The Privilege of Ignorance and the Danger in Security

in Opinion by

The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Clarion and its staff. If you have response or an opinion you’d like to see published, please contact Editor-in-Chief Jared Nelson at jan83277@bethel.edu

Cherie Suonvieri | Freelance

As a white woman born and raised in the United States, I have the privilege of ignorance. I have the ability to choose whether or not I want to follow what has happened in Beirut, Paris, Ferguson, or even what’s happening in Minneapolis. If I keep up on the news, I’m considered informed. But if I don’t, the only thing I might lose is a bit of pride in social situations.

I come from a culture that idolizes security. This was demonstrated to me by the overwhelming concern for our well-being, poured out by our parents and loved ones back home when we (a group of 25 study abroad students) were in fact in Croatia over 13 driving-hours away from Paris when the attacks took place. We’re not used to being threatened, so we respond in fear even when we are hundreds of miles away from a perceived threat.

I grew up in a society that perpetuates irrational fear of the other, this demonstrated by the snap reaction of over 30 U.S. state governors declaring their refusal to welcome Syrian refugees.

The news reports from my nation’s media seem to convey that people like me only care about the people who look and think like them — and though we won’t admit it, this bias is often accurate. This is demonstrated by the thorough coverage of events in Paris held in contrast with the skimpy coverage of the bombings in Beirut or the attacks this past April at Garissa University in Kenya, which left 147 dead. This is demonstrated by the lack of reporting on the hostage situation in Mali. This is demonstrated by the bandwagon support for Paris (let me say that I think the support for Paris is great—but let’s also acknowledge that Paris isn’t the only city facing tragedy worth attention).

This is the society I grew up in. These are the types of values, beliefs and practices I learned to adopt. A majority of the people reading this grew up in similar environments which are not conducive to openness and awareness. Ignorance is bliss—right?

So what do I do with that?

I’m learning that I alone cannot convince people to care. As utterly frustrating as that is, I’m learning that the realization that the rest of humanity matters is a revelation that has to come from within oneself. I can throw sparks as much as I want, but fire will only catch if the material it lands on is flammable.

So again… what do I do with that?

First, I pray. I pray for God to turn hearts of stone into something that will burn — and burn continuously. Not just the kindling type stuff that burns hot and fast and then burns out, but the type of material that you’d count on to be consistent and keep you warm through a Minnesota winter’s night.

What else do I do? I use the platform I’ve been given. About 90 percent of the time this involves listening to people’s stories, reading about what’s going outside my little bubble and learning how we can think and do life better as a broader community. About 10 percent of the time, using the platform involves speaking up.

This post is a part of the 10 percent. And the remainder of this post is a specific call to my Christian brothers and sisters. Christian or not, you’re more than welcome and encouraged to read on. This is just a disclaimer that I acknowledge that I cannot ask all people to hold to this specific standard.

Friends and family, I cannot ignore this deep conviction I’ve had over the past couple weeks. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and that’s a truth I’m holding to. That is not to say I have all the answers. On the contrary, there is so much I don’t know. But I do know this:

We often confuse the values that U.S. American society teaches us with the values that the Bible teaches us. Sometimes these values can be similar, but often they contradict with the ways we are called to love and care for others; this is when we need to be conscious and discerning of the differences and ask ourselves which value set we are letting direct our lives.

For a lot of Christians from the U.S., our desire to be safe conflicts with the way we are commanded to care for the least of these. I get it. Our lives matter a lot to us. The lives of our loved ones matter a lot to us (I’m including myself in this). But let me be clear: I do not believe that our safety is God’s top priority. He loves us, yes. Very much so. But my life is not worth any more than the life of any man, woman or child running from the unimaginably hellish conditions in war-torn Syria.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). He calls us to care for the least of these (Matthew 25:38-40). And he calls us to show mercy and help those in need, even when it’s outside of our comfort zone or what is socially acceptable (Luke 10:25-37).

The other day, I was reading an article by Klinton Silvey, and he said something rather poignant: “Open up a Bible and make a convincing argument that Jesus wants us all to be safe more than he wants us to reach the lost and help the hurting.” I find myself making the same request.

Please, show me some biblical support of this widespread dismissal of refugees by many self-identified evangelical Christians because they threaten this illusion we have of security. My overarching point boils down to one main question: looking through a Christian lens, why should our safety be a reason to deny other human beings refuge?

The unknown is scary. Uncertainty is scary. But throughout the Bible, time and time again we’re told to love, and time and time again we’re told not to fear. And I understand that our nation’s priority is its citizens’ security. But brothers and sisters… as individual Christians who are part of the collective, global church we must be ever so discerning with our actions and evermore aware of who we might be turning away.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Matthew 25:41-45

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