Accepting Syrian refugees means practicing compassion - Rev. Susan Otey, March 27, 2016
There are few values more common throughout Jesus’ teachings than compassion. He speaks of loving thy neighbor in the context of loving those who are the most different from us, those whom we may find the most complicated to love. In this case, they are those desperately in need of the most love, yet are being labeled unworthy based on their faith, culture, or simply the misfortune of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A malicious rhetoric has emerged in our state by people who are blindly pushing against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Montana. This rhetoric is not only based in a foundation of hatred, fear, and prejudice, but it is completely against the teachings of Jesus and that of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the past month, these people have been speaking especially loud, telling us that we must protect ourselves at all cost. They may be the loudest, but they are the most misdirected.
The Hebrew prophets did not speak of protecting ourselves. They spoke of caring for the orphan, the widow, and those who were the most disenfranchised. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these." When Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself,” he wasn’t referring to the person who grew up next door to you, who most likely has the same ethnicity, religious and socio-economic status as you. No, loving your neighbor in the words of Jesus takes effort, it means loving someone whose beliefs, experiences, and faith you may not understand nor believe. It’s not easy, which makes it even more powerful. It involves true compassion, solidarity, and understanding of others unlike us. Most importantly, it involves the strength to question any messages of hate, especially those that are especially loud, and speak of building walls, keeping us separated from our neighbor, and encouraging discrimination of our neighbors based on their faith . We must remember that our history is no stranger to messages of hate, ones that try to keep us divided and manipulate us away from the love and compassion that Jesus preaches. The most well-known being Nazi Germany and now, years later, we honor those who helped Jewish refugees escape or hide in their homes. Jesus himself was a refugee from the moment he was born, running from a wicked king who wanted to kill his potential rival. What would have happened if his neighbor had not stood by him? I challenge my community to practice compassion and love without limitations or fear, and to read between the lines of the messages that are being thrown at us, loud as they are. Only then are we building the true kingdom of God and creating the change we need in this world. -- Rev. Susan Otey, Christ United Methodist Church, Great Falls
Letters & Publications from Faith Leaders Across the State & Region that coincide with MAC's Mission & Work.