,” and “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” Wikipedia’s definition acknowledges that sometimes it feels like avoiding offense is taken too far: political correctness is “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

I agree that sometimes political correctness can be taken to extremes and sometimes seem ridiculous. I also believe that at the heart of political correctness is caring about what our words can do to hurt people and recognizing how our language sometimes does not respect and honor their dignity as individuals. When we stop to think about whether what we are about to say in all honesty and forthrightness might hurt someone, is that giving in to the gods of political correctness, or is it kindness, simple decency, and respect? Is it possible that this kind of self-editing might actually help make us more sensitive to the needs and feelings of other people?

Here’s a relatively minor example from my own life.

People First is the title of the newsletter for adults with mental illness that used to be published in partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Services where I worked before retiring last year. I used to unthinkingly and without intending any offense write or say “mentally ill person,” or “handicapped child.” Then I learned about the importance of “people first” language. As part of my job, I listened to people with mental illness and the parents of children with disabilities talk about their value as human beings first apart from their disability, and I changed not only the way I talk and write but also how I think and what I believe. People are more than their disability; they are people first who happen to have a disability.

In a nutshell, that’s the point. People are important and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and our language should reflect that. When I hear some in the current crop of presidential candidates and their supporters proudly state their disdain for political correctness and their desire to “tell it like it is,” without regard for who might be offended, hurt, excluded, or defined in a way that diminishes them, I wonder if the candidates have ever thought about why so-called political correctness might sometimes be a good thing.

It also occurs to me that often it’s the people with the power who are the first to criticize political correctness. A local example illustrates this. Late last year, some students demanded that administrators rename “Lynch Memorial Hall” on the campus of Lebanon Valley College because of the racist connotations of the word “lynch.” The building was named for a former president of the college, and had nothing to do with the horrible practice of lynching African Americans. When I first heard this piece of news, my instinctive reaction was to agree with many others that this was taking political correctness too far. After all, the word has absolutely nothing to do with the practice of lynching; it’s a family name. It seems like there are much more important things to be upset about than the name of a building that just happens to be the same as an abominable practice. BUT, and this is a big but, I am not African American; I don’t have ancestors who on a daily basis feared being lynched, and the word does not conjure up horrifying and painful mental images that I’d rather not be reminded of every time I see the name of the building. (I believe the issue was resolved by using the former president’s whole name, rather than just his last name.)

At its best, political correctness reminds us of the real people who are at the other end of our words. It makes us think before we speak. It helps keep our discourse, whether spoken or written, less inflammatory and more civil. It includes rather than excludes, and it should make us think about how we might be using our personal power and privilege to demean and minimize the feelings of others.

P. S. After I started writing this blog post but before I finished it, an article called “Why I’m a Politically Correct Christian (And You Should Be Too)” from Sojourners popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, and adds an important perspective to what I’ve been trying to say.

The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail

The Wrong Shall Fail, the Right Prevail

In 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells.” An abbreviated version of the poem was set to music and became the familiar Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Long one of my favorite Christmas carols because of the lyrics, the poem feels particularly poignant and relevant this year. (Listen to one of many versions of the carol.)

When Longfellow wrote the poem, the Civil War was raging, and the Christmas message of “peace on earth, goodwill to all” must have seemed like something of a bad joke. In addition to the horrific carnage and enmity even among families on both sides of the conflict of the Civil War, Longfellow experienced personal tragedy as well: his wife died in a fire and his son Charles was severely wounded while fighting with the Union army. (You can read more about the history of the poem here.) While I haven’t had personal tragedies this year as Longfellow had, I feel like the world has gone mad and I can’t help wondering how we can with integrity sing about the angels’ message of peace and goodwill when all around us is violence and killing, hatred, xenophobia, racism, and discrimination.

Here’s the poem, interspersed with some commentary:

“Christmas Bells”

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

These first three stanzas present the greeting-card picture of Christmas, with carols, bells, and everyone coming together to sing the song the angels sang to the shepherds the night Jesus was born: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Words and phrases in the poem like “old,” “familiar,” “words repeat,” “unbroken song,” and “world revolved from night to day” all suggest the welcome annual ritual of celebrating the birth of Christ and they remind us of what we are celebrating. You can almost hear church bells all around the world peeling out their carols in “unbroken song,” filling the air with unending beautiful music.

