I have been very pleased that my church has chosen to engage ‘head on’ with raising support for the Syrian refugee crisis, and I have been glad to take a role in researching and promoting relief efforts in Syria, as well as researching the causes and complexities of the struggle that has cost so many people their homes (and sometimes their lives).
As I have been engaging in various discussion within our FaceBook group it was revealing for me to realize that I do not support sponsorship of Syrian immigrants to Canada “carte blanche.”
Instead, I find myself concerned about the potential threat of increasing ideological extremism in Canada via immigration from the Middle East, but not because I think that Canadian immigration screening is not thorough or effective. Instead, I recognize both that there are no “guarantees” in life and that there is much in Canada that I want to protect (including my own family).
Further, throughout the discussions about Syria many have advocated the need to love the Syrian people and to recognize that they are “like us” in essential ways. Yet when I consider my own experiences with different ‘versions’ of Christianity I recognize that these views enable people to “love” others in very different ways, some of which seem to me so very, very unloving.
And if this occurs for Christians, why not Muslims?
Yet I do, in fact, support sponsorship of Syrian refugess in Canada. And this is because I think that I have enough evidence to believe that our immigration process is sound and that the need is great. And while I suspect that many ‘versions’ of Islam are deeply problematic and even destructive I do trust that, when removed from environments that are narrow and repressive, better ways of thinking and living can be emerge.
Yet my point is this: love alone cannot be my guide here. This is not because I devalue it but because I think that love alone is insufficient. Nor do I want to be oriented primarily toward trust, for the same reasons. So what are the options? If I think that it’s true that there’s much to protect in Canada or that I suspect that Islam can be destructive, then can truth or suspicion be my guide?
I don’t think so: truth alone will not suffice either, nor does suspicion offers enough to orient me rightly.
Instead it is my belief that love and truth / truth and love are co-equal and co-central both to healthy human existence—to living life “abundantly”—and to the character of the Christian God, as revealed in the Biblical text and as I have experienced it in my own life.
In short, both my experience and how I read the biblical text leads me to the strong belief that love and truth need to be placed in tension with each other such that they both compliment and, where necessary, can correct each other. Likewise I find human life to be filled with tensions—between suspicion and trust, skepticism and belief, confidence and humility—and rather than being destructive these tensions actually prove to be productive.
As such I find that I live life best, and relate to God best, not by collapsing these tensions into principles (and so creating hierarchies where love is privileged over truth, or vice verse) but by maintaining the dialogue—the sometimes ‘rough and uncomfortable harmony’—that they create.
For love without truth is sentimentalism that risks naively welcoming “the other” at the risk of denigrating (and even destroying) the self, for by being finite and fallen we are sometimes as apt to welcome devils as angels, unawares. Yet truth without love is inhumane and risks mercilessly denigrating (and even destroying) “the other,” for by virtue of being finite and fallen we are sometimes apt to deceive ourselves that we are better beings than those whose faults we discover.
But to my mind “better” is not found in denouncing faults that we do not share but in forgiving them, even as we recognize (and are wounded by) them.
I became a family mediator, in part, because I believe that conflict always has a positive component: it indicates passionate involvement, and passions are connected to our beliefs about truth. So conflict is one way that we promote, protect, and pursue what we think is true. If this is so, then while falsehood may be the opposite of truth, it is not its greatest enemy: that enemy is apathy.
Apathy with regard to Syria—or helping others in need, generally—is simply not getting involved: having “too much to do,” not seeing the importance of the issues, or having too many “good things” to do at home to look further afield. This can be prompted by a range of factors, from selfishness and fear to not cultivating curiosity and courage.
But for my money the answer to apathy, whether it concerns how we engage with our family, with Syrian refugees, or with the God of the Bible, comes down to two things.
First, being dedicated truth-seekers. For Christians I think that this means accepting the daily challenge to formulate and embody the deep connections between the truth of our faith and the truth we understand and experience in our world. Second, fully participating in love: being loved and loving in return. And for Christians, I think that this means allowing ourselves to be transformed—inspired to love God, ourselves and others rightly—by stories and experiences of loving and being loved by God.
In other words I believe that right engagement with ourselves, our world and, for Christians, with God, happens best when we let truth and love, love and truth, have their due: double top billing.