Any time I send someone a friend request, there is always a moment of dread– this person seemed nice when I met her, but what kind of ridiculous stuff does she post on Facebook? Honestly, “friending” someone is not for the faint of heart.
Friends, we live in a click-bait culture. Social media has changed how we interact together as a society. In the past before Facebook, I would never have known my friend’s political opinions. Now, they are in my face all the time.
In our culture today, we find it easier and more satisfying to “like” and “share” political memes without really understanding or caring about the full story. We see our representative/senator/president attacked, and we mobilize to defend him/her, rather than look at reality and seek to understand truth. When people click on our Facebook profiles and see an ardent Republican or Democrat supporter of _____________, rather than a merciful and loving Christian, there is a serious problem.
I am very politically opinionated. Sometimes I find myself thinking through a Republican worldview, rather than a Christian one. I take great pride in being a Texan, an Aggie, and a Missouri-Synod Lutheran. I realized such pride was not necessarily a good thing after reading about Billy Graham after he passed away last year. I was inspired by the fact that people from both sides of the political aisle mourned his death. All living former presidents from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama made statements celebrating his life. Current and former elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, posted condolences and praise for this giant of faith. He is said to be the last bi-partisan Christian voice. He held deep convictions and he didn’t hold back from speaking the truth, but his main focus was spreading the message of salvation through Christ alone, not taking a public stand on every single political issue of our time.
He was an advisor to all presidents from the 1940s to the present. When I google searched his life, I predominantly found him preaching the Gospel, rather than talking about politics. Apparently, he let God speak for Himself by bringing His word to the masses, not his (Graham’s) own. Did Billy Graham have opinions about welfare, illegal immigration, taxation, etc? Of course. He MUST have. But the main thing he preached to all of those who listened was the grace and mercy of Christ.
Friends, please be careful what you post on social media. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” The first, and possibly only, thing someone sees about us in our current culture is what we post online. Those who don’t yet know Christ, who don’t understand the God we worship, only see us.
Last year I read The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector. I read as she described her life in North Korea, a country she loved. She escaped into China as a last minute decision before she turned 18 and thought she would return to North Korea. When events unfolded that made it impossible for her to return, she suffered in China as an illegal alien on the fringes of society, knowing that if she were caught by officials, she would be sent back to North Korea, tortured and executed. After ten years in China, she was able to buy the I.D. of another woman and book a flight to South Korea, where she could claim asylum.
When she reached South Korea, however, life didn’t get any easier. She found that the South Korean people were really prejudiced against North Korean defectors. Apparently South Korea is a really competitive place academically, and 80% of people go on to higher education. To have any kind of successful career, you have to have at least one college degree, and these North Korea defectors don’t have any kind of useful education. They often have the menial labor jobs in society, which cause the South Koreans to look down on them.
As I was reading this woman’s story, I was struck by how inhumanely she was treated. How could these South Korean’s be so callous to the needs of these people fleeing injustice?
Then I started reading about people fleeing gang wars in Central and South American countries. People from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Columbia are fleeing en masse to seek asylum in the United States. Their own countries are being torn apart by drug wars and violence, so of course they want to come to the land of the free.
What in the world are we supposed to do for these people? When I get into spirited Facebook debates, like many I have fallen into the trap of thinking and posting the following:
Many of these “asylum seekers” are criminals in disguise, cartel operatives hoping to bring their products and violence to the U.S.
We can’t help the world or solve the world’s problems. They need to stay there and fix their own countries.
What are we supposed to do? Allow all these people in to flood our welfare system?
After reading about Hyeonseo Lee, I realized that I was falling into the trap of so many who persecuted her. I am looking at these asylum-seekers, not as human beings in need of help, but as inconveniences, people creating problems for the world, not my problem. After some self-searching, I realized that I had a problem in my heart.
I realized I needed to peel back my political opinions and remember what the Bible says about treating people. I am not an elected official. My political opinions aren’t going to change the world right now. My Facebook posts aren’t doing anything constructive at all. All I can do politically is vote, but the rest of the time I should be acting with love and compassion, remembering the words James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
One thing in particular struck me recently while reading my chronological bible. I was reading about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he is performing miracles and calling his disciples. The Pharisees are highly educated, super-religious Jewish men who know the scriptures backwards and forwards. But over and over again, they get angry at Jesus for violating some religious law. Specifically they get angry multiple times about Jesus and his disciples violating the Sabbath day. Whether Jesus and his disciples are picking wheat to eat as they walk or healing people, they can’t stand the fact that Jesus has violated a Jewish religious tradition.