But then come the two stanzas that were cut from the Christmas carol version of the poem:

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered from the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned/Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

These stanzas are a clear reference to the Civil War, with families all over the country “forlorn” from the damage done by the war, and cannons drowning out the sound of the bells and their message. The poem continues:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on Earth, “ I said:
“For Hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men!”

I feel that despair this year. Hate seems particularly strong, and mocks the message of peace. Since I wrote “On Not Giving In to Fear” less than two weeks ago, after the Paris attacks and in the wake of hateful rhetoric being directed against Syrian refugees, there has been more violence in Colorado, San Bernadino, and other places, and even more hateful rhetoric. The president of a prominent Christian college called for all his students to arm themselves to fight off “those Muslims”; another prominent Christian said that “no Muslims should be allowed into this country until there’s a process in place to fully vet them”; the leading Republican presidential candidate announced his intent to bar Muslims from entering the U.S.; and another presidential candidate called for “carpet-bombing them [ISIS] into oblivion,” which couldn’t help but cause mass casualties of innocent civilians.

For me, perhaps the most frustrating and saddest thing is that a significant percentage of potential voters – ordinary nice people, some of whom probably go to church with me – are cheering on and supporting this kind of rhetoric. They all claim to be Christian (after all, the leading presidential candidate who spouts the most reprehensible ideas said that the Bible is his favorite book), but they don’t speak for me and they don’t seem to be paying much attention to the Jesus who told us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, welcome the stranger; who reprimanded Peter for defending him by cutting off a soldier’s ear; and who told us not to be “afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

Here we are, about to celebrate the birth of that Jesus. We’ll happily sing Christmas carols that speak of “peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled,” revel in the “silent night” when the baby Jesus “sleeps in heavenly peace,” all the while being oblivious to how our words and actions belie the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate. I find myself in tears as I imagine how this hateful rhetoric must sound to Muslims and others. No wonder they hate us; no wonder some people refuse to have anything to do with Christianity. While I understand some (but certainly not all) of the anger and fear that is at the root of much of what is happening and being said here in the U.S., so much of it feels so very wrong, dangerous, and bordering on the same kind of extremism that is motivating unspeakable acts of barbarism and terrorism by other religious extremists. There is something profoundly unChristian going on, it doesn’t help our witness in the world, and I grieve deeply.*

This is why I really need the last stanza of Longfellow’s poem during this particular Advent and Christmas season, which does not leave us in despair but resoundingly reminds us of the long view of history and of our faith that somehow, the wrong will fail, the right will prevail, and there will be peace on earth:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

 

*As I wrote this, I realized that my own attitude toward those who are espousing ideas, beliefs, and practices that are antithetical to what I believe is right and good is not always as loving and kind as it should be. I don’t think that means I should not speak out and confront that which is so wrong, hateful and unChristian, but it does mean I always need to do so in a way that reflects this core value of my faith and my church: “We value all human life, and promote understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation, and nonviolent resolution of conflict.”

 

On Not Giving In to Fear

Fear is an ugly thing. A couple days ago I wrote about how my own fears about potential responses to opinions I might express on social media sometimes keep me from standing up for what I believe is right – in this case, how we think about Syrian refugees. I could go on about other fears I’ve had or still have that sometimes cause me significant anxiety: cancer or other serious illness, something bad happening to a member of my family, financial concerns, interpersonal and organizational conflict, violence directed at me or someone I love, and so on. While these are fears I’ve faced personally, there are other more “global” fears that afflict many people to a greater or lesser extent: economic collapse and financial disaster, crime, loss of freedom and our way of life, persecution, death, catastrophic illness, and of course the big one right now, terrorism.

