Recently I went to Washington D.C. with my wife and some close friends. We walked around the National Mall and went to most of the museums. On one of the afternoons we went through the National Holocaust Museum. If you have never done that before, it is a truly sobering and enlightening experience, I highly recommend it. Throughout walking the museums, I found myself in awe all of the amazing things humans have done on earth, most of them wonderful, but as I wandered the Holocaust Museum I was struck by the awful circumstances surrounding the Jewish people in Europe leading up to Hitler’s “Final Solution”, one of the most despicable things humans have done.
“The Final Solution” was the culmination of Hitler’s plan that began many years earlier when the German government started stripping German Jews of their basic human rights. At first, the goal was simple for Hitler, he wanted to force the Jews to leave Germany and other areas he wanted to rule. There was one problem that he hadn’t considered, and this point has continued to disturb me, and that was most of the other countries of the world would not accept these refugees. In fact, one new thing I learned was that a world conference was held in the late 1930’s, 6 long years after the persecutions began, in which the refugee situation was the entire point of the conference by all the largest and most powerful countries of the world. At the end of the conference these countries decided in essence NOT to take any of these refugees. This disregard, and ignorance, toward the situation, sealed the Jews’ fate by convincing Hitler and his confidants that they were absolutely correct that the Jews needed to be destroyed from the face of the earth, because no one else wanted them either.
This conviction lead to the Final Solution, which was the decision to undertake mass genocide of the Jewish people, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews. Please consider this magnitude, in America we freak out, and rightfully so, when 10 people are killed by a deranged psychopath, but in a matter of 5 years from the conference, millions of Jews were murdered. It is incomprehensible to me, and just the thought of it makes me hurt. What makes it even worse was there was 6 years of evidence that Jews were being persecuted, raped, robbed, and deprived of basic rights leading up to the world conference to discuss whether these people, who wanted to leave their persecution knowing their fate would only get worse, would be accepted. All of these countries, even our beloved America, could have welcomed them into our country and saved them, but we didn’t. What were we thinking?
It is despicable in retrospect, and so many years after the fact America is now mostly a champion for Israel, and while most Christians in America spend a lot of time deriding the atrocities of the Holocaust, yet because of their fear of Jews and their differences, these same Christians in the 1930’s were among the most vocal about not letting the Jews come to America. This type of fear is familiar as they were claiming Jews were communists and potential terrorists, that they would ruin our way of life by taking our jobs and increasing our crime, and some didn’t have any reason other than their prejudiced hatred that matched Hitler’s, not unlike prejudiced hatred today. It reminds me of many people’s current attitudes toward Latin American, Syrian or Nigerian refugees, many of which are Christians fleeing persecution, rape, and genocide. In fact, the leaders of the Mormon Church are issuing a statement over the pulpit today asking and telling us how we can help some of these refugees.
Ever since my trip I have been gripped with the plight and situation of all types refugees but wasn’t sure how to express my feelings. This was remedied recently when I was asked to speak about baptism at a new friend’s baptism. It was a really spiritual experience for me, and I learned some interesting thing as I prepared the talk. A few days after the talk I realized that those things I learned applied directly to this idea of being refugees and it finally clicked as to what I wanted to share. So here are some of my thoughts on being refugees, baptism, and being adopted into the Body of Christ.
What refugees want by definition is to find a new place of safety, peace, and acceptance, as they have left their home for many reasons. Most often we think of refugees in terms of political or nationalistic, but there are many ways one could be considered a refugee, here are a few:
- Many children have no stable home while they journey on earth and are constantly looking for safety, peace, acceptance and comfort.
- Those who do have safe homes while growing up eventually leave and become refugees again looking for new relationships, or communities they can belong to as maturing or mature adults.
- In some places in America people are unsafe because of the color of their skin or their religion and often have to flee to new communities.
- Unfortunately, some relationships and communities, especially abusive ones, can cause some to become refugees in a sense as they have to flee the harmful situation looking for peace and acceptance elsewhere.
- In our professional lives, we often flee bad work environments, looking for a place where we feel safe, accepted, and valued, making us employment refugees.
- Actual families, and whole communities, who are so oppressed and violated by their governments that they are seeking a place of refuge in neighboring countries and communities.
