Late Night comedienne, Samantha Bee of TBS and formerly of The Daily Show, recently praised Southern Baptists. She heartily affirmed the SBC for the Refugee Resolution that we just passed at our convention and Dr. Russell Moore for his defense of religious liberty, even for Muslims (the video has a few instances of rough language, including a few F-bombs, so fast forward to 5:14 if you want to skip that – or just skip the video altogether). The whole piece that proceeded this on her show had her talking about the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s campaign and growing racial/ethnic divisions in our country. Then, she pivots and says that she has hope because Evangelicals, especially Southern Baptists, are stepping up to say “No” to negative rhetoric about immigrants and refugees and that we are calling for refugee ministry and fairness and religious liberty for all. Her crowd broke into applause when they heard Dr. Moore boldly proclaim that religious freedom was for Muslims too and that Southern Baptists had to fight for freedom for all. If you know Samantha Bee, she is never one to say anything good about Christians, so this was all pretty surprising. She is even surprised herself. Now, whatever you think about the reasons for the Brexit vote and whether it was right or not, what I want to focus on here is the effect that taking a stand to minister to and advocate for refugees, immigrants, and others can have on our witness to those who might not be in favor of the message of the church and the gospel but are blown away when they see us loving people who do not give us more power.
When I had to leave my church to engage in this ministry I told people that when we minister to the weak and poor – to the sojourner, the refugee, the immigrant, the widow and orphan – that it becomes a witness to even an unbelieving world about who Jesus is and the power that He has to change the world, starting with our own hearts. I was told by some that it was nice what I was doing and they were basically supportive, but it would never have an effect on unbelievers – that they would just find something about it to criticize and it wouldn’t matter. I knew they were wrong at the time, but I didn’t realize just how wrong. Of course, I’ve been told lots of things by people over the past 9 months. Some have told me that I was trying to bring in terrorists and I didn’t care about America. Some have told me that I should care more about ministering to Americans than foreigners. I’ve heard it all. But, Isaiah 58 tells a different story. It says that when we loose the bonds of oppression and spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and stop with wicked talk and clenched fists and fighting and turn our hearts toward those who have been under the yoke of bondage, well, I’ll just quote it …
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
So, Isaiah 58 actually gives us a roadmap. It tells us that when we turn our hearts toward those in need that God will cause our light to shine and our healing to quickly appear. All over America, Christians are bemoaning the secularization of our culture and the loss of religious freedom. Yet, right now God is providing the very way that we can regain our witness and see our ancient ruins rebuilt. If we would only turn toward those in need who are suffering, we would see raised up foundations and the breach repaired. When the bonds of oppression are loosed, it speaks of our Deliverer who sets the captive free. When we go to the refugee and immigrant with the gospel and help and sacrificial love and we join with them, then God works in powerful ways – in their lives and ours. All of this is counterintuitive, this Kingdom life. We win by losing and we gain by laying our lives down. The Cross is our guide and the opportunity for witness is right in front of us – if we will only die to ourselves and love sacrificially. I know this because the Bible tells this better story – over and over again. I know it because Jesus went to the Cross to conquer evil, not to a boardroom or the president’s office.
A couple of weeks ago, over 7000 Southern Baptists received this message and affirmed refugee ministry right in the middle of constant attack on refugees by political and cultural leaders. We turned the debate upside down and the world took notice. Samantha Bee, the Washington Post, ABC, and many others took note that Evangelical Christians who usually walk in lock-step with Republicans are breaking ranks on this issue and siding with a Biblical perspective of ministering to the oppressed. That resonates. When we aren’t just fighting for our own rights but for the benefit of others, it sends a message that Jesus is having an impact on us and is causing us to love others sacrificially. That is the message that the world needs.
When I sat in that Starbucks over a month ago and spent 30 minutes writing the refugee resolution, I knew that we needed to tell a better story. But, I had no idea how God would use it. Actually, I wasn’t even sure it would pass through the Resolutions Committee. But, God has a way of surprising us when we simply trust that His Word is true and that loving people sacrificially is the way that we #tellabetterstory. We have a long way to go to restore the “ancient ruins and foundations” of our country. But, the way to do it is not by trying to grab hold of political power for ourselves. It is to love, minister to, and advocate for those who have no voice and who do not give us power in this world. Then, God will lift us up by His own hand and we will become Proverbs 31 people:
8 Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
I’m glad that Samantha Bee got to #tellabetterstory.