I am sure by now that many of you are aware of what happened in Portland on Friday when three men were stabbed (two fatally) after seeking to intervene when two women (one a Muslim) were being harassed. You can find the latest updates on any major news outlet (CNN, Washington Post, Guardian Opinion, Fox News). My heart is broken over this incident. It is horrible enough when refugees, immigrants, and others are victims of violence and harassment because they are “other.” But when those who seek to intervene, to defend others against discrimination, are also violently attacked, we have entered a very, very dark place. I’ve been grappling with the implications of this tragic event over the past few days and thinking about the lessons we, as believers, can learn from it. Here are a few of my thoughts on Portland.
Standing Up For Justice
The three men who stepped in to challenge the perpetrator’s harassment of two young women were doing what they believed was right. They were pursuing justice for those who were vulnerable and marginalized in that moment. When they first stood up to challenge the perpetrator’s hateful words, they had no idea how the confrontation would end. They couldn’t have known he had a weapon hidden and that he would use it on them. They simply did what they knew was right, without hesitancy, without weighing pros and cons, without convincing themselves that someone else would handle it.
Now, as far as I can tell, these men do not appear to have been Christians, so while I am heartbroken by their deaths, I am doubly heartbroken by the likelihood that their pursuit of justice on Friday was not rewarded in Heaven. They did what was right, even without the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide them. How much more should we, who know the character of God and his passion for justice, be willing to stand in the face of danger to protect the vulnerable?
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
The command to not be afraid is repeated 365 times in the Bible. And yes, it is a command. God is sovereign, in complete control of our lives, so to persist in fear is sinful. Not only should we stand up for justice, like three Portland men did on Friday, but we should do so without fear, trusting that God is in control of the outcome. Our motivation to pursue justice without fear should go deeper than simply wanting to obey a command, it should stem from an understanding of God’s perfect love for us, and his love for justice for the oppressed and marginalized.
I admit, I am often tempted to be afraid each week when I prepare these blog posts for you all. As tensions have risen concerning issues like immigration and refugee resettlement, it can be a frightening thing to challenge the errant views of many who claim to follow Jesus and to encourage the Church to do more to welcome the stranger. While no one has threatened me with violence (yet), I have received my share of nasty emails and social media comments, and it can be disheartening.
If you work or volunteer with refugees in any capacity and are passionate about encouraging other believers to join you, I am sure you may have experienced similar fears and concerns. When those fearful thoughts begin to creep into our minds, let’s remember who we serve. Let’s reflect on Jesus’s great love for us and the dear people made in his image whom we are advocating for. Let’s remember that we work for a heavenly kingdom and heavenly reward.
Thank you for everything you do to advocate for, serve, and pray for refugees. Thank you for the ways you encourage fellow believers to stand up for justice. Thank you for being an example to the Church of how perfect love cast out fear. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).