Writing in 1921 after the first World War, English poet WB Yeats wrote a poem entitled “The Second Coming,“ in which he wrote:
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats expresses a sense of the social crisis of that time and as I reflected on my thoughts and emotions on our own divisions in America today, on the immigration debates and the ease with which we descend into ugly stereotyping of whole groups of people, I could not but feel a sense of things falling apart in this nation, so richly blessed, to which I brought my own family in 2001. I could not but reflect with sadness on the ugly racist undertones in the discussion over immigration and refugees—especially on the weekend when we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the progress I used to believe we had made towards racial reconciliation.
As leader of a Christian organization serving the most vulnerable in Haiti and Africa, as well as supporting refugees and immigrants seeking refuge from violence, disaster and oppression, how should I react to the demeaning of whole groups of people? How do I stay true to the convictions of my faith and the call to love one another in a debate that at times seems devoid of hope and nobility, a debate that seems to embrace a dystopian view of the world we live in, a debate that seems to simply divide the world into winners and losers, into my people and ‘other’ people?
As a Christian, I believe that all humans are made in the image of God. And that we are all called to care for the vulnerable and to welcome the stranger. The bible is replete with such stories as was the teaching and example of Jesus.
I have been fortunate to come alongside communities and families in some of the hardest places in the world, to talk with men, women and children who desire the same things we desire, to talk with parents and grandparents who, despite grinding poverty and lack of opportunity, often demonstrate compassion and care for one another that puts me to shame. I have walked the dusty roads of towns and villages in the nations we too easily look down upon from our perch of privilege. I have sat in the homes of people and have heard their stories of suffering, seen their resilience and seen how they can find joy and be thankful to God even in the most challenging circumstances. They have taught me what it is to love, what it is to have faith and what it is to have hope in things as yet unseen. They have taught me humility and blessed me with their friendship.
To have these people, and in fact their entire nations reduced to a coarse and derogatory narrative grieves and offends me.
Both Old and New Testament Scripture is clear. Our God desires peace and joy for all his people, irrespective of nation, race or tribe. The vision in Revelation 7, the last book of the Bible, is unambiguous: “After that I looked and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes with palm branches in hand crying out with a loud voice, “‘Salvation belongs to to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’”
Unfortunately our politics today appear to promote partisan divisions rather than promoting civility, understanding and reconciliation amongst people.
At World Relief, we respect that many of the issues where we have expert knowledge are complex and that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree and so we have always sought to elevate not coarsen the debate—to be grounded in both conviction and civility. We have been careful not to further division in our response to policies we believe are contrary to the teaching of Jesus or simply ill–informed.
But when is enough enough? When do we reach a tipping point that requires a different response?
The teaching of Jesus is clear. Each one of us must consider this as a question of personal conscience rather than from the perspective of tribal loyalty or group identity.
And as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we commemorate on Monday.
Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.