As a Christian woman, I often reflect on what Christ expects of me in various circumstances in life.
While reflecting on a recent sermon about loving our enemies, I realized that sometimes, it’s hard to love people, such as fellow Christians, who we wouldn’t naturally call “enemies.”
You’d expect people of faith to be overcome with empathy and concern for all people. Yet I’m puzzled that so many of my fellow believers in Jesus appear to be unmoved by the suffering around them.
I recently drove past a church that I pass every day on my commute. This week’s message on the sign out front of the church said: “Heaven has a wall, a gate and extreme vetting.” This sounds like language from politicians, not someone entrusted to care for the spiritual needs of our community.
After reflecting and praying on it overnight, I decided to call the Pastor to try to understand the intent of the church sign.
He explained that he was using ‘shock and awe’ to proclaim a truth about heaven that comes from Revelations chapter 21.
I asked him if he was aware of how hurtful the sign might be to his immigrant or refugee neighbors given the political climate in America today. He explained that he is focused on eternal, not earthly, matters and did not intend his message to be hurtful.
I told him about my friend Nanci who was brought to Florida as a child and is part of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program which has allowed her to legally work, obtain a driver’s license and help support her family. Given President Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and executive orders targeting this community, her future is in limbo. She is unable to travel on a plane, could lose her right to work and, consequently, suffers with daily migraines. After hearing her story, the pastor said he’d support her if she was here ‘legally.’ How is it that people so dependent on Christ for their very salvation by grace are so quick to refer back to ‘law?’
Where is the empathy for someone such as Nanci who is suffering in this moment?
My husband is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Puerto Rico. He feels deeply hurt and betrayed by fellow Christians who proclaim to love Jesus but think it’s ok to talk about their landscapers as nameless, faceless ‘Mexicans.’ He spent time serving in Afghanistan defending America—yet feels rejected by Americans who sound so ardently anti-immigrant. I doubt he’d feel welcomed into the church by the sign on the road.
After the pastor and I shared our thoughts and agreed to disagree, I reviewed the church’s website. It included warnings about how the Obama administration had so many Muslims working on its staff.
As a follower of Christ, I simply don’t understand how that is relevant to our mission as believers.
One of my co-workers described to me how he risked his life three times to obtain his college degree in Afghanistan. He says “Back home, they called me an infidel, because I was fighting for justice and human rights. Here in the U.S., people call me a terrorist.” I don’t blame him for feeling confused.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to minister to those around us, not just those who look, sound or worship like us. And this calling has nothing to do with a person’s legal status; Jesus never asked to see a person’s “papers” before ministering to them or performing a miracle on their behalf.
While the sign I saw was just one church and one sign in a nation of many, it’s a reminder that people of faith have a responsibility to love not just our enemies, but our neighbors. We should proclaim the good news of Christ with our words as well as deeds.
Denise Collazo is chief of staff for PICO National Network, the largest faith-based organizing group in the country. Follow her on Twitter @PICODenise.