There are so many incidents of protest and counter-protest these days that it is easy to filter out some of it. However, a story from the weekend caught my eye. Armed protesters, some wearing masks and carrying rifles, set up outside the Irving (TX) Islamic Center ( http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2015/11/armed-protesters-set-up-outside-islamic-center-of-irving.html/ ). This center, on Esters Road, is in my mother-in-law's neighborhood. We have driven by it countless times. So, some reflections:
When we are cornered and claustrophobic, we are all inclined to strike out. The Paris attacks, and others like them, have left the western world very concerned about the links to Syria - a war which we have struggled to understand, much less address successfully. One thing is clear, the war has left a stunning one-half of the Syrian population dislocated, fleeing for their lives. Newsfeeds have been full of images of refugees streaming across borders in Europe, and tragic incidents of men, women and children drowning in the sea. Though some politicians are seeking to block Syrians from coming to America, or to make our admission policy tougher, U.S. law already requires a very stringent two-year vetting process. Our church has learned a lot about this as we have co-sponsored folks from Kosovo, Sudan, Liberia, Russia, Myanmar (twice), Iraq, Burundi, and the Congo through Kentucky Refugee Ministries (http://kyrm.org/) . Recently, one of these refugees, Leyla Aslan, spoke at our church about her experience. Leyla is a US citizen who speaks English clearly now, and both she and her husband are fully employed in the industrial and medical fields. She remembered coming into the Louisville airport with only their bags in their hands, and being so afraid - not know who would greet them, whether they were safe, where they would live, or how they would even talk to us. When a church member reached for her child, she thought "Is this okay? Will my baby be safe? Will they give him back?" But, as she put it, "Thank God for all you did for us." Their life in Russia had been miserable - a subsistence living under constant harassment from armed Cossacks. Their identity as a Turkish minority group, displaced during World War II, left them stranded in a country that despised them, gave them no rights, or even employment. Here in America, they are making their way with hard work and dignity. I could tell you many other stories, but think of how Leyla would feel if she was trying to go to worship and was confronted by angry masked men brandishing rifles.
I am not arguing the point of whether those guys have the right to carry a gun. Let's lay that argument to the side and think of what is accomplished by them doing it. All indications are that such actions merely increase fear and hatred. My late father-in-law was a fervent evangelical Christian and a very conservative guy, but he would never in a million years have waved a gun toward an immigrant neighbor. His tactic, and he was very serious about it, was to approach people in the mall or on walks, to learn where they were from, and to press a little New Testament into their hands - in their own language if he had it. Same neighborhood, far different tactic. He acted out of love, not fear, and saw all people as God's children. I thought of him with respect this weekend.
Pardon me for stating the obvious, but terrorists want to instill terror. If we respond instead with resolve, wisdom and compassion, they will have failed.
Perfect love casts out fear,
Greg Bain, Pastor