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Roger Olson: Ten awkward questions for Christians
thoughts of Le chambon-sur-lignon

Roger Olson: Ten awkward questions for Christians

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It is part of my job as a Christian ethicist to ask uncomfortable questions about especially (but not only) Christians’ behaviors. I assume that most of the people who opposed the establishment of a migrant youth facility in East Waco consider themselves Christians. (“Commission votes against migrant youth facility,” Jan. 29.) Admittedly, I cannot know more at this time than the front page article reported and it is not my place to judge anyone.

It is my place, however, to ask some questions in order to help people think about their motives and actions and whether they are authentically Christian. “What would Jesus do?” is a somewhat trite and overused cliché, but most Christians immediately recognize it as a place to begin in thinking and acting ethically as Christians.

Either coincidentally or providentially, I happened to watch the film “Weapons of the Spirit” almost simultaneously with reading the article. “Weapons of the Spirit” faithfully depicts the actions of Christians in a French village named Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who harbored and hid and supported numerous Jewish men, women and children during the Nazi occupation of France in the 1940s. I have always been fascinated by this true story since I studied the New Testament with French biblical scholar Étienne Trocmé during my doctoral studies at Rice University. He was a relative of the Protestant pastor André Trocmé who led the village and surrounding area in resisting the Nazis and the Vichy government’s attempts to round up and deport the Jews to extermination camps.

Here are my questions to those who opposed the opening of the migrant youth facility in East Waco.

First, why? Why did and do you oppose it? Second, do you know that many of these children are here in America to escape being forced into drug gangs in Central America or being killed if they refused? Third, would you have opposed the facility if the migrant youths to be housed temporarily there were girls instead of boys? Fourth, where do you want these migrant children to be if not in your neighborhood? Fifth, what is in your heart — the “place” within you where your character is formed and from which your actions flow — toward these children? Sixth, would you have opposed the facility if the children to be kept there were your own, fleeing possible death? Seventh, what light does Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan shed on this matter? Eighth, did you even think about that? Ninth, does the fact that these children are from a foreign country factor into your decision to oppose the facility? If so, why? Tenth, what if these children were fleeing a devastating natural disaster in Texas that made them homeless? Would you have decided and spoken out differently?

I have no answers to those questions. I only ask them to spark thought and self-examination — primarily among Christians who spoke out and/or voted against the facility.

The Christians of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon placed themselves at great risk by rescuing Jews from all over Europe and hiding them from authorities who wanted to deport them to extermination camps. Pastor Trocmé was arrested for refusing to tell the authorities who came with buses where the Jews were or their names. His nephew Daniel refused to allow the authorities to take away the Jewish children he was harboring without him. He died in a Nazi concentration camp.

The citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon are now hailed around the world as “Righteous Gentiles” and as examples of true Christianity because of what they did. What did they do? They harbored illegal immigrants. That was what the French collaborationist Vichy government of Southern France called them. They did not come to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to round up and kill “Jews.” (But, of course, their Nazi masters did intend that.) They came to arrest illegal immigrants from Poland and Austria (among other places). The Christians of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon did not know with certