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American Christians Need to Ask Themselves, “Who is Our Neighbor?”

Republicans have been good at fanning the flames of fear, linking the entire religion of Islam to terrorism while promoting the idea that there is a war on Christianity in America. And in the now repeated slogan that claims we need to return to our “Christian roots” lays the irony that we are ignoring perhaps one of Jesus’ most famous parables, the story of the Good Samaritan.

In Jesus’ time, Samaritans and Judean Jews despised each other. In light of this, Jesus told the story of a man who was attacked by robbers, stripped and beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Two men, one a priest and the other a Levite, on their way down from Jerusalem, passed by this man, failing to stop to see if he was okay. This may be partly due to their assumption that the man was dead, making him unclean. However, Jesus stated that the priest and Levite were leaving Jerusalem when they came across the man, and had, therefore, performed their priestly obligations. Because of this, there was no good reason not to stop to see if the man was indeed dead save for the fact that the law also stated that if a person stopped to help another person, they were financially responsible for the latter’s well being.

Then along came a Samaritan who, instead of moving away from the man, moved toward him and asked, “If I do not help this man, who will?” The Samaritan tended to the man, took him to a nearby inn and left money with the innkeeper for the man’s stay and food, with the promise to stop again on his way back home and pay any remaining balance that might be due.

Jesus told this story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” that was asked when he admonished his listeners to “Love Thy Neighbor.” For him to cast the Samaritan in a positive light, and the priest and Levite in a negative one, would have been shocking to those listening to the story at that time. Two thousand years later, a “Good Samaritan” remains a name we give to people who go out of their way to help others regardless of inconveniences or danger, and with no expectation of reward.

“Who is my neighbor?” remains a relevant question as we are faced with the plight of the Syrian refugees. Yet Christian governors and many Americans are unmoved by their life and death situation. The idea that a rogue terrorist or an ISIS infiltration could occur within this group, keeps them from doing the humanitarian action of making room at the inn for the Syrians who happen to be predominantly Muslim. In fact, the notion that Islam and terrorism are one and the same is held by many on the right, a belief promoted by Fox News, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Trump, the Tea Party, and even a majority of House Republicans, as well as some Democrats.

We don’t want to help the refugees because we are making decisions based on fear, something Bush and his administration used to their benefit in convincing us to go to war. This apprehension continues to be used today by Trump, who has suggested that we need to have a data base of all Muslims in the U.S. – American citizens included.

But this of course is what ISIS wants. The terrorist organization wants the Syrian refugees to be rejected by other countries in the hopes that they’ll be sent back and slaughtered. ISIS wants to create the turmoil now seen in the U.S. as we debate humanity versus national security. By rejecting the refugees we are, in fact, giving ISIS exactly what it craves. Instead of standing up to these thugs by doing what is right, we have ducked our tails and run.

Another irony in a situation of ironies is that France – a country considered cowardly in the past by many Americans, beginning in World War II when the Nazis plowed their way through France and cemented in 2003 when President Chirac opposed our invasion of Iraq – is the one brave enough to help the refugees. France, the country that was bombed and therefore has more right than any to shut the door on the refugees, has opened her arms and promised to accept 30,000 refugees – 20,000 more than what has been asked by the U.S.

In addition, the Syrian refugee crisis has exposed the hypocrisy of those who have insisted that America was founded on Christian values and should be the law of the land. But true Christianity puts others first … in this case, thousands of Syrian refugees, infants and children, literally fleeing for their lives. True Christianity means rejecting stereotypes and embracing the behavior of the Good Samaritan. It means “Love thy Neighbor,” even if that neighbor is of a race or religion one cannot relate to. It means reaching out to those in need. America’s reputation as a country of truth, liberty and justice and a place for people yearning to be free depends on this distinction.

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