As someone who spends a fair amount of time in airports, the news of the March terrorist attack on the airport in Brussels gave me pause. I could easily imagine the lives of scores of travelers horrifically interrupted by a violence inspired by religious extremism and designed to incite fear.
Then it occurred to me that airports aren’t the only targets for such acts of terror. People shopping at a mall, eating at a café, attending prayer meeting, driving on an interstate, or participating in an office workshop are also targets.
Some want to capitalize on the paranoia inspired by these incidents to brand whole categories of people, using words such as “always” and “never” to describe countless “others” who want nothing more than to live peaceful lives and raise families in security.
In fact, these “others” pose less of a threat than the home-grown bigots who spout hatred and promote fear-mongering on their posts, tweets, and Internet sites.
Our society—local, national, and global—has never been more fractured. Voices of reason are increasingly drowned out by those whose ignorance is matched only by the volume of their rhetoric and the naïveté of their proposed “solutions.”
In describing the signs of His second coming, Jesus warned His disciples: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Into this environment we are called to be Christ’s disciples. Our mandate is not simply to join the chorus of people making blanket condemnations based on race, religion, creed, or nationality. We are called to model cooperation, conversation, and inclusion.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” said Jesus, “if you love one another” (John 13:35). And while it’s easy (relatively) to love people who look like us, worship like us, and have the same values we have, Christ’s gospel challenges us to love even those who are unlike us.
Indeed, in Matthew 5 part of Jesus’ description of what it means to be perfect includes these words: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (verse 44).
Most people seek to be honorable, trustworthy persons. The aftermath of any natural or human disaster always sees an outpouring of material and emotional support. Strangers often come to the aid of those in peril. It’s a great mistake to paint all people with the same brush.
The likelihood of being harmed by a foreign or domestic terrorist is less than being struck by lightning or attacked by a shark. Still, we live in perilous times, and we should take every precaution. But bigotry, fear-mongering, and prejudice are unwelcome weapons in our efforts to reflect Christ’s character.
Those of us who take seriously Christ’s gospel commission cannot afford to be afraid. We just don’t have the time to be afraid.
Stephen Chavez is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.