Ohio Congregation Cares for Refugees, Promotes Reconciliation

The Adventist Review posted a story recently about the Centerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dayton, Ohio, United States. The congregation is a church plant focusing on the needs of refugees from Africa. Excerpts:

Most of the refugees come from Rwanda, with some from Burundi and Congo. The majority do not yet know English but are making efforts to learn.

“Many in the group have never lived in a setting like the one they are experiencing [in the US], because many of them have spent 20 years in refugee camps, living only in tents,” [senior pastor Winston Baldwin] said.

“As you can imagine, the physical needs of these refugees are great,” said Baldwin. “They need everything from clothing and household goods to washers and dryers.” Many Centerville members have donated clothing, appliances and even provided plumbing repairs.

The complete article is available online: "US Africa Refugee Church Plant Brings Reconciliation, Growth" (Heidi Shoemaker, Adventist Review, 27 July 2017).

Jackson Calls for Support of Refugees

Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in North America, has released a strong statement calling for the support of refugees -- Adventists Respond to the Call to Care for Refugees (Huffington Post, 9 Dec 2015). Jackson begins by declaring, "To close the door to refugees cannot be an option."

Further down in the article, Jackson shares what the Adventist Church is doing:

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is responding and meeting the needs of refugees. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the humanitarian arm of the church has collected more than 25 tons of relief supplies in Macedonia for Syrian refugees. Here in the United States, our church has an established ministry that assists refugees seeking a better life for their families. Our Refugee Ministries team is ready to assist Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Jackson's message addresses both terrorism and refugees:

Make no mistake, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America unequivocally condemns the terrorist actions of extremists that claimed innocent lives in Paris, Beirut, Iraq, Mali and other places around the world. We mourn with and pray for the families of all the victims of these senseless crimes against humanity.

Resorting to violence in the name of God or Allah is wrong.

But to deny innocent women, children, and men who are fleeing war, hunger, and disease refuge because of fear and prejudice is just as wrong.

To read the entire article on the Huffington Post, click here.

AR: Politicians or the Word of God?

Jarod Thomas has published a story in the Adventist Review that speaks to war in general and ISIS in particular--Courage to Set the Table (Nov 16). Thomas shares a striking sentence from his child's devotional: "Peace never comes through war." After recounting the story of Benhadad, Thomas turns to the present world:

It is not an easy thing to apply this story to our current predicament in the United States. With ISIS on the rise, and a multitude of refugees fleeing for stable countries, there is always concern that terror will creep in. But perhaps a greater concern is that politicians, jockeying for votes during a heated election cycle, are more influential in our thinking than the Word of God. When states in the “Bible Belt” begin closing their doors to some of the most needy and desperate people on the planet*—people who have nowhere else to turn—a greater crisis in the Western, Christian world begins to emerge. It is the grave concern of which Jesus warned us, stating that, “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).” In the scope of eternity, the lack of Christ-like love in the heart of Jesus' professed followers is a greater problem than the threat of suicide bombers.

The entire article can be read here.

ASRS Releases Statement on Refugee Crisis

The Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) recently released the following statement on the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe:

Statement on the Refugee Crisis Adventist Society for Religious Studies November 21, 2015

In light of the present refugee crisis engulfing the globe, we as a body of religion scholars who are committed to the full gospel of Jesus Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matt. 25:38); and who take seriously the Word of God in Deut. 23:9 that we must not oppress the strangers “because we were strangers in the land of Egypt” (cf. Lev. 19:34), the Adventist Society of Religious Studies asserts the following:

  • As sojourners and pilgrims ourselves, we recognize that we are all expatriates who have been called to manifest the principles of God’s eternal kingdom in all of our decisions.
  • As people with patriotic sympathies, we understand the power of the type of fear that saps human compassion, but we believe that we ought to always practice the perfect love that casts out all fear.
  • As creatures of national cultures, we acknowledge that we are comfortable with the familiar; however, our commitment to Christ compels us to reject xenophobia, outright racism and competitive religious extremism.
  • As members of the human family, we accept all men and women as our siblings, regardless of their religious confession or country of origin.
  • As followers of Christ, we will be the Good Samaritan to the victims of war; we will willingly clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned and receive the refugee. We invite others to do the same.

A Christian Response to Terrorism (Burdette)

Matt Burdette originally wrote the following essay for the Interlocutors blog. Burdette is a graduate of La Sierra University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a Master of Arts in religion. He is currently a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Aberdeen. A few days ago—before the attack on Paris—I wrote that there is no mythical demon prowling the world called “Terrorism,” which does not mean that there aren’t people who commit acts of terror. What I was denying was the reality that there is some “essence” of terrorism that, in its self-same identity, is instantiated in various places throughout the world. I stand by that denial, because I remain convinced of that we can only deal with the world honestly when we deal with things in their particularity; so, it is not that there is no connection between Al Qaeda and ISIS, but that clumping the two together as “the terrorists” obfuscates more than anything else. More than that, a war on “terrorism” is categorically endless, because, by identifying no particular object of war, those who wage the war can in principle never know when they have reached their objective. (For those who care for the just war tradition, that itself is a basic disqualifier.)