Fear of terrorism, specifically as perpetrated by extremist groups like ISIS or Al-Quaeda, is making many Americans irrational and/or mean-spirited, if you ask me. Witness the following:

  • one presidential candidate didn’t completely disavow the idea of registering Muslims in the U.S. in some kind of database, and said that it might also be a good idea to close mosques;
  • another made the unfortunate (and perhaps unintentional – I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt) comparison of Syrian refugees with rabid dogs;
  • others suggest allowing only refugees who can verify they are Christian to enter the country;
  • national polls show that a majority of Americans want to stop the flow (however small it has been so far) of Syrian refugees into the U.S.;
  • the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill prohibiting Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entry into the United States until security and background protocols are strengthened (never mind that security for incoming refugees is already pretty strict) and the Senate is working on similar legislation;
  • more than half of the nation’s governors have stated they will not accept refugees into their states;
  • the comments sections after many online news stories about refugees are filled with hate, with truly vile sentiments being expressed by people, including some purporting to be Christians.

And we could go on. Presidential candidates and others are playing to our worst fears, and many people are allowing themselves to succumb to those fears against all reason.

This all makes me very sad and disheartened. While parallels to U.S. hysteria about Germans during World Wars I and II and about Japanese during World War II are not exact, they are close enough that they should give us pause. The same attitudes and fears that drove our response then seem prevalent today. Do we really want to repeat what we did when we rounded up Japanese people and sent them to internment camps, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Have we learned nothing from history? And then there is the hypocrisy and blindness of being so concerned about the relatively small threat of being killed by terrorism here in the U.S. that we close our borders to refugees who are fleeing actual terrorism, while at the same time not having the national will to do much of anything about preventing the daily toll of death by gun violence in our streets, schools, and homes.

Fear is a powerful motivator, and I confess that it has motivated me far more often than I care to admit to think and act in ways that I wish I hadn’t. I really do understand the fear. But I don’t want to be ruled by it. Fear is not emotionally healthy and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful either, especially when it turns me into something other than my best self. Plus, for Christians, the Bible repeatedly tells us not to be afraid. During a particularly stressful time of my life a number of years ago, when I couldn’t sleep at night, I would quote Psalm 23 to myself, including these words: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” More often than not, I would soon fall asleep – not because the psalm was some magic potion, or because the fear was gone, but perhaps because I had focused on something other than the fear and been reminded of something/someone greater than myself and my fears.

Fortunately, there are rays of hope, decency, and compassion; not everyone is giving in to fear. Many religious organizations (such as Mennonite Central CommitteeNational Association of Evangelicals, and Sojourners) have categorically stated the need to reach out to Syrian refugees and remain faithful to the clear call of Scripture. My own Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has indicated that we will accept refugees into our state, despite the political backlash he is receiving. Many individual Christians are speaking out about the need to follow the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger,” reminding us that Jesus himself was a refugee; many are making valiant efforts to counteract misinformation with facts, about what it actually takes to be able to enter the country as a refugee, for example. And many are trying to inject the toxic conversation with kindness, compassion, and common sense, often at the risk of being ridiculed and called horrible names. All of these things give me hope that we will all  come to our senses and live up to the values not only of our faith but also of our country.

I want to have the courage to stand up for what I believe is right and not give in to fear, to be compassionate and welcoming to people in great need, including refugees from Syria.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming My “Opinephobia”

I started writing this post weeks ago, long before the latest terrorist attack in Paris. As I’ve watched, read, and listened to the news the last few days, particularly related to how we should respond to refugees from Syria, I decided I have to say something, to express an opinion about what I believe is right – which simply stated is that we must not give in to our fears and close our borders to those seeking refuge from violence and injustice. To explain why saying that in a social media platform like this is difficult for me, let me describe what I consider one of my afflictions.

I coined a new word – “opinephobia,” or fear of expressing an opinion – to describe the affliction. There is so much happening in the world these days that seems to need some kind of response, with sane and wise voices providing perspective. When events unfold in the world, fragments of blog posts often take form in my head as I try to make sense of what I think and believe. I usually don’t finish them, however, because: 1) I decide not to take the time to flesh them out; 2) so much has already been said and I feel like I can’t add anything new to the discussion; 3) my post could easily degenerate into some kind of rant, given my extreme frustration sometimes, and that wouldn’t be helpful; or 4) I’m reluctant to put myself out there – in short, I’m scared of the reaction I might get.