The majority of people in this world fit into one of these categories and have felt the pain of being a refugee, even if only for a short time, and hopefully being reminded of this can soften our hearts as we consider how it feels for others to go through the experience of being a refugee. The focus of my thoughts, however, is that all of us are spiritual refugees, who are looking for peace, purpose, love, and meaning during and after this life. We can become this type of spiritual refugee by feeling the weight of our poor decisions, or by feeling lost and that life’s meaning is either depressing or just out of reach, and other times it comes because those within our spiritual families, where we should feel peace, safety, and love, intentionally or unintentionally hurt us and force us from our already found spiritual home. Having felt some of those feelings, I believe that our one true refuge, or anchor, should be Jesus Christ, and I hope this post can help others find that refuge, and also assist those who are there already make the refuge more welcoming to others.
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” Ether 12:4
Baptism unto Christ
The word anchor can imply being home, safe, or secure, and this is what faith in Jesus Christ is meant to provide, and in no other Christian ordinance is this symbolized better than baptism. In the centuries prior to John the Baptist, Israelites would perform ritual bathing similar to baptism called tevilah, in a ceremonial font called a mikveh. This bathing was meant to reinforce the idea of becoming clean before God, the common reason we currently cite for baptism, and they were performed regularly throughout a person’s life. John the Baptist, as part of being sent to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, taught a lesser practiced version of this ritual cleansing, we know now as baptism. This version of the practice was different in two important ways:
- The first, is that we only need to be baptized once if done by someone ordained by God and in the name of Jesus Christ.
When getting baptized, just like the Israelites in their ritual bathing, we are all looking forward to being cleansed of our sins, and that is something that is very meaningful, but it falls short of the full power of this baptism. Paul teaches us that baptism is so much more in the context of being cleansed from sin.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” Romans 6:3-5
When we go under the water we are symbolically dying with Christ, and when raised from the water we are resurrected with him. Our past is still our past, albeit forgiven, but what is more important is that our future is bound with Christ and we are forgiven of our sins, past, present, and future. This small action constitutes an eternally significant connection between us and Christ. This connection coupled with our broken heart and contrite spirit makes us clean forward and backward in that moment. We have found our refuge.
Unfortunately, we will all wander from that home through our own fears, doubt, decisions, or apathy. This leads to the second reason baptism is so linked to us finding a home as refugees.
- The second is that we are baptized into the body of Christ, made up of fellow believers in Christ.
Knowing we would fail, and that we would need help, Christ’s baptism was an adoption into the “Body of Christ”, as I mentioned earlier we are symbolically being resurrected with Christ and we are literally part of him because you are a part of his family, we are a part of his rest, his refuge for all. The “Body of Christ” is partly represented by fellow believers in Christ, but for my purposes it is expressly representing those who are a part of the Church.
Paul gave us the best teaching on being a part of the “Body of Christ” in his epistle to the Corinthians. One of the dilemmas he and other missionaries faced in the early church, was the very deep bigotry between Jews, Greeks, Romans, and other nationalities. The church was having difficulty staying together because the new converts and longer term members didn’t want to belong to a church with people who were so different from themselves, even though they believed the same message:
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:12-13
When it comes to being a part of the “Body of Christ” we are all the same. We are Christ’s.
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” 1 Cor. 12:14-18
God not only permitted this situation, but He desired it so that in our differences, and being Christ does not take away our differences, we would make this new found refuge better for those who would come after us, so that all kinds of people would seek it and find its peace, hope, and safety.
“If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” 1 Cor. 12:19-27
Paul says a few times that the part of the Body you think is less honorable is actually more honorable. This means whenever someone in the church, or the leaders of the church, or someone on a blog seems crazy, insensitive, stupid, or plain mean and you feel they are the less honorable part of the Body, remember that they are needed and try to love them and see them for the things that they bring good to the Body despite their weakness. This attitude when considering our place in the “Body of Christ” would make the refuge better.
Paul also is making a point about being who you are and bring your experiences and talents, and personality and be the part of the “Body of Christ” that will make us all better, by showing those who don’t think they can come to the refuge that there are those who are like them there. Everyone has much to offer, and although we should try to improve as a part of our desire to be a disciple of the Lord, we should retain and cultivate the things about us that make us who we are. This will entice others who are seeking refuge to find you and Christ. We don’t need to homogeneous in the church except in our desire to follow Christ and help others become and benefit from the “Body of Christ”.
Adoption into the Body of Christ
It should not be surprising to find that the vast majority of people who accept religion for the first time, convert to a new religion, or accept their old religion anew, are refugees who feel unsafe, feel unfulfilled in their current communities (including the Mormon Church), , or have experienced a life change that makes them feel they need something different. The question I have been asking myself is, “What can I do to make the Gospel, and my faith in Jesus Christ, more appealing to those around me so they truly believe that there is refuge in my beliefs?” Isn’t this our charge as disciples, to create refuge for all the refugees in the world, who are seeking help, love, hope, peace?
