The Name of Christ: On the Refugee Crisis and the American Religious Spirit

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For all our separation of state and church, our bluster about the irrationality of religion and the growing number of people identifying as spiritually unaffiliated, we, as the United States, are still a very Christian nation. In a study conducted by PEW surveying the religious landscape of the U.S. as a whole, nearly 80 percent still identified as some denomination of Christian while 16 percent identified as unaffiliated, including agnostic, atheist, and nothing in particular.

This pattern, of course, is not homogenous across America the Beautiful. “Only” 70 percent of Californians surveyed, for example, identify as Christian, while a higher rate of people identified as unaffiliated, at 21 percent. In general, this seems to be a loose pattern of what is happening around the country. More politically conservative parts of the country continue to hold down their conservative fort, often in the name of religion and other “traditional” values. On the other hand, the generally more liberal-minded areas tend to raise up more individuals less prone to identify themselves with a religion.

I have no argument for either side. My point is simply to highlight the great irony that I currently see on my social media feeds and the nightly news. This irony is this: that many people, who distance themselves from Christianity, are currently speaking out on behalf of the many refugees currently fleeing their home countries, while many others who pride themselves on upholding the “Christian” values of America continue to regard them with arrogance and a shocking injustice. For Jesus not only explicitly told His believers repeatedly to treat foreigners with justice. He was a refugee Himself.

…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Rise, take the child [Jesus] and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14)

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn (Exodus 22:21-24)

Yet, many people who identify as Christian continue to call refugees “terrorists” and “job-stealer,” mistreat them on social media and in person and tell them to “go home.” This is when it’s obvious that a great number of Bible-thumpers need to actually open and read their Bibles, instead of swinging them at others.

It is not to say that conservatism is evil and that liberalism is not. Conservatism is not always injustice, nor liberalism always liberty. Likewise, liberalism does not always mean irreligious, and conservatism does not automatically mean Christian. On the contrary, one must recognize that the difference between conservative and liberal is not so much a binary as much as it is a continuous gradient, where individuals may fall at different lengths in between, and religion may or may not play a role.

I just find it sadly ironic that those that liberally use Christ’s name as a curse are actually unconsciously living far more like Him than they realize, while many who so fiercely identify themselves by His name know apparently nothing of their Messiah’s nature or heart. For identifying as something is far from actually practicing it. Anyone may identify themselves as Christian. However, it is a whole other thing to live life and love people as Jesus Christ did.

It reminds me of a passage, where the apostle Paul addresses the believers in Ephesus, saying

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:11-22)

In this passage, Paul addresses the fact that Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) were once full of animosity towards one another for their different ethnicities and spiritual backgrounds. To many Jews, they were the “insiders,” priding themselves on their spiritual history while looking down on the Gentiles, who were the “outsiders,” ethnically “tainted” and spiritually heretical.

But Christ reached out to both of them, both to the Jews who were “near” and had grown up knowing the stories and laws of God, and to the Gentiles that were “far,” who had not. All, regardless whether they were Jew or Gentile, were alienated from God. Rich spiritual background or not, they all needed Christ, and Christ, though He didn’t need them, wanted them all. Jesus Christ wanted to reconcile all peoples to Himself, and as the Bible says, adopt them as His own, so much so the died for them. In Him, there no Jew versus Gentile. In Him, there is no American Christian versus nonbeliever non-American refugee. Rather, He died for them all simply because He loves all.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

Honestly, Christian-bumper-sticker Americans, if you are going to label yourself with the name of Christ, please first stop and think about what the name of your Messiah, “Jesus Christ,” means.* Reevaluate your opinions and treatment towards refugees, and actually discern whether or not they are actually Christlike. Ask the question that you put on all your stupid bracelets and book covers, but apparently don’t ask yourself: what would Jesus do?

Also, please actually read your Bible while you are at it, so that you can actually answer that question correctly. The world will thank you for that.

*Jesus means “deliverance” and “God saves.” Unfortunately, it does not actually mean “God hates,” and “I want my self-centered supremacist way.”