Writings by Cole Huffman

Camels and Gnats, Terrorists and Refugees

One afternoon a young scholar toiled away on his PhD dissertation at a top American university’s Poverty Research Center. A poor person walked in. He’d seen the sign on the building and figured it was a place to get help. No one in the Poverty Research Center knew what to do except call security on him.

Arthur Brooks tells that story in his book The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America. There in the Poverty Research Center wannabe wonks and social justice warriors prepare to make a difference, the shelves and databases stocked full with the best of social science whatnot. Then a wino comes staggering in. During study hours! What? Not.

It’s often pointed out that Jesus aimed His harshest words at the most ardent God-guys. What is Matthew 23:1-39 if not a verbal 40-lashes-minus-one for woeful disconnects? All that straining out of gnats and swallowing camels. I once bought some Camels for a homeless man who asked me for a light as I walked into a convenience store on a cold night. I don’t actually recall what kind of cigarettes I placed in his hand, new lighter too. I haven’t done that before or since, and can’t tell you why I did it except I was certain he wouldn’t let that purchase go to waste like so much else in his life. Don’t you know he’s just going to squander all that on ale, a friend of C. S. Lewis remarked after watching Lewis drop a few quid on a panhandler. That’s all I was going to do with it, Lewis replied.

Today, from the lands of camels people are migrating westward. They swarm into European way stations like gnats, their possessions in plastic bags. I do not envy governing authorities their task. The complexities that attend managing humanitarian crises while at the same time trying to exercise vigilance against terroristic opportunists are undeniably cross-pressured. Islamic refugees and terrorists are both forefront in public consciousness right now.

Islam is a false religion, riddled by the problems false religions are riddled by, including the penchant to violence in many of its devotees. But for Christians to conclude this falsity in Islam means every Muslim means harm is to take the pole opposite the political correctophile who says no Muslim means harm. Both poles, in George Will’s memorable line, are emancipated from fact, and it is especially troublesome when the people of Jesus take a pole position. We are being transformed by timeless truth that judges illogic and expresses itself in love for God and neighbor.

Xenophobia is reason’s last cigarette standing before the firing squad of paranoia. If a Christian lashes himself to that pole he’s blindfolded his witness. The alternative is not imprudently baring our necks to the sword because taking thought for security is somehow automatically fearful or uncourageous. Timothy George, writing an article for First Things entitled “After Dinner, A Beheading,” tells about Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, trying to reach out to ISIS leaders as he’s previously reached out to radicals:

“Andrew White is no stranger to terrorists. For more than two decades he has served as a hostage negotiator and an apostle of reconciliation in one of the most volatile regions in the world. He has been kidnapped, shot at, and held captive…. So, when his friends and parishioners were being killed or fleeing for their lives, Canon White did what he had often done before when confronting an enemy. ‘I invited the leaders of ISIS for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.’ He did receive a reply to this surprising initiative. The ISIS leader said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off….’ The head of Canon White is worth a lot to ISIS, which have placed on it a bounty of 157 million dollars.”

White’s archbishop stepped in and removed him from harm. But that experience led White to conclude ISIS is irretrievably hell-bent on havoc and cannot be negotiated with. “I’ve never said that about another group of people,” White said. “These are really so different, so extreme, so radical, so evil.” He made clear he was not talking about all Muslims. There are “many good Sunni leaders,” he said.

I know distrust of our government is high. When authorities are perceived to not know what they’re doing it’s unsettling. The current administration has shown itself woefully underestimating in matters of national security and that perpetuates kneejerk responses to their worldview. The first role of government, biblically considered, is to protect its citizenry. Guardrails are our tax dollars at work, but at some sharp turns the guardrails may not hold. Government cannot protect every single citizen all of the time. The homegrown terroristic threat seems especially treacherous now, like a drunk driver going 90 mph through your quiet neighborhood. And one wonders how many more Timothy McVeighs there are in addition to Syed Farooks.

There are real threats, real dangers. To articulate reservations about U. S. immigration policies or critique governing authorities does not equate to xenophobia in every case. But there is xenophobia among evangelical Christians right now and surely this grieves the Spirit of God.

The work of hospitality (love of strangers) continues. Christians are a global people. We accept a measure of risk comes with taking up our cross and following our Savior. Extending your hand to a Muslim family living in Memphis won’t get your head disconnected from your body. It may get you more connected to the heart of your Lord, who rules over all and through all. “The people who know their God shall stand firm” (Dan. 11:32).

Posted by Cole Huffman at 8:48 AM
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