Speaking Out On Behalf of Others

This past week, I received an email from my brother Niko, which he sent out to his email list of friends. In it, he wrote, “With all the hysteria and hateful talk spewing from various people, I think it is time to come to our senses and remember what the great German pastor, Martin Niemoller said before World War II.  His quote remains relevant to present times when some are seeking to exclude and discriminate against people solely based on their religion and race. 

"First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out

because I was not a communist,

then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out

because I was not a Socialist,

then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out

because I was not a trade  unionist,

then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out

because I was not a Jew,

then they came for me and

there was no one left to speak out for me."


History has an uncanny way of repeating itself if good people don’t stand up for what is right.”

I know I risk sounding political by bringing up this topic, and I don’t mean to offer a political sermon. Something has to be said, however, when a significant portion of our American society, including many who call themselves Christian, seems to allow their fear to embrace a spirit of exclusion and even hatred towards those who are different from us. At times like this, we need to learn not only from history, but even more so from our Orthodox Christian Faith.

Martin Niemoller was a German Lutheran pastor concerned about the rise of the Nazis, and yet his words and warning about the rise of a fascist state remain quite relevant in every generation. For this spirit of exclusion and labeling of the “other” is always a temptation. For our contemporary context, maybe we should change Pastor Niemoller’s words while keeping his spirit:

First they came for the illegal immigrants and criticized the Mexicans, and I did not speak out, because I was neither an illegal immigrant nor a Mexican.

Then they started to refuse Syrian refugees, even those who have been Christian for generations, and I did not speak out, because I was not from the Middle East.

Then someone said that all Muslims should be barred from entering this country,

and I did not speak out, because I am not Muslim.

And I’m afraid that the list of people considered dangerous will only grow,

and that list may include people from a different religion, or race,

or even people who don’t accept to be politically correct,

and if we don’t speak out on behalf of them, then what happens when they come for us? Who will be left 

The “other” - including the illegal immigrant, the migrant, the refugee and the Muslim – are children created in God’s image, and we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called to treat them with love, respect, kindness and compassion. Instead of treating them as something so different than ourselves, we need to find the common bonds of our humanity that unite us, and love them as our neighbor.

This past week I was in New Haven for a meeting at a Mission Center that offers hospitality to Christian missionaries from around the world. In this center of hospitality, they have opened up their doors to also take in some international people visiting neighboring Yale University. I met one of the visiting scholars staying at this center, a Muslim woman from Tunisia. She was quite friendly, pleasant, and engaging in a nice conversation I had with her. I asked her what it was like to be a Muslim in America, and she responded, “I have lived in America before, when I was a student, and I’ve always had great experiences in this country. This time around, however, especially over the past months, I’ve noticed quite a change in the spirit in America. Since I wear a head covering and it is obvious that I am Muslim, I have been afraid at times. Yet, I have to say that it is quite comforting living in this Christian community where everyone treats me with respect. I feel safe here.”

What a beautiful witness that can take place when we break the stereotypes and characterizations of others. The “other” is not so different when get to know them by name, and even become friends with them. This is our call as followers of Jesus Christ – “to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

Let me conclude with a beautiful statement related to this topic that the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese put out on Friday. You can follow along in the weekly bulletin:

As Orthodox Christians, we take to heart the commandments of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, especially the greatest commandment “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

We have watched with dismay as several public figures have played on the fear which they assume has swept over this country. Specifically …. calling for “a total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States”. We reject in the strongest possible terms both this specific call, and all speech and actions which would encourage hate and persecution against any group of people…

We have seen an alarming rise in recent days in the number of hateful and violent actions which have been perpetrated against Muslims, or those who are presumed to be Muslims. There is no doubt that such hateful rhetoric encourages those who may be inclined to violence to act out this violence. We condemn in the strongest possible terms any act of violence against any human being, and we are reminded that all human beings bear the image of God, and are to be respected as children of God. We also unconditionally condemn all acts of terror, such as the recent one in San Bernardino which brought pain to so many people.

… All people must be treated with the respect and the dignity that is due to human beings. To single out people of an entire religion because of the senseless and horrific actions of terrorists actually assists the terrorists by reinforcing the divisions and fear which they wish to spread…

As we journey through this Advent Season and prepare ourselves for the Lord to be born in a lowly cave in order to save us, we send up our prayers for all of the people who are suffering daily around the world, especially in the Middle East. We stand in solidarity with our friends and neighbors, and let us be of assistance to them in any way that we can. We ask our gracious and loving Lord to bring an abiding and lasting peace to the world, a peace that can only come from Him.

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