Have Christians in the United States forgotten our historic commitment to taking the whole gospel to the whole world?
More than 200 years ago, Christians in the U.S. sent their first missionary to Burma to share the gospel.
Since then, missionaries have been sent to virtually every country. This has been followed with aid to answer the admonition of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the sick.
For this reason, it is not a surprise that descendants of these same Christians were horrified some years ago when presidential candidate Barack Obama was misquoted saying, “We are no longer a Christian nation.”
The quote went viral, and Christians (particularly evangelicals) pushed back in the strongest possible ways.
What does it mean to be a Christian nation to these Christians today?
The answer, I believe, is that these same Christians likely would have vilified Obama even if they had heard his whole quote accurately.
He said, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation and a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers.”
What was the longer-term reaction to this perspective and assertion?
I think we have seen it in the response to current policies of President Donald Trump.
The support for banning Muslims has been overwhelming among the evangelical community. The number of refugees allowed into the United States has been cut by more than half and even this total is unlikely to be met in this fiscal year. This, too, has widespread support.
It is one thing to care about people “over there.” It is quite another to care about them in our own backyard.
Christians in the U. S. resonate with a president who charged that the culture change in Europe was due to immigrants. It is uncomfortable to think our culture might change too.
In fact, our God has historically been a God who has made life uncomfortable when it became too comfortable.
Think of Abraham, who was told to go into a far country – no map, no GPS, just go “to a land that I will show you.”
Think of Moses, who was told to take on the most powerful ruler of his day with a shepherd’s rod.
When Syrian and Iraqi refugees flooded into Lebanon, it wasn’t comfortable. The Lebanese remembered in their lifetimes the occupation by Syrian forces who killed their family members. They even recognized some of these refugees as the soldiers who had come.
How did they respond? We can learn from a church of 75 members faithfully worshipping their Christian God in Beirut.
What did this little church do? After opening its doors to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, set up a clinic to care for the sick, this church now numbers more than 1,000 and the majority of attendees are Muslim converts.
Muslims who saw the loving God of the Christians carried out by church members. Muslims who saw the contrast to the hateful God of the Islamist radicals who had destroyed their homes and taken away their livelihoods.
The fact is Muslims still make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Maybe the fact that nearly 23 percent of Americans identify with no religion at all provides the impetus for less developed countries to send missionaries here, where we have proudly proclaimed we are a Christian nation.
Christians in the United States have been given an uncomfortable choice.
We can continue to support a policy of turning our backs on the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. We can try to continue the comfortable life we have made for ourselves. We can save our faith by caring for those “over there.”
Or, we can embrace the fact that God is bringing the world to our door – a world that is in great need physically, but more importantly, spiritually.
Will there be a cost? Of course! It will require that we actually do something here at home to proclaim our God by word and deed to people who need to hear the message most.
What if the early church had been unwilling to pay the cost? Even in the U.S. today, no Christian is asked to pay the cost those early Christians paid, but it seems the cost today for U.S. Christians is perceived as too high.
It’s time we answer the challenge. God is bringing the world to our door. It’s no longer enough to care for people in need “over there.” We must embrace the opportunity he has given us right here.
Richard Schweissing, a retired high school social studies teacher, is the former president of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains and previously served on the board of American Baptist International Ministries. He teaches U.S. citizenship to immigrants at Crossroads Baptist Church in Northglenn, Colorado, where he also chairs the local missions committee.