The following is a true story, and a parable. My life has many layers.
For a little while now, I’ve been working to organize a group of about a dozen people to welcome and assist refugees (Syrian and otherwise) who are being settled in our area. Over the course of several months I’ve been trying to navigate around everyone’s conflicting schedules and slow responses to emails (my fault as much as anybody else’s) to little avail, so finally I just picked a date. Last night was that night. Everybody who could would gather at the church and we would be briefed by my contact at the refugee agency. It was all coming together.
About an hour before the meeting that I was supposed to head, I got the following text from my wife:
They’re sending me to the hospital
What was the proper course of action? Should I attend to my own family first, or give priority to the refugees?
I chose my family. Didn’t even hesitate.
At this point, you are yelling at your screen, calling me a racist. How do I know that? Because that’s what you’ve been doing on Facebook for the past several days.
“Brothers and sisters, slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them is truly righteous.” –Epistle of James the Socially Just 4:11 The most common article shared on social media is not “Recent event proves my politics were right all along.” That is merely the camouflage people wear for their real message: “I am a good person, and I’ll prove it by showing that I hate these bad people.” This what motivates a person to proudly declare that they have cut off former friends/relatives who promote badthink (consider if they instead phrased it as “I’m building myself an echo chamber!”). This is why you’ve seen people rush to tell you that, *sigh*, so many of their old friends and relatives are total xenophobes isn’t it terrible? And you get the sense that while they say this horrifies them, there’s a part of them that delights in it and couldn’t wait to tell everybody they know. Because by telling you how much they don’t like those people, they get to tell you how virtuous they are. Nothing feels quite so good as moral indignation; humans love to signal virtue. And it’s always easier to tear someone else down than to build yourself up.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will never be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Racist,’ will be immediately swept up into Heaven.” –Social Gospel of Matthew 5:22 So I’m sure it felt good. But what did you accomplish? Have you ever in your life, found that “you are a dirty sinner and I am not” made you more inclined to listen to somebody else’s arguments? If they peppered it with insults, did that incline you further toward them, or further against them? Then why have you embarked on this same strategy now?
Here’s what you would have done if you cared about the Syrians for their sakes rather than your own. You would have taken a moment to understand and address the concerns of those you are lecturing. People have very real reasons to be worried about the importing of large Muslim communities, and pretending those don’t exist or refusing to even mention the issue does not strengthen your credibility. Instead, it reiterates to them how little you care about them, and hints that you may well be willing to sacrifice them for the sake of political correctness.
And even if they weren’t worried about the Muslim issue (the Gulf states have refused to take in Syrian refugees. We can safely eliminate “don’t want Muslims in their country” as a motivation), many people would still have good reason to oppose them. The refugees will not be placed in the neighborhoods of well-off, privileged people like you and I. They will be stuck in low-income housing among the poor. There, they will probably compete for low-skill jobs, and very likely raise the crime rate in their area. Those poor people you’re looking down on have the same obligation to look after their own families that I did. They are not bad people for doing so, any more than you are a good person for dismissing as irrelevant the costs that will fall on them rather than you. Acknowledging that would have given you a chance to win them over.
(Oh, it also would have helped if you haven’t spent the past several years being silent about ISIS and their butchering of Christians, or even our treatment of refugees when they’re Christian. People do notice if you only speak up at the moment it is advantageous to your party, and they draw the appropriate conclusions. But let’s put that aside for now.)
“For I was hungry and you told someone else to give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you told someone else to give me something to drink, I was a stranger and you told someone else to invite me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you told someone else to do, you did for me.” –Social Gospel of Matthew 25:35,40 Actually, put all three previous paragraphs aside. Here’s what you really would have done if you cared about the Syrians: you would have gotten involved with your local refugee program or donated to them or made some sort of sacrifice to help them. Because of fortuitous timing, I was able to run an experiment. Whenever I saw somebody local post something in the style of “I am a good person because I care and you are not,” I invited them to our meeting, where they could learn how to physically help refugees. Not one showed up.
Telling people you hate them and are better than them does not win them to your side. Your strategy is already bearing the predictable fruit. The White House has been pursuing much the same line, and in doing so, they turned the support for that anti-Syrian refugee bill from a majority into a veto-proof majority. So congratulations to all of you. I know it felt good patting yourselves on the back. I hope it was worth it.
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
–Epistle of James 2:15-17
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
–2 Timothy 2:25
The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else. –McMegan’s Law