Since the world saw the lifeless little body of Aylan washed up on shore, there’s been an outcry of mourning, confusion, disgust, and calls for action to aid the Syrian refugees. Chief among the vocal proponents of aiding Syrian refugees are several influential female bloggers, all of whom claim faith in Christianity is integral to their lives and a driving force behind their pleas for help.
Unfortunately, their appeals, combined with their stances on other hot-button issues in the spotlight (however genuine), reveal a lack of understanding of the relationship between faith and politics, and the trickle-down effect both have on culture. This is both disappointing in its scope and unsettling in its consequences.
The World Teems with Evil
Within days of the latest surge in the Syrian refugee crisis, which has been going on for years, bloggers posted articulate, passionate pleas for help. Evangelical Ann Voskamp wrote a blog post that’s been shared more than 300,000 times on Facebook. Her tips for addressing the situation range from the ethereal to the practical: “Be moved,” donate to an organization like World Vision, or purchase and mail specific needed items. These are fantastic, worthy ideas. Anyone who can help in these simple ways should, if he feels inclined.
Other women in the same circle, however, employed the Syria happenings to make little jabs at other political and cultural issues discussed at the office cooler and on cable TV this year: Gay marriage and the Planned Parenthood exposé.
We have a Syrian refugee crisis going on & what are Christians talking about? Their right to treat LGBT people like second class citizens…
— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) September 5, 2015
If you're focused on “faith-based" anti-gay marriage agenda while our babies are drowning-you’re why the world's disinterested in your faith
— Glennon Doyle Melton (@Momastery) September 5, 2015
Another popular writer, Jen Hatmaker, suggested her Facebook readers read Voskamp’s post about Syria: “I do not want to be asked two generations from now what we did during this humanitarian crisis and have no answer.” In the comment section, a follower asked her opinion on the Planned Parenthood videos. She responded:
They are chilling. I am pro-all-life: from womb to tomb. Meaning I am also for the desperate mother who feels like she has no options. I am for the teen mom and the poor mom. I am for healthcare and affordable childcare and fair housing and birth control and community education and community and all the other things that support women and their babies. I do not want to tell women to have their babies and then refuse to support the very programs that enable them to thrive. That is not pro-life. That is simply pro-birth. If the church wants to see every baby breathe its first breath, as I do, then we should surround every young, lonely, desperate, poor, or terrified pregnant mother and support her with every tool at our disposal. But about Syria… (emphasis mine)
The writers above—with the exception of Voskamp, who has addressed all three issues—regularly cherry-pick political issues and herald their audiences to action. In isolated instances, this isn’t entirely unusual or all that terrible. We all have our own bent: Some people are called towards a vocation of policy; others love to teach autistic people; others thrive in the medical field. None are inherently bad, but of course none are inherently better, either.
But that’s not what’s going on here. It’s obvious via their social media that these writers are deliberately pushing aside two controversial issues— Parenthood and gay marriage—while espousing the most current cause that’s basically sexy.
Cherry Picking Political Causes Is Ignorant
Over the last ten years a new set of progressive Christians has arisen that eschews discussing what the “fundamentalist” church embraced with zeal. Instead of talking about pro-life issues, they speak in favor of LGBT rights; instead of discussing the importance of involvement in local politics, they wax eloquent about the philosophical underpinnings of feminism in daily life. It appears they leave the politically incorrect topics out, embracing the new, shiny, hip ones (abortion is so 1973, after all).
This newfangled cultural approach strikes me as somewhat theologically unsound, if not an outright misreading of Scripture. Jesus was fervent about preserving life and family, offering atonement and eternal life for the poor, the wealthy, the outcast, and the popular.
To these bloggers and their fans: If somehow you have arrived at the narrow notion that Jesus cares more about the plight of the thousands of refugees now camping out in countries like Jordan than babies murdered in the womb, then you have distorted Christianity to serve your desires, personality, fan base, and marketing platform.
Why can’t it be as existentially noble, as theologically sound, and as spiritually imperative to expose Planned Parenthood, which is in effect murdering then selling our unborn, and aid refugees in Syria, and protect the sanctity of a fundamental Biblical institution? Why must some be plucked, some discarded?
Pay Attention to the Disease, Not Just Symptoms
While it’s certainly noble and generous to pen blog posts encouraging the church to declare refugees will not remain homeless “on our watch,” it’s another to state in the next breath that this cause is paramount and other issues are miniscule in comparison, if worth recognizing at all.
It’s especially discouraging when one takes into account that these very same authors—and their large and vocal fan bases—have supported or admittedly voted for politicians who have done little or actually harmed Syria and other countries either by implementing misguided foreign policies or doing nothing at all.
As this recent Washington Post editorial stated:
the worse Syria became, the more justified the president seemed for staying aloof; steps that might have helped in 2012 seemed ineffectual by 2013, and actions that could have saved lives in 2013 would not have been up to the challenge presented by 2014…
When Obama pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq, critics worried there would be instability; none envisioned the emergence of a full-blown terrorist state. When he announced in August 2011 that ‘the time has come for [Syrian] President Assad to step aside,’ critics worried the words might prove empty — but few imagined the extent of the catastrophe: not just the savagery of chemical weapons and ‘barrel bombs,’ but also the Islamic State’s recruitment of thousands of foreign fighters, its spread from Libya to Afghanistan, the danger to the U.S. homeland that has alarmed U.S. intelligence officials, the refugees destabilizing Europe.
Obama pulled out of Iraq before it was stable. As a result, ISIS strengthened there and in surrounding countries, including Syria. They’ve been killing Christians systematically for several years. Obama’s response then? Aloofness and inaction. It’s spiritually disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to support refugees yet fail to make the connection between this crisis and supporting a president whose actions (or lack thereof) helped create this disaster.
What if, instead of rallying to the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, we had worked harder to understand and elect local and national politicians, support business people, and encourage humanitarian efforts, which could have culminated in electing leaders who would prevent world crises like these by establishing wise foreign policy?
But many in the progressive church movement—a term I use loosely, broadly, and forgivingly—want to be in the rescuing business: It’s so altruistic in its emotional appeal, and intellectually simple. But they scoff and decline to participate in the boring, mundane, yet just-as-invaluable work of preparing and preventing disaster. Of course, reducing burgeoning and bureaucratic government is not the only way to prevent wide-scale political-turned-humanitarian disasters, but it has been, for centuries, one strong avenue towards that goal.
Countering Fundamentalism with Fundamentalism
As this article noted last year, “Evans and other young, progressive Christians sometimes react to culture-war flashpoints with as much declarative verve and binary categories as the leaders they’re countering. The de facto response to one fundamentalism isn’t always nuance; often it’s just another fundamentalism.”
But a little nuance in this case, going back a couple presidential cycles, a different kind of fanfare over foreign policy and the politicians who enact it, might have changed the course of a country like Syria and its 11 million refugees now seeking a welcoming home.
One cannot claim faith in Jesus yet only accept part of what he teaches. Espousing part of the gospel means espousing no gospel at all—just a hollow goody bag with your half-answers to the world’s desperate questions. If you want to go the Cafeteria Christian route, that’s your prerogative, but don’t pretend it elevates you above your brothers and sisters. By picking and choosing, and judging harshly those who don’t follow the same strategy, you’re fomenting division, not results.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with them.”