God's Politics

“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.…” (2 Corinthians 2:15)

Being the “fragrance of Christ” is a tall order. But this scripture passage doesn’t seem to imply that we have a choice.

This should be good news to us. And to those around us. As Christians, God has entrusted us as ministers of a new covenant. Scripture states that we are the fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

But it’s easy enough to section off time for “being good” and smelling nice. The problem is that we can’t turn off our scent when we’re not in the mood. Or busy. Or our neighbor is annoying and we have things to do, dreams to pursue, projects to finish.

So the question becomes: What do we do when our lives get interrupted?

Consider the well-known story of the Good Samaritan: it wasn’t like the man didn’t have other things to do. He was on a business trip.

That is what has happened recently to Christian churches in Lebanon after hundreds of thousands of their neighbors were left homeless, seeking refuge from the Lebanon-Israel conflict that left their villages and homes in ruin. (Read this report on Lebanese Christians in Christianity Today.)

After almost two decades of civil war, the Lebanese were finally making progress. Resilient and hopeful – as they had learned to be – they managed to clean up the rubble and rebuild. Near Beirut this past summer, vacation homes were being built, businesses launched, and folks were heading to the beaches. Life was looking up.

But then, imagine that suddenly, thousands of desperate people are at your door with no other place to go. They’re tired and dirty and fearful. This wasn’t a parable. This was reality.

“When the war started, at first we complained about our summer vacation,” … [Nabil Costa, head of Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development] admitted. “As things got more serious, we asked: ‘How could this be happening when Lebanon was finally booming after years of civil war and Syrian domination?’”

From accounts of friends who live and minister near Beirut – and as this article testifies – hundreds of people huddled for safety in every nook and cranny of basements, bedrooms, and bathrooms of churches and houses. You can talk all you want about setting healthy boundaries (and that is important), but what do you do when someone has no other place to go?

Lebanese evangelical churches, especially, stepped up to the challenge. Despite their frustration with their American Christian brothers and sisters for what they saw as their sanctioning of a disproportionate military response from Israel, these churches opened their doors and embraced their neighbors: Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, and Christians alike.

In hindsight, those of us who are privy to their stories can rejoice that God used even the worst of circumstances for God’s purposes.

But the other half of the story is that many others in that part of the world are unable to experience the real aroma of Christ because it has been tainted by America’s foreign policy.

This dilemma is especially true for evangelicals. Though there is a significant Christian population in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, the majority of indigenous Christian Arabs are aligned with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions. Protestants, on the other hand, are commonly associated with Western ideals and can sometimes be suspect.

According to the Christianity Today article, “Lebanese evangelicals expressed concern that their very witness as Christians in the Middle East may be undermined by perceived Western, particularly American, evangelical support of Israel and its military actions against Hezbollah and Hamas.”

The article quoted one Christian leader as saying, “We evangelical Christians are working for peace and reconciliation in our land – also for understanding and tolerance. This war has shaken us to pieces. I was shocked to see some of our American brothers and sisters supporting Israel’s disproportionate response.”

“The father of one of our students, a 10-year-old Shiite girl, was shredded into pieces by a bomb that exploded at a mosque. How can I say to that girl that many evangelicals in the U.S. support what Israel is doing?”

For better or worse, we can’t turn our scent off.

Deanna Murshed, integrative marketing manager at Sojourners, is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s faith and culture program. Read her previous reflections on the Lebanon-Israel conflict.

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