Sunday, November 20, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor?

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:25-37)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
(Leviticus 19:34) 

Ever since the election on November 8, my Facebook news feed has been inundated with posts related to various activities regarding the impending Trump administration. Some are legitimate news stories and some are biased opinion pieces. Regardless, there is a common thread in all of these posts - people are concerned, if not downright afraid, of what to expect come next January and beyond.

One of the recurring messages I'm seeing centers around the campaign promise/threat of Mr. Trump to register Muslims and/or ban their entry into this country. It is yet unclear exactly what this would look like, especially considering the constitutional hurdles it would have to overcome. Some say that it would only apply to immigrants from predominantly Islamic countries, in order to avoid the appearance of targeting Muslims. But Mr. Trump was quite adamant in his campaign that he is suspicious of all Muslims, since "obviously" only Muslim commit terrorist attacks (sarcasm intended). Since Islamophobia is alive and well in this country, he played on the fears of his followers, knowing that "Islam" and "Muslim" are highly charged buzzwords that will always garner a response.

Again, it's not clear exactly how this will play out, but I have seen a groundswell response already. People are not waiting until something happens before acting. There seems to be a growing sentiment that if some sort of national Muslim registry is enacted, that non-Muslims will voluntarily register as Muslims, both as a show of solidarity, and to gum up the process. I applaud their enthusiasm in trying to ward off a repeat of 1930s Germany, and agree that such a registry is a very dangerous first step in a long slippery slope of sequestering various people groups who do not fit in with this new administration's idea of who is a patriotic American.

After the Muslims, who is next? Hispanics? Gay and Lesbians? Transgendered persons? Union members? Democrats? Atheists? Anyone who remembers the horrific nightmare of Hitler's reign of terror is all too familiar with how these things play out.

In the passage from Luke above, we are reminded of the familiar story of the Good Samaritan: how a Jewish man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road; how members of the religious elite went out of their way to avoid him or offer assistance; and how a Samaritan man came along, dressed the man's wounds, took him to a safe place, and paid in advance for his care. Jesus told his listeners that the Samaritan proved himself to be a true neighbor of the Jewish man, even though these two cultures normally had nothing to do with each other. The Jews felt that the Samaritans were godless people because they didn't observe the Jewish traditions or worship God in the "proper" way. The Samaritans saw the Jews as self-righteous religious snobs who wanted to keep God all to themselves. There was no love lost between the two camps. Yet this one man, full of compassion and mercy, put aside his differences to help his neighbor, and has been held up as an example to us all for the last two millennia. Jesus specifically instructed us to "Go and do likewise."

The second passage from Leviticus makes it clear that God expected His people to treat the foreigners in their land as they would treat each other, reminding them that they were once foreigners in Egypt.

Both passages are especially poignant in light of this ongoing discussion about what to do with the "Muslim problem." It is my opinion that any proposed registry or ban on Muslims simply because they might possibly pose a threat to our national security is not only unconstitutional, but downright un-Christian. Whether they are singled out for their religion (a violation of the 1st Amendment), or because of their immigrant status (a violation of God's laws), there is no justifiable excuse for such extreme measures.

While Clarke and I live in a predominantly Hispanic area of the city, I have noticed an increase of Muslims over the past several years. In fact, there is a mosque less than a mile from our house, and numerous halal shops have sprung up in strip malls all around us. We regularly see many Muslims shopping at our favorite grocery store, going about their business just like the rest of us. I see peaceful people who seem to just want to live their lives and practice their religion in relative safety and security, free from harassment or interference from the government or others. These people are my neighbors.

I don't know if I would go so far as to register as a Muslim if that day comes; I am all too familiar with the law of unintended consequences. I feel that a much more effective course of action in response to such a nefarious plan is to make sure it never happens to begin with. In last week's post, I encouraged my readers to get involved with their elected representatives, voicing their disapproval of any proposals that would erode the basic human rights of Americans and our foreign guests. My best case scenario is that such a plan would get tied up in the courts and never see the light of day. Worst case scenario would probably be full on protests, civil disobedience and rebellion. As Christians, we cannot stand by and allow our government to treat another religion any differently than we would want to be treated ourselves.

One of the reasons why Hitler was so successful in rounding up the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other marginalized groups of people was because the Protestant churches sat idly by, thinking this was not their problem. We know better now. We know who our neighbors are, and what Jesus taught us. We will not remain silent this time.

On a final note, as we head into this week of Thanksgiving, it is my prayer that each one of us finds time to be truly grateful for all our blessings, including living in a country where we are allowed to dissent with those in power. May our voices never falter.

Have a very blessed and safe week.

Pastor David

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