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”. 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. 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”. 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. 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. 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…
 Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 13.
 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
 Wilson, Sarah Hinlicky. “Six ways ecumenical progress is possible.” Concordia Journal 39, no.4, pg. 327