The point is to reject ideological thinking, and I am aware that the refusal to think about generalities can be just as ideological as the inability to think about particulars, and I hope to avoid that too. So, of course I was disturbed and saddened by the news of the attack in Paris on Friday, and of course I immediately wondered if ISIS was responsible. And since hearing that ISIS has claimed responsibility, I have been bracing myself for what seem to be the inevitable calls for war, and the ritual of liberal responses which attempt to differentiate Islam-the-faith from Islamist “extremism.” With France’s airstrikes on Sunday, and the explosion of articles over the whole weekend, my expectations were confirmed.

At least in this instance, I have no desire to challenge war as a response, nor do I intend to wholly reject the liberal response. What I do want to say is that those responses are of themselves not the Christian response. This can be but does not have to be competitive; a Christian response is what it is, and may find an ally or an opponent in other responses, and how this exactly looks shouldn’t be determined beforehand. I will say this about the liberal response: I generally think it is done in bad faith, not least because of the bipolarity of liberal attitudes about religious conviction generally, and the overwhelming ignorance about matters of faith that liberals expose in those attitudes. Their basic measure for what makes an “extremist” is that an extremist is a religious person who won’t accept the privatization of his or her faith when entering into the secular public square. By that measure, I and a host of other people are extremists. Additionally, I doubt very much that the deluge of liberal responders is in fact populated by people who know what they’re talking about. Most Christians that I know couldn’t explain Christianity, and even fewer nonbelievers have a decent handle on Christianity; liberals are generally liberal Christians or just secular, and if they are so ignorant of the dominant religion on the West, I have no interest in their opinions, positive or negative, about Islam.

Indeed, the entire ritual after such events can be summarized as getting across one point: Islam is peaceful, and Muslim people are not our enemies.

This isn’t wrong or right; it is useless. “Peace” is a concept that only operates within a particular logic, and so within the logic of each religion that religion is peaceful, having defined what peace in fact is. The meaning of peace is not self-evident. When people insist that Islam is peaceful, they mean that Islam accepts the definition of peace that the liberal nation-state intends; but this is patently false, just as it would be false to say that Christians or Jews accept that definition of peace. By secular standards, we “Abrahamic” faiths are not peaceful. As for Muslim people not being “our” enemies, an appropriate Christian response is first of all, “So what?” And then the second Christian response is, “And who is ‘our’ in that statement?”

Islam may or may not be the enemy of Christianity. It is meaningless to refer to practitioners. There are doubtless Muslim individuals who count themselves the enemy of Christians, and there are certainly Christians who are enemies to Muslim people. But the Christian has no investment in denying that a person or even a group is an enemy. It simply makes no difference. Those who follow Jesus are under obligation to love their neighbors, and to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Christians do not deny that there are enemies, nor refuse to acknowledge that people hate them. So if there are a group of people claiming to be Muslim who are our enemies, Christians must still think creatively about how to love those people. For those who find this too demanding, there are a number of other lords to follow besides Jesus.

Christians must also come to call into question this notion of “our” having an enemy. It is not that Christians should not care when the nation has an enemy, but thinking through the right response has to involve a reframing of the problem. We may say, “Among the victims in Paris, some of our fellow Christians were killed. But it is France that has an enemy.” Nor is this a position of neutrality. The attack on Paris was evil, and there can be no equivocation about that. The point is that Christians cannot simply identify themselves with the state or nation. There are places in the world right now in which Muslim people are persecuting Christians; our response to those situations is not the same as our response to the attack on Paris, but this difference hinges on our insistence that we identify ourselves as Christians.

A Christian response to this is one that draws together the Christian community to act as a singular communal agent in the world to announce Christ’s reign and so his peace. The state will do what the state will do, and—not to be resigned—the church has little say in the matter. But the church may do what the church may do, and this doesn’t mean that we Christians are not implicated in the state’s actions. All this means is that we must act in the world as agents of Christ and his justice. This surely involves building relationships with Muslims, not because they are “not our enemies” or because our faiths are not all that different, but because we follow Jesus and because we must win them too to his peace. In this we do not fear death, nor do we avoid hatred. And acting in the world as Christ’s agent means also calling the nation to his justice. If the state is to go to war, the church must agitate for the war to be fought with some semblance of justice, and with a concrete end; indiscriminate air strikes and total destruction are unjust, no matter how justifiable the anger and hurt. The church must agitate to welcome refugees of war, and the church must ready itself for the hospitality that it demand. We must say to the state, “Let us welcome them.” Anything less is just sentimental talk.