What Christians are obliged to do and why is an endlessly complicated venture because our time, energy, resources and attention are limited.
With so many forms of suffering before us, our good will and love are overwhelmed, or worse, deflected. But obligation will not be that easily deterred: a neighbor on the side of the road bleeds even though we have lost interest.
The United States’ military involvement with Afghanistan is a long and complicated story, trailing back into the early 21st century, when the names before us were not just the Taliban, but Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Since October 2001, the United States has maintained a consistent military presence, at times taking a more active role and, more recently, a supporting and nation-building role.
All of this came to a calamitous conclusion this month with the evacuation of Kabul, the taking of the capitol by the Taliban and images of C-17 planes filled to the gills with people fleeing Afghanistan.
Since 2001, the U.S. has constituted the dominant presence of an international coalition in Afghanistan, during which over 2,000 soldiers have died, alongside over 60,000 Afghani personnel and civilians.
And so, what does this have to do with churches in the U.S.?
At one level, little, though not nothing. The options for direct action here are limited: private organizations cannot resettle refugees directly but must coordinate through governmental agencies.
But our faith obligates us to be present to the suffering created by the actions of our government – to do more than nothing.
There are resettlement agencies to support. There are Congressional representatives to reason with. There are international aid organizations to help fund.
But on another level, this means everything for U.S. churches.
Houses of faith are embedded within their countries and, for better or worse, members of that polity.
Christians are obligated to God first and, through that obligation, to our neighbors. As such, we do not owe everything to our countries, but if Christians owe anything to their countries, it is their suffering and the sharing of the shame of their countries.
And so, what U.S. churches find themselves faced with now is not how to restore American forces to Afghanistan again, but how to bear the suffering of our distant neighbors — the Afghanis — which our nearby neighbors — Americans — have been involved in.
During the last two decades, refugee movement has been at a historical high point, with Syria, Congo, Myanmar and now Afghanistan fueling the largest displacements since the Second World War.
The process of refugee resettlement typically involves less than 1% of all refugees each year, with the vast majority returning home after some length of time, and global resettlement numbers have declined by half since 2016.
In this space that has been opened up, Christians must turn their eyes to the refugee and ask what can be done, how we can be present, and how we can support the body of Christ in Afghanistan that now bears the costs of two decades of conflict.
The obligations are here. The neighbor has been struck down in the road.
And it falls now to the body of Christ to open its hands to pay what it costs to bind the wounds, returning again to ensure that the mercy of God to the suffering and the homeless is given.