Last night, at a work event, I met a new friend. Our conversation started with work chatter, but quickly shifted into our backgrounds and passions. She works primarily with Kurdish and Arabic families – helping them navigate systems in the US. She speaks multiple languages, and has experience acculturating to America, herself.
As she was talking about the families that she works with, and her own transition to life in Tennessee, she stopped and thought for a moment and said, “You know all of that stuff going on around the world in Africa and elsewhere. That’s not me. We’re not all like that.” And she stopped and looked cautiously at me, wondering how I would respond.
I had a million thoughts in that moment, and a zillion things I wanted to say to her.
I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that acculturating to the US has been difficult. I wanted to tell her that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be Muslim in the Bible Belt of America. I wanted to tell her that I believe her.
But I started with, “I believe you, and I can understand why you would say that.”
I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have cringed at fellow Christians’ choices to picket, rally, and preach in megaphones and wanted to scream, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”
I can’t begin to number the occasions when Christians have said hurtful things, ostracized others, and pushed their religious but non-Jesus agendas to the detriment of others, and wanted to yell, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”
I can’t begin to list the historical woes of wars, murder, and oppressive reign in the name of Jesus that made me shudder and want to cry, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”
Followers of Jesus are people, not deities. We get it wrong. We misinterpret the Bible. We get stuck on the wrong priorities. We are selfish. We mess up.
And if I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt and not lump me into a category of those terrible Christians, then I need to give others the benefit of the doubt. Not all Christians are the same. Not all Muslims are the same.
The news reports from Kenya and Pakistan have been absolutely heartbreaking this week. And as I’ve followed the news and prayed to the Prince of Peace for answers and intervention, I’ve been grieved for those who have died, for the families and friends of those who have died, and for those who caused the death and grief.
In the midst of processing such large death tolls and such unimaginable violence, it’s easy to villainize an entire group, based on a few people’s actions. But that’s not fair. That’s not right. Jesus called His people to be meek, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be non-judgmental, and to make peace in the world.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matt 5:5-9.
So as we interact with fellow creations of God today and this week and this month, what are we going to believe about them? What assumptions will we make? How will we interact? Let’s be good neighbors. Let’s choose to believe the best. Let’s be kind and open and learn from one another. Let’s befriend people who don’t look, act, and believe just as we do.