Number 4 is the one I’d like to unpack a bit. Why am I afraid to express an opinion or give my perspective when so many people seem to have no such fear, and when I believe it’s important to stand up for what one believes is right? Here are some possible reasons:

  1. I fear judgment from those who will think I’m wrong, whether ideologically, theologically, biblically, morally, or whatever.
  2. I recognize that issues are always complex, with many shades of gray, and I can’t account for all those shades of gray when expressing a simple opinion. (Someone recently said, “The gray middle is vanishing and all that’s left is the light and the dark.” While I understand what the person meant – he was expressing his opinion about the current state of affairs in the U.S. – I still see shades of gray in almost everything.)
  3. I fear the mean-spiritedness that could be directed at me or those I care about. I don’t like it when people are angry with me!
  4. I fear being unable to express clearly what I mean and as a consequence being misunderstood.
  5. I recognize I probably don’t have all the facts, and don’t want to appear ignorant.
  6. I am well aware that equally sincere and well-meaning people I like and respect often see things quite differently, and I fear that people with whom I disagree will feel like I am judging them.
  7. Perhaps I also fear that even though my opinion is deeply held, I could be wrong and I don’t want to have to admit I’m wrong. (Hard to admit that fear!)

These fears are a little odd, I suppose, because for more than 35 years, I’ve been expressing my opinions in print publications on many difficult and controversial topics. Those opinions are not always in the mainstream of public opinion. This is particularly true when it comes to my commitment to nonviolence, which often leads to less than popular opinions on issues like guns, the death penalty, and war (I’m opposed to all three). I can be fairly fearless in print, speaking the truth as I see it while also recognizing that not everyone will agree with me. Why am I able to do it there but have more difficulty doing it here in this blog, on other social media, or in letters to the editor or online comments sections of various news outlets? Why is it so difficult to have the courage of my convictions in these contexts? I fear the response and I dislike the nasty turn so many online discussions can take.

This is not to say that nothing I’ve written or edited for print has ever received a negative response. But when the response comes by land mail or email to me personally, it’s easier to handle, perhaps because the disagreement is not immediately public and I have more time to think about how to respond. I can cool down from the initial emotional impact (if the letter seems unfair or is hurtful), consider the pros and cons of what the person said, and carefully craft a response that explains why I said what I did, perhaps apologizes for my lack of clarity or for over-stating something, but also acknowledges the value and the validity of the person’s critique. There’s time for nuance and a recognition of complexity that often seems impossible or impractical in the instantaneous world of social media. Online, some people seem able to fire back at will with rebuttals and counter-arguments, while it takes me awhile to formulate what I want to say and how I want to say it, and by then the moment has passed. Also, in online forums, often those who comment make personal attacks or come to wrong conclusions about the kind of person you are, based on what you thought was a simple and honest opinion. And then, of course, there is the issue of my introverted and basically shy self asserting itself, not to mention my long-standing dislike of conflict and desire to avoid it whenever possible.

When I first started writing this, I was thinking of opinions I would like to express on the Black Lives Matter movement, criminal justice, presidential candidates who seem to be the embodiment of the title character in the fairy tale “The Emperor With No Clothes,” gun violence and gun control, and the Iran nuclear agreement, to name a few. Right now, I’m thinking especially of the recent terrorist attack in Paris and the resulting efforts to close our borders to refugees from Syria because of fears that we will be vulnerable to a terrorist attack in the U.S. I understand those fears – as someone who fears many things I wish I didn’t – but I am convinced that we should not let those fears rule us. When people, and especially Christians, call for closed borders and/or only accepting Christian refugees, I am, quite frankly, appalled and embarrassed. In what Christian universe is this okay? Whatever happened to biblical principles like these: “show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:1); “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35); “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers” (Deut. 10:19); “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).

Particularly, at this time of year, when (as various people have helpfully pointed out on my Facebook news feed) we celebrate the birth of Jesus who with Mary and Joseph had to flee death and become a refugee, it seems like the height of irony and hypocrisy for Christians to refuse to welcome refugees and strangers. (Or to quote a recent tweet: “If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people, seeking refuge, being turned away by the heartless.”) Let’s be Christian in the most grace-filled and compassionate sense of that word, refuse to give in to our fears, and open our hearts, minds, and hands to do what is right and what our faith tells us we should do. And that’s my opinion!