What a volatile world in which we live! Because nothing seems certain or in our control anymore, we humans often react out of fear and anger. How could it possibly be that one of the most beloved actors of our time chose to take his own life last week? It wasn’t long for the critics to let loose on social media. Robin’s twenty-five-year-old actress daughter Zelda was bullied about not having posted enough pictures of her father online. Others criticized her father and his career. Where’s the compassion? What would possess someone to inflict more pain upon a family that has suffered such a tragic loss?
A few days later we learned that Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease when he died. While debate raged about the merits of suicide and whether Williams’ death actually set him “free,” his widow Susan Schneider thanked Robin’s fans and said, “It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.” As Williams’ family grieves deeply, a door has opened for compassionate dialogue about the complex challenge of depression and the importance of demonstrating grace rather than judgment.
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Then there were the tweets about missionary doctor Kent Brantly. A year ago Brantley stood before his church community and talked about the call he heard from Sunday school teachers who helped him memorize scripture and the neighbors who helped fund his first mission trip years ago. An estimated 1.6 million American adults embark on short-term mission trips to foreign countries every year.
Dr. Brantly, his wife and two children went where God led and made a two-year commitment to serve with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. After the Ebola outbreak began, Brantley chose to treat Ebola patients but contracted the virus himself. On August 2 Brantly was flown to Emory University’s infectious disease unit, one of the best and safest places to treat Ebola patients.
Rather than applaud Brantly for his courage, detractors complained that Brantly and fellow aid worker Nancy Writebol should not have been allowed back into the U.S. for treatment at a hospital that has the very best doctors and protocols in the world for Ebola. Donald Trump tweeted, “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
Commentator Ann Coulter called Brantley’s service in Liberia “idiotic” and an example of “Christian narcissism.” Coulter listed problems in America such as like our high murder rate, drug abuse and a culture of sexual promiscuity. Then she wrote, “Can’t anyone serve Christ in America … no, there’s nothing for a Christian to do here.”
Are the problems in America more important than those of Africa? Where does the Bible say we should only take care of our own? Where’s the compassion? Brantly said he held the hands of countless patients who died of the disease and still remembers each of their faces and names. “One thing I have learned,” Brantly said, “is that following God often leads us to unexpected places.”
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On August 1, Julion Evans’ family was preparing for his memorial service the next day at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, the church where Julion was raised in the faith. Evans died on July 26 at the age of forty-two after a four-year battle with amyloidosis, an illness from which his father and brother also died. Gathered around the casket, Evans’ family received a call from Pastor T.W. Jenkins, who informed the family that the memorial service was being canceled because church members had read in the obituary that Evans was gay and had a partner, Kendall Capers.
Evans and Capers were together for seventeen years and were married last year in Maryland. Rev. Jenkins said in an interview, according to WFLA-TV, “I’m not trying to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles.” According to Capers, the pastor told the family that it would be “blasphemous” for him to officiate at the funeral of a gay man.
Do Christ followers have the prerogative to reject any of God’s beloved children, whether we agree with their lifestyle or not? Where’s the compassion? Blount and Curry Funeral Home quickly agreed to host the memorial service, which drew two hundred people. Capers expressed gratitude to be able to celebrate Evan’s life in a place where the family was accepted.
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Thousands of children have left Central America in recent months because of corrupt governments, the threat of kidnapping and death by criminal gangs, poverty, drug cartels, human traffickers, domestic violence and lack of educational opportunity. Over 75% of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which have the first, fourth and fifth highest homicide rates in the world.
Referencing Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” The United Methodist Church (through our legal immigration ministry, Justice for our Neighbors) and the Catholic Church are taking the lead in advocating for the rights of these innocent children. In addition, Lutheran centers in Bay City and Farmington Hills, Michigan, are preparing to receive dozens of undocumented children in the near future.
At the same time, hateful resolutions against hosting children have been passed by several Texas towns, and vitriolic rhetoric is coming from areas of Arizona. On July 15 fifty people protested a proposal from the Grosse Pointe Park-based Wolverine Human Services to house one hundred and twenty Central American boys ages twelve through seventeen in Vassar, Michigan. Some of the marchers were carrying U.S. flags, rifles or handguns. Demonstrations and counter demonstrations have divided this small Michigan town. At the same time, two hundred and fifty people participated in a prayer vigil on July 31, calling for compassion and hospitality.
A candidate for public office in Michigan has set forth this campaign plan on immigration: Secure borders; Enforce laws; Protect jobs; Put Michigan first. As a Michigan resident I wonder, why should we come first before children whose very lives are threatened by staying in their own country? Where’s the compassion?
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As if all of the above were not enough, we are confronted once again by the violence that plagues our African-American communities and the racism that we prefer to silence rather than name. We mourn with our sisters and brothers in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed sixteen-year-old teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white policeman on August 9. The case is still unfolding. Yet, following nights of protests, we confess our continued inability as a nation to address the systemic and racial inequities that spawn violence and squelch the potential of so many of our children and youth.
“The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)
- Where is the compassion for those who suffer from mental illness?
- Where is the compassion for those who become ill after offering up their lives to save others?
- Where is the compassion for a family whose only wish is the dignity of a memorial service for a loved one?
- Where is the compassion for innocent, frightened children who are reluctantly sent by their parents to a foreign country just so they can live?
- Where is the compassion for police officers who have to make difficult split-second decisions and those who are victims of violence simply because of the color of their skin?
If Jesus is pure compassion, what does God ask of us as Christ followers? Can we covenant to think before we criticize, seek to understand before we judge and resolve always to love? Can we advocate for the welfare of all of our world’s children, show solidarity with all who grieve and stand with the poor, the depressed, the struggling and the disenfranchised? Can we ask God for forgiveness for our hardheartedness, ignorance and selfishness? To whom will you show compassion this week?