Before I get to some of the ideas I have had about what I feel can be done to help, I need to expound on a point I skipped over earlier in the post. What causes us to ignore, or reject refugees who seem different than us, or to make others feel they need to leave what we and they already consider a refuge? The answer to this, I believe, is found in the story of Jews.
A thought that continued to pound me as I read every word of the Holocaust exhibit was, what were the people of Germany doing? Why were they going along with this, I know they had to have basic decency, so what was happening in their minds, and even more importantly, what goes on in our minds when we reject others, or refuse to bring refugees into our communities?
Fear is the only answer that made sense as we are all susceptible to the rhetoric of fear. Hitler’s, methodically-subtle at first and openly hostile at end, propaganda campaign of the 1930’s is the reason German citizens did nothing to help the Jews. From newspapers, posters, radio, all the way to children’s books, all school textbooks, and every other medium you can think of the Nazi’s created a story of Jews who would steal from them, rape them, degrade their genetics, and even kill them. The people of Germany were bombarded with this to the point where they were paralyzed, as their basic human compassion was beat down by fear and caused them to look the other way, or even participate. This episode, and many others, including the people of Missouri and Illinois’ fear of Mormons, shows that when people are afraid they will believe lies. Fear is powerful, it is evil, and it is prevalent.
Today, we face the same kind of fear rhetoric, although much more sophisticated. Facebook feeds, supposed “News” channels, local news, twitter, gossip, and any other medium you can find bombards us with fear of things that are not like us, and reinforces our preconceived notions of what we should be afraid of. This is especially true when it comes to politics, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
“Differences are just that — differences. If we think of them as differences to be fixed, then they become weapons with which we wound each other. If we think of them as delightful, then they become a bouquet of bright blossoms.” Chieko Okazaki Relief Society General Presidency
Mormon’s seem particularly vulnerable to fear rhetoric, I think it is because for much of our history we have been persecuted, and to this day Mormon Pioneers are the largest group of religious refugees in American history. We also believe that Satan is trying to destroy our way of life. Even though I believe this is true, when we focus on the fear of Satan’s success, and ignore the inevitability of Christ’s triumph, we can easily succumb to lies that can camouflage our refuge as a camp for only one type of people, , rather than the refuge for all God’s children, in all their diversity, that it is meant to be and inevitably will become.
“I see so many good people everywhere—and there’s so much of good in them. And the world is good. Wonderful things are happening in this world. This is the greatest age in the history of the earth. …We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. … You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen.” Gordon B. Hinckley
I wish we would quit talking about how bad the world is, and how evil it is everywhere, even this last general conference we were told how amazing the world is, and I believe that. When we see the good, and get rid of the fear, it is easier to see how much we can help those who need refuge instead of being afraid of someone who thinks or acts differently than us.
What can we do?
Those of us who have already been adopted into Christ’s refuge are responsible for how the refuge is found, how it is used, how it is perceived, and how many people it can help. The point of the refuge is not to separate ourselves, but to provide refuge for those who want the peace, hope, and safety Christ promises. Not everyone can or will live to the same gospel ideals in the same time frame as others, but our efforts need to bring and keep as many within the refuge of Christ as possible. This require us to cast our the fear that makes us see people different than us as enemies, and see them as people with different experiences looking for refuge just like us.
I came up with some practical things we can each do to cast fear aside and make our church, our communities, and our family a place of refuge for those already in it, and those seeking for refuge without.
- When things get hard or bad, focus on things you are grateful for.
- When things are going amazing find people who have less, or who are struggling and spend TIME helping them.
- When someone offends you say something kind to them and move on from the offence.
- Look for things you can learn from those with differing points of view instead of rushing to argue at every point you may not agree. Especially true with politics where fear is the primary component.
- Trust our kids, family, and friends when they are acting against what you believe and exploring their individuality. Your love and trust will have more powerful impact than shunning or guilting as a punishment.
- Admit our faults but not put ourselves down while embracing our strengths without rejecting the help of God.
When we are adopted into Christ’s refuge (baptized) we do it being “willing to bear one another’s burdens”, and not just people like us, but everyone, Christ even says our enemies. We also claim we will, “mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that need comfort”. I believe Christ is our refuge, and I hope we can commit to proving that by making your influence in the “Body of Christ” a place where people can cast of their fear, their pain, their turmoil aside and actually feel the spirit of God and the peace that comes from hope in Jesus Christ.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30