The news today is sobering, especially after hearing and reflecting on Pastor James Bergen’s sermon from yesterday at North Fresno Church. Our congregation is in a series on 1 John and it’s hard to miss the point. It’s the Gospel in tweets:
Truths so simply put, they’re nearly impossible to fulfill. That’s the irony of the upside down kingdom.
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
I learned these verses as a kid and even sang them as a camp song. But the older I get, the more difficult these fundamental principles become. Count up the “one another” statements in the New Testament—there’s 47, all encouraging love, forgiveness, service, compassion, honesty, fellowship, patience and more. Love is the means by which God presents himself and his mission to the world. We are the conduits through which that love flows, not just to those who reciprocate love back to us, but to everyone.
So, the news this morning was a slap in the face. Hate and neglect still surface and raise their ugly heads.
In Texas, two gunmen stormed a meeting yesterday, opening fire and injuring a security guard. These jihadists, in turn, were killed by police. That’s a terrible situation and I’m glad others weren't hurt or killed. I imagine these gunmen were filled with rage, but they weren't the only haters at the scene. The meeting they were interrupting was an anti-Islamic gathering where participants had the chance to win $10,000 by entering cartoons they had drawn of Muhammad (an act of blasphemy for Muslims). The organizer, Pamela Geller, planned this event specifically to draw out and taunt the Muslim community. The British government has classified Geller’s organization as a hate group. Promoted as a “free speech” event, it was clearly nothing less than an act of disdain and ridicule. Unfortunately, many Christians and church leaders have taken similar approaches, holding aggressively hostile positions against Islam.
Closer to home, there’s more devastating news out today. A new study appearing in the New York Times lists “The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up,” noting that “Fresno County is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.” The county I live in ranks 97th out of 2,478, which means it’s at the bottom 4% of all counties in America, receiving poor scores in five areas: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In short, children who are born into poverty in Fresno County have very little chance of ever escaping the cycle. Sadly, many churches are either complacent or ignorant about the situation.
God is love. He loves us. We ought to love others.
Christians are not called to hate or intentionally defame and deride others. Rather than protest against Muslims, we might be more productive—and strengthen our witness—by finding projects we can partner in together and by practicing hospitality. And, similarly, Christians can't afford to default to ignorance. The prophets continually blasted God’s people for their neglect of those who were powerless and suffering: the widow, the orphan and the foreigner in their midst. If every one of the more than 500 churches in Fresno reached out in a spirit of service to one of the 80 nearby elementary schools, children trapped in poverty would have a much better chance of escaping the bleak destiny that's already been charted out for them. Think of all the tutoring, caring and nurturing that could happen! It’s a simple equation: love + time/effort = change.
Defaulting either to hate or neglect is unconscionable for the Christian community. We can and should do better than that. The letter of 1 John doesn't allow for any other options.