Many of us recall Donald Trump, Jr’s analogy comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles sprinkled with a few poisonous ones that “would kill you”. The point of the analogy was to keep Syrian refugees from immigrating to the U.S. I prefer Forrest Gump’s analogy: life is like a box of chocolates. Forrest even sought to share his chocolates with others. Of course, life comes with big risks, but many of those risks come with pleasant surprises, including the opportunity to build lasting friendships involving Christians and Muslims here in the States.
This week, I was in Sacramento, California for a meeting with pastors and academics focused on encouraging Evangelical Christians to become more adept at engaging redemptively our increasingly multi-faith society. The name of the group is Multi-Faith Matters. As we were meeting, news broke of a suspected ISIS member’s arrest in Sacramento. Such news has raised fears and easily builds walls of suspicion in Sacramento and elsewhere, as one might expect. At the same time, the work being done here in Sacramento by River City Christian Church lowers fears and builds bridges with Muslim refugees and immigrants. Check out this video of their work. In the video, Pastor Mark Shetler acknowledges that he had fears of Muslims, but those fears dissipated with greater exposure. What is more was that the perceived risk in reaching out gave way to the joy of making friends for life with Muslims who came to the States as refugees in need of assistance. Life with Christians and Muslims is like a box of chocolates. You might not like all the Christians or Muslims in the chocolate box. But you might find, just like Pastor Mark and River City Christian Church, that there are many rich, relational surprises that you will find in the various wrappings.
In no way am I advocating for wide-open and insecure borders. Of course, we need careful vetting processes for all people who may wish to immigrate to the States, no matter their country of origin or religion. While the Sacramento case has already raised increased scrutiny over the vetting process for refugees (refer here and here as well for the ongoing debate), we cannot allow the stories of suspected ISIS members residing in the U.S. to keep us from reaching out.
If we who are Christians wish for Muslim refugees and immigrants to have favorable views of U.S. Christians, and the U.S., too, it behooves us to be hospitable and good neighbors. Moreover, if we wish for Jesus to have a favorable view of us, we need to be willing to risk and assist those in need.
It reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s reflection on the parable in Luke 10 of the Samaritan who is a good neighbor to the person left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. King said that the Samaritan, who is model of loving our neighbor as ourselves, “possessed the capacity for a dangerous altruism.” King gave consideration to the various characters mentioned in the same parable as well as the threat of imminent danger on the road. King writes, “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” I am grateful for the example of Pastor Mark and River City Christian Church in Sacramento. In the face of fears that we all have of those who at least on the surface are different than we are, they asked the Samaritan’s question rather than that of the priest or Levite.
There are certainly poisonous forces in our world today. But we should guard against sprinkling poisonous claims or perspectives on another nation’s citizens or religion’s adherents. That will only poison their views of us, as well as keep us from finding a rich assortment of relationships in our “box of chocolates” lives.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, with a foreword by Coretta Scott King (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, Fortress Press Gift Edition, 2010), page 25.
King, Strength to Love, page 26.