Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On my Soap Box…

Written by: on January 24, 2019

To be honest, I struggled to connect with our reading this week – Global Evangelicalism by Douglas Lewis.  The disconnect wasn’t a result of Lewis’ writing style or his chosen topic.  It had more to do with a heavy heart…the government shutdown is on day 34 and there is no end in sight.  Federal workers are caught in the middle of a manipulative ploy by our country’s leadership and the byproduct is financial crisis for many Americans.  And still, both sides of the political aisle cannot agree on how to end the shutdown.  Also occurring in Washington DC, I was exacerbated by the clash at the Lincoln Memorial between students from Covington High School in Kentucky, Hebrew Israelite protesters, and Native American/Indigenous rally participants.  Who was “at fault” for the altercation?  There is no clear answer, but the media, liberals, and conservatives are certainly trying to lay blame.  Every time I pick up my phone or turn on the TV I see anger, disgust, name calling and fault finding.  I have a strong faith in which I believe in a God who sent His Son to speak love, peace, joy, and salvation into a broken world (I am an evangelical).  But I have to tell you, I’m tired!  I’m tired from trying to apply my love, faith, and Biblical principles into my everyday life to understand and make SENSE of what’s happening in this country (and around the rest of the world).  And that is why trying to write about evangelicalism theology in Douglas Lewis’ book falls flat.  Instead I’m choosing to focus on the evangelical faith and its response to refugees.  Lewis notes in his writing that with “its [evangelicalism] ability to localize and embed itself in new forms in diverse cultures, evangelicalism represents a powerful force resisting the homogenizing tendencies of globalization”.[1]  But is that a good thing?  I’m not sure it is…so hang on while I climb on my soap box…

Although literature could not be found to substantiate this connection, the Christian reaction to Jews before and during the Holocaust feels eerily similar to the current Christian attitudes towards refugees.  One of the darkest times for Christians in the history of refugee acceptance and resettlement in the United States was during the rise of Nazi control and ensuing holocaust prior to and during World War II.  Christians in America reacted to the massacres of Jews in much the same way that the general public did – initial horror and then silence.  Instead of hurdling into action and taking a stand to combat the human rights atrocities, Christians became acutely aware of their own biases (from historical teachings of contempt towards Jews and Judaism) as evidenced by their lack of action.  Christians personal prejudices and apathy had silently paved the way for the Nazi program of hatred, dehumanization, and genocide. The Christian belief that the Jewish faith was inferior and irrelevant proved to have tragic real-world consequences.  It would be negligent to ignore the fact that some Christian individuals did champion the cause of protecting Jews during the holocaust.  However, the entity of the Christian church did not.

It’s also negligent to infer that every Christian reacts negatively to refugees today; however, there is a similar contempt and distrust for this population.  Even though Somalia (a singular example which can represent many other oppressive countries), for example, is dealing with severe drought and starvation and an ongoing civil war, the United States is hesitant to help because of the complications and dangers of dealing with a terrorist group aligned with Al Qaeda. Hundreds of thousands of people have died.[2]  And yet, the United States is actively orchestrating a decrease in refugee acceptance and resettlement… “if the number of refugees worldwide remains the same as in 2016 and if few refugees enter the U.S. for the rest of 2017, the U.S. is on track to accept just 0.2% of the world’s refugee population – far less than the historic average of 0.6%, and lower even than the share admitted in 2001 and 2002, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks”.[3]  Many American Christians are championing this decrease in refugee numbers, citing their belief that it is not the responsibility of the U.S. to house refugees.  A recent Pew Study found that Caucasian, evangelical Protestants are the most likely population to say that the United States “has no responsibility to open its borders to refugees.”  The Pew study found that sixty eight percent of white evangelicals believed that the United States does not have a responsibility to house refugees, while just twenty five percent believe that it does.  Fifty one percent of Americans overall believe the United States does have a responsibility to allow in refugees, while just forty three percent believe it does not.[4]  It’s an alarming statistic to see the national average of Americans (presumably all races, genders, ethnicities, and religions) are more open to acceptance of refugees than the white evangelical protestant.  Given the history of the nation and its proven record of oppression of minorities, perhaps it’s not startling after all.

Evangelicals (myself included), haven’t we learned from our history?  We were wrong to allow our biases to influence our response to Jews during the holocaust.  Can you see that we are at a precipitous place today?  Churches can and should learn and improve through their historical failures and missed opportunities to serve.  Sometimes the motivation to serve refugees is external (pressure from fellow believers) and sometimes it is internal (personal conviction from God).  It can be the result of social change, spiritual awakening, or intellectual exploration.[5]  Whatever the motivation, there’s no better time in history to commit to social justice for refugees and to truly be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  Churches need to take risks, make themselves vulnerable and look for possibilities to serve and improve systems.  There are local, national, and international opportunities.  This is a global world.  This is a global church.  God is a global Lord.  And I want to believe Douglas Lewis would agree…

[1]        Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 13.

[2]        Putnam, D., & Noor, M. The Somalis: Their history and culture (CAL Refugee Fact Sheet Series, No. 9). 1993. Retrieved from The Refugee Center for Applied Linguistics

[3] http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/10/12/u-s-resettles-fewer-refugees-even-as-global-number-of-displaced-people-grows/

[4] https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/5/29/17405704/white-evangelicals-attitudes-refugees

[5]        Wilson, Sarah Hinlicky. “Six ways ecumenical progress is possible.” Concordia Journal 39, no.4, pg. 327

About the Author

Jean Ollis

14 responses to “On my Soap Box…”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    I feel with you. And I am glad, as I am sure you are, they just announced the end to the partial government shutdown! (at least temporarily). We all love you Jean and we are on the side you talk about—“Churches need to take risks, make themselves vulnerable and look for possibilities to serve and improve systems. There are local, national, and international opportunities. This is a global world. This is a global church. God is a global Lord.”