Over and over again Jesus tries to show them that they are completely missing the point. The law is supposed to bring us closer to God, to help us realize our sinfulness and helplessness before an Awesome Power, not to give us rules. When you are so obsessed with religious tradition that you completely miss the point of the law, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
When Jesus is ministering to the crowds and healing people, he sees super-religious men standing apart in a huff, judging and not really listening, hearing but not understanding. How like the Pharisees am I when I go to church and do all the “church” things, but then deny grace and mercy to those around me, not only in my words and actions towards others, but publicly on social media as well?
When Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple, the Pharisees are outraged. Matthew was a tax collector, a person the Pharisees hated. Tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman government, and they frequently increased the amount they were supposed to collect. Any excess money they collected would then line their pockets, so the people felt the tax collectors were thieves robbing their fellow Jews. Instead of steering clear of Matthew, Jesus calls him to be a disciple, and goes to eat with these sinners. When they call him out on it, Jesus responds, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
Matthew wrote his Gospel to convince other Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Because his audience is other Jews, his Gospel frequently quotes the Old Testament scriptures. The other three Gospels spend less time doing this than Matthew does because their Gospels were intended for different audiences. When Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” Matthew is pointing out that Jesus was referencing Hosea 6:6, a book in the Old Testament. Jesus is trying to tell the Jews that their religious practices mean nothing if they are not moved by love and compassion.
By seeing past Matthew’s mistakes and offering him the transformative gift of redemption, Jesus gains a disciple who will eventually write one of the four Gospels, spreading the Word to millions for millenia. How many people are we overlooking because they are “not our problem,” not bothering to share the good news with them because we label them unworthy? How many people are we refusing to be associated with and alienating ourselves from because we can’t even have a civil conversation about politics? When we carelessly post things online, we are inviting discord and closing doors on the very people we are supposed to be reaching.
One of my facebook friends recently posted the following:
“I have always advocated helping people in our own country first, and, more specifically, in our own community. I’ve lost count how many times I have had families I’ve tried to help in my job find emergency housing. By ’emergency housing,’ I mean a place to live immediately. Desperate parents have called me at work needing immediate shelter because of evictions or domestic violence. I know all of you can think of shelters in Temple, but they all have rules that exclude certain ages/sexes or those with criminal records or other criteria. Also, sometimes the waiting list is so long, it would take weeks or months to have a place to live. Most times, I have to give these families my typical answer: ‘Sorry, but east Bell County is resource-poor. We don’t have any shelters that will take you.’ Many have no transportation, no jobs and the ones I deal with all have children. What do we do with those people?”
I am absolutely at a loss. This poignant question reminded me that the devastation wrought by sin is everywhere, and there are no easy solutions. It is in far flung places across the globe, it is at the border, it is in our own communities and families.
I have read the following comments of others on Facebook, but I have thought the very same things myself:
These illegals are degenerate criminals! We don’t want them here.
These people are bums! They should’ve taken care of business. Not my responsibility.
These people come empty-handed and have nothing to offer society. They are a drain!
Then I remember the amazing gift of salvation my savior has given me, a poor, miserable sinner with nothing good to offer in return. And I have been commanded by Jesus to show this same mercy to all those around me.
I am going to vote, to pray fervently for wisdom and mercy, to donate time and resources to those in need whenever possible. I am going to try to remember that all of these people are important, worthy, and valuable because they are made in the image of God. The only power in the universe that can solve the sinful problems of this world is the Holy Spirit, not Republican or Democrat dogma. When we become so obsessed with voicing our political opinions that we forget we are talking about human beings, we are falling into the age-old trap repeated hundreds of times throughout history.
Am I going to forget my political beliefs? No. But I am going to try to remember the words of Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” I don’t want my political opinions and Facebook posts to stand in the way of someone hearing about the love of Christ, the grace of God, and the promise of salvation for all who believe.
Some issues are spiritual and physical life and death. Most are not. Don’t let your publicly posted opinions on trivial matters become stumbling blocks to those seeking the ultimate truth.