Although I really like how Christians are engaging some of the most troubling issues in our world (see Friday's post), I would not go so far as to say that we're getting it all right. One of my main frustrations with non-Christian charities is how they depersonalize human beings for the sake of the "issues."
Christians are doing the same thing for the sake of the "Gospel."
Just last week, as the Internet was all abuzz with talk of responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, I read an article written by a Christian on what we all seem to be "missing" about the refugees. The main argument of his presentation was that the refugees are a tremendous gift from God. All the work we've been doing to evangelize the region, he said, is about to get a whole lot easier because God is now just dumping these un-evangelized, spiritually-backward, heathen people right on our doorstep! The Christian response, he argued, should be enthusiastically to welcome the refugees into our communities so that we can fully engulf them in our Christian teachings and essentially, overwhelm them with the Gospel. What an amazing opportunity God has given us! He brought the "savages" to us! Now, all we have to do is preach, brother, preach.
It was disgusting and heartbreaking. But it's the kind of thing Christians do all the time.
Forget that the refugees are real human beings with real human problems. Forget that what they most need is food, clothing, shelter, security. Christians have somewhere gotten the idea that what people "most" need is a doctrine. Forget that these people have been wandering the planet without a home and have no idea what it's like any more to have a place all their own. Christians are content to tell them about a "home" they can't even go to right now. Christians are quick to tell them about their "real home," which doesn't do a whole lot for their sense of emptiness today.
It's not just refugees. There are Christians in this world who look at everyone this way. Whatever humans and human problems they encounter in this world, they try to fix with a good dose of religion and doctrine. In the best of scenarios, they at least label these ideas "Jesus." They at least try to address the world's problems with "Jesus." But what about the people?
This is where we have to do a little theological background work. Because most of these Christians just read Jesus's words in Matthew 28 and think that's the entire mission: go, make disciples, baptize. Convert. But what does it mean to make disciples? Well...how did Jesus do it?
He called them. He extended an offer, by name, to come, follow Him. He didn't force it. He didn't require it. He simply offered an invitation. And then, He ministered. Overwhelmingly, the Gospels are the story of Jesus' ministry, not His preaching. Sure, He taught in many places. He told many parables and stories. But most of the people who came to Jesus weren't coming to be preached at; they were coming to be healed. And those who were healed became the best messengers of Christ.
See, that's always been our mission, from the very beginning - care for the world. Not convert the world, but care for it. It's the commission in the Garden, when God tells Adam and Eve to have dominion (exercise good stewardship), work the ground, be fruitful, and multiply. The whole idea here is that Adam and Eve will labor to bring out the best in all Creation, to help it fulfill its God-given potential. That's what we're supposed to be doing for people. We're supposed to be nurturing them to their God-given potential.
And note that in the Gospels, Jesus Himself says good things about the one who sees the thirsty and gives him a drink, sees the hungry and feeds him, sees the naked and clothes him, sees the one sick or in prison and visits him. Jesus commends the meeting of the real human need. He doesn't say that it's better to see the thirsty and tell him about living water. No, he needs a real drink. He doesn't say that it's better to see the hungry and give him the bread of life. No, real bread will do. He doesn't say that it's better to see the naked and tell him how to be clothed in righteousness. No. Cover that man's shame right now. (Nakedness and shame go back to Genesis 3.) He doesn't say that it's better to lecture the sick and the imprisoned on the freedom that comes in heaven. No. Just visit them. Give them a taste of that freedom now.
People aren't a "mission." They aren't a "project." They're people. Persons. Real human beings with real stories.
It's easy for Christians to fall into the trap of the one who wrote that article. I mean, what are we supposed to do with the refugees? What are we supposed to do with people? It's the "easy" "Christian" answer to say, well, evangelize them.
But the true Christ-like answer is much simpler, and much more meaningful: Feed them. Give them something to drink. Clothe them. Visit them. Welcome them. Nurture them to their God-given potential.
This is what we're called to do.