Fleeing in the cover of darkness. A gas tanker. Quicksand.
It had all the makings of an incredible Hollywood film.
Yet, this was reality. This was their story. They were now my neighbors. I knew them in passing but did not know them well. It was several years ago.
I was at a church block party and as I sat with them, I asked them to share their story. This is what they told me.
It was a courageous escape from a Middle Eastern country. Their lives were in danger. They had lost loved ones.
They had traveled at night in an empty gas tanker. They had inhaled the fumes that took the life of one of their fellow travelers. They hid in old buildings. They hiked through difficult terrain, where quicksand was an ever-present danger.
It was dark; they could not speak for fear of someone hearing them and capturing them. If they were to be captured, they would be killed.
The woman traveled at the rear of the group with an older lady. The man was in the lead.
Suddenly, the woman made a misstep that would likely cost her life. She was in quicksand and unable to move. She was rapidly sinking, holding her hands above her head.
She could see the backs of all of those in her group but could not cry out. She must remain silent, or they would certainly be discovered.
Such strength and courage can only be imagined. So she kept silent while slowly sinking. And then, by divine direction, the older lady happened to turn and saw her sinking.
She quickly walked ahead and got help from the others. Just as the woman’s chin sank into the sand, they tossed her a branch, and she was able to climb out.
After three months, she and her husband reached their destination in the United States.
Here, they grew their family, raising two beautiful daughters for whom such terrible experiences are confined to story rather than experience.
Let us reflect for a moment on the feelings this story elicits.
Does it make you feel compassionate? Or do you feel angry and frustrated? Do you feel an element of hope? Does your response to this story arise from something that you encounter in Scripture?
Does your response arise from your identity as a member of the body of Christ? Does your response to this arise from your identity in an American political party? Or your chosen news media?
It has been my experience as a pastor that many Christians are allowing the U.S. political system and their choice of news media to determine their response to current issues.
This seems at times to be more important than their identity in Christ and their Christian discipleship.
In many cases, our churches also lead us away from discipleship toward politicism and commercial media.
But the reality of the situation remains: We are putting party before Jesus.
For those who have come to believe that those are identical, I urge you to spend more time in Scripture than in the news.
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis warns us of the dangers of a Cause. He suggests that in making faith a means to fulfilling the Cause, we are in danger of having a greater concern with the Cause than we do with prayer and sacrament. At this point, we are indeed lost.
The body of Christ is not a Cause. It is not red. It is not blue. It is not purple. It is love.
We have a nonpartisan responsibility to the world. Jesus does not have a cause. He is love and he calls us to love.
As Christians, we have a higher calling and a greater responsibility than partisan politics.
While we should affiliate with the political party that best aligns with our beliefs and practices, we must remember our greater responsibility.
When we say, “I surrender all,” that includes our party affiliation, our citizenship, our Cause.
As followers of Christ, we are called to live counter-culturally, which often puts us at odds with the systems of our times.
While Jesus walked among us, he was undeniably political. But he was not partisan.
So, we must honestly understand that while Jesus was political, he was neither Republican nor Democrat.
The Republican Party does not follow Christ. The Democratic Party does not follow Christ. But we Christians must follow Christ.
I hope I didn’t surprise you there.
We must work together to fulfill God’s commission to us as the church. We can only do this through mutual love and respect as a people committed to follow Christ, not out of personal tolerance or political correctness.
I pray we can begin to respond to issues from our sense of Christian calling and not from a partisan stance. We are bigger, we are better, we are children of God.
Caroline Smith is the pastor of Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Connecticut, and former Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel to South Africa.