With hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flooding Europe, our response as a nation has at best been tepid. We have 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., but many would rather build walls than talk about how humanely to deal with the small children caught in the political crossfire. This week a 14-year-old geeky student brought a homemade clock to school and was arrested for making a “fake bomb”—four policeman surrounded and handcuffed the confused, slightly built young man. He happened to be Muslim and “looked” the part. Why is it that people not like us bring out our dark side? I believe that fear for our safety seems to trump human dignity. But, should it? Would we put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps if we had it to do all over again? One politician called immigration an “invasion” if the people coming are not required to speak English. The demon of differences rears his ugly head.
Xenophobia according to Merriam-Webster.com is defined as the following: Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. We can judge people to some degree, but the fact is that for most us, anything strange or foreign mostly garners negative emotional reactions. In a world that is rapidly changing, the number of strange and new things that seem foreign grow each day. Immigration has already changed the neighborhood, but so did the iPad. We all moan when our favorite local eatery closes its doors. Add to that the idea of mobility and we are a people who constantly transplant ourselves to find a better standard of living. You would think that with all the change, we would grow to love it. This simply is not the case. We hate change. And, we at our core dislike the faces that bring change. We create by our mobility differences of surroundings and people into our lives, even when we are uncomfortable with the fact—even though enough differences exist as is.
How do we beat this demon of differences? First, I think we have to stop the shaming and fear-mongering speech. People are afraid. For instance, there indeed is an issue with our system of law enforcement where many have been killed, mistreated, and otherwise oppressed. But, we cannot have a helpful conversation when we dehumanize those that enforce our laws. They are people, too—fully deserving respect, dignity and empathy for the role they play in our society. The fight for the dignity and well-being of all of people is a fight to see our fellow humans as God sees them. This is where we can win. How we see people as people is the key. But, there is another very important piece that is often too counter-cultural to easily accept.
Any “us and them” language creates a false reality. Your neighborhood is your neighborhood. Love even those who are not fellow Christians as we all are God’s creatures—valued and loved by God. This means that my Muslim friends and neighbors are God’s creation as well. And, they are part of my neighborhood—if not locally, then surely part of the race of humans. When Jesus said that the Law and Prophets all hang on loving God and loving your neighbor, he forever destroyed the “us and them” paradigm. He forever connected our faith as not just vertical devotion, but horizontal devotion, as well. In other words, I can’t really say I love God if I don’t love my neighbor. And, I cannot really love my neighbor if I don’t love God enough to see how he sees me and all people—as people created in his image. Remember, our neighborhood is in fact the world.
When we look at current political rhetoric, those who claim to be “Christians” will treat people as those created in the image of God. Those who use Christ in another manner forget the core of the gospel. To defeat the demon of differences, this is pretty much sums it up. “God so loved the world…” Then, why do we keep living in fear of those not like us? I think it is because we believe the lie that all people do not matter equally in the eyes of God. He made all of us a little lower than himself as a race of beings. To then dehumanize people is to “de-Christianize” the planet. Let’s defeat the demon of differences by agreeing that God loves all of his creation—especially, the part that he made in his own image. People matter to God. People should matter to us. No exceptions.
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19