    Perhaps next week’s reading “The Culture Map” will provide further assistance for us…

  2. M Webb says:

    I feel like we are related as I read your transparent opening about the leadership struggles in our country. I can share my familial DNA results if you want to check? LOL.
    What does Romans 13 say, that we are to be “subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV) I wonder how the Holy Spirit evaluates certain types of activism that may be promoted in some evangelical contexts?
    Good job leveraging the chaos and pointing your energies and Holy Spirit inspired passion towards the needs of refugees in the U.S. I agree with you, fretting over surveys, trends, and a poor track record should not surprise, offend, or even discourage us as believers in Christ who know the “seasons” described in Scripture. Grieving and righteous anger in Holy Spirit tempered amounts are good for the soul, but like you, our energies should be invested in being the ministry of presence, meeting needs, extending love and grace, and helping the “least of these”.
    I will stand beside you on the spiritual skirmish line against evil and social injustice anytime.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Mike, thank you so much for affirming my frustrations! You of all people know what an important mission this country has and I feel like we are failing. Maybe we are related! I think I responded to your post asking the same question…who are the leaders to avoid? That’s the million dollar question for sure!

  3. Hey Jean, I just read a book that took the story of Jonah and pointed out how all the non-Jewish, non- God fearing people (ship captain, King of Ninevah) are the ones who speak truth and seem to have a better grasp of what God is like than Jonah. It’s like what you observe in the US population–those who don’t claim to be Christians seem to be more likely to do the Christian thing and welcome refugees.

    I can’t remember if you are track 1 or track 2, but I’m kind of hoping Track 2 because I’d love to see an actual project or artifact developed to solve this problem!

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jenn! Sounds like a great book! I’m actually track 2 – I’m working to develop a resilience assessment tool (which will measure the potential for resilience as well as the gaps needing filled to better enhance resilience)…

  4. Hi Jean,

    I know the news is super depressing. But can I encourage you?

    I appreciated Lewis’ quote about “its [evangelicalism] ability to localize and embed itself in new forms”. When you wrote that, I thought of how the best examples of evangelicals always seems to exist at the local level, and I’m going to name names of evangelicals I know (you replace my names with yours…). We see people in our communities that are motivated by faith and also opening hearts and homes to refugees (eg. Wilma who drives to Fredericton with our local Syrian refugee family to take them to shopping and medical appointments). We see evangelicals helping prisoners find restoration (eg. Stacey who goes to jail every Monday to meet with convicted female murderers). We see evangelicals who mentor troubled youth (eg. Shawn who started a carpentry skills training for boys).

    I know you know these types of people in your world too. And when the news gets you down, remember these beautiful examples of the church in action.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Mark, excellent reminder! You are so right that I can find individuals all around me doing amazing servant work. We’ve had a rough go here in the U.S. and I’m just worn down. BTW, I can’t wait to hear about this incredible journey you are on!!! 🙂

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    It seems counterintuitive to me that those coming from the Evangelical tradition would be so fearful about refugees and opening our borders to those in need. I remember as a boy how our church at the time sponsored several groups of Vietnamese refugees in the midst of the fall-out from U.S. involvement in that war. Certainly some of this reticence is a result of the terrorist attacks in September of 2001. However, despite the fact that the US is a land of immigrants the history of antagonism with different groups is nothing new. There were riots regarding Irish, Italian, immigrants stealing “American” jobs.

    How do you hope to help your community gain perspective?

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Dan!
      Thanks for posing a challenging question. Rather than my personal community in which I live, I’ve incorporated my research into the classroom – I’ve facilitated a community training for social workers and I’m frequently bringing in my “stats” to my students. You raise an important point though that I need to be more intentional about my home community!

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hi Jean,
    Thanks for your consistent attempts to apply your own faith, intellect, experience, and instincts to the issues and problems of the day. I wonder what it will take for evangelicals to understand their own commitments, as laid out in the Bible and to act/speak/think accordingly. I know we all cherry-pick our favorite parts of the Bible and of our faith (I’m sure that I do this!), but currently this label “evangelical” is almost a watch-word for “doesn’t care about other people”–which is the opposite of what it really is all about. Anyway, see you in a bit.

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, I think you realized the point…using spiritual wisdom to make sense of worldly ignorance, never seems to end well. I find myself humming the tune to “This world is not my home, I am just a passing through,” quite a bit these days.

  8. Way to go Jean! I love how you are not afraid of bringing your raw emotion out in your posts. Whether its regarding our ridiculous president, with the ridiculous politics, or the hate that is evident everywhere you look. Our world is full of issues that demand people rise up and get passionate about, and I love how your passion for refugees always comes through. They are fortunate to have a gifted woman like you advocating for them and passionate to make a difference…Jesus would be so proud and would be loving them right alongside you. Also, way to go on scraping the book to talk about current issues and your research topic 🙂 Blessings to you!

  9. Kyle Chalko says:

    Provocative. 🙂

    I was interested on your thoughts about how “evangelicalism” is perceived in the countries where the country where the majority of refugees are currently coming from. I suppose that term is typically unknown.

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