The Great Christmas Identity Theft of 2015
The devastating assaults in Paris have shattered our best hopes during this season. I was traveling the day following this tragic time and couldn’t help but marvel at the way persons sitting in the airline terminal transfixed by the television images from Paris. The usual noises of travelers hurrying through the terminal were muted. We were all distracted. Fear and anxiety overwhelmed any sense of normalcy. Then, our worst fears about the future of terrorism seemed confirmed by the murders of innocents in San Bernardino. Terrorists assault. They kill and gravely wound unsuspecting civil servants at a holiday party.
How do we respond to such evil. What can we learn? How will we find a way forward when there are appropriate fears about the future. One healthy response is to seek to learn more, to understand more, to gain knowledge of the situation.
Who are these misguided murderers? What motivates? Why do they choose these suicidal theatrics. We want to know who is doing this and what are their motives. This is all healthy and appropriate. It is needed information. And what can we learn about Islam and this radical apocalyptic cult — this ISIS or ISIL? Important this is, all of it.
Still, isn’t it intriguing that during these days of terror, we hear volumes from the experts about Muslims — who they are and how they behave — while at the same time there is little or no consideration about who is a Christian or how Christians might act at this time. The media are full of analysis about Islam. Good. knowledge is helpful; as one of my mentors would say “facts are our friends.”
It may be as important, make that more important, to consider what it means to be a Christian in this time. In the seasons of Advent and Christmas 2015 we hear again the Jesus narratives. His life and words are captured in carols and story and sermon. What is there to be learned from this narrative about retaliation, revenge, exclusion, bigotry toward those who are different?
It is interesting that on the same day that Pope Francis announced the beginning of Year of Jubilee as a time of mercy and reconciliation, Donald Trump is loudly and adamantly speaking words designed to stir up fear and set up new systems of discrimination. Many people in this country seem to agree with him — in some places, places where there are strong “Christian” environments, there may even a majority who agree with The Donald.
What has happened? Most of those who seem to agree with Trump would be quick to say the United States is a Christian nation. Really? There is grave danger here. If we are to choose the way of discrimination toward persons of a different faith, this is a danger I would label identity theft. Someone is taking the basic elements of what it means to be a Christian and substituting a cheapened, debased form of shallow and self-serving religiosity.
It is not up to me to say whether Donald Trump is a Christian or not. He says he is, “I attend church on Christmas, Easter and special occasions.” He says that if he is elected president he will be “the greatest Christian representative ever to be in the White House.” His faithfulness and the ways he acts on his beliefs are between him and God. However, he doesn’t get a pass on his easy claims. How do they match up with the story of Christmas?
No, it is not my call to determine whether Donald is a Christian… but we do know a great deal about who and what a Christian is expected to be from the scriptures and the great traditions of the church. Racism, bigotry and calls for revenge displayed by too many just don’t square with the person and teachings of Jesus. Right now — as we gain knowledge about others, equal care needs to be given to thinking clearly about what it means to be a Christian. Certainly the calls to exclude persons from the United States based on a religious test is unconstitutional. That is easy. For me, however, it is more important to ask, is it Christlike?
We are warned at this time of year to guard our credit card information. We are told to be careful giving out information about social security numbers or family background. Someone might steal your identity and this would be disastrous. I want to warn of an even greater identity theft that is underway — it is a theft of what it means to be a Christian. Guard this closely. The loss of this identity might be even more damaging than having one’s credit compromised. The loss of this identity may close down important options that will be needed in the future if we are to find a way past this current wave of terror.
Fear is a powerful thing; so is knowledge. It is critically important in these days to know more about Islam — what is true and what is false? Let me suggest that it is even more essential, for those of us who make the faith claim that we are “Christian” to consider carefully what this means — what is true and what is false?