Who is My Neighbor? Back to First Grade

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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This past August in my home city in the Northeast, two Muslim men, the Imam of a local mosque and the owner of a pizza shop, were arrested and indicted for money laundering and potential terrorist involvement, based on a sting conducted by federal authorities. The case is still under investigation, as is the means by which they were targeted and possibly entrapped. But whether the two men are guilty as charged, and whether authorities made misjudgments based on faulty evidence . . . neither of these are my point.

My point is this: these two men and their families, including small children, are my neighbors. They live, work, and worship less than six blocks from my house, from my church, and from the consortium of six urban churches that I have served as a volunteer. They also live well within the wider circle of the area’s council of churches, as well as a partnership of faith open to all religious identities.

Yet hearing of the highly publicized arrest, no official voice from any of these groups acknowledged these families as neighbors, or publicly spoke a word of caution against stereotyping or harassment, or expressed compassion to the city’s Muslim community. But we know what would have happened, don’t we, if the parties in trouble had been among “our own”? Concerned calls, offers to help, visible presence. Deacons, prayers, casseroles! Though the yellow tape encircling these families surely would have blocked some of those gestures, the point is that we didn’t try.

In short, we blew it. As people of God, we may disagree on many theological points; but we agree on one without question: love your neighbor—and if it should turn out to be the case, love your enemy. And we lost a crucial opportunity to respond to God’s higher calling.

In part, the point is our failure to responsibly love. A more condemning point is that we didn’t know how. Our silence is a painful example in the church of widespread unreadiness.

By some standards, we are excused for that too. Terrorism is new stuff. Today’s world paints new meanings on the words “neighbor” and “enemy.” Acts of love can be dangerously misconstrued. Not acting can look like exclusion and xenophobia. To withdraw from the world, however, is without excuse. Confrontation is a Christian’s clear call and possibly our biggest challenge on the road ahead for the universal community of faith.

Where do we start to learn how? In the familiar old textbook, of course. How interesting that Jesus taught His following in an overriding context of political chaos, in an occupied country, in a protracted war zone of entrenched religious prejudice. The Good Samaritan was far braver than he appears in our romanticized versions of the parables. He put his life and reputation in danger. Maybe that’s the place for us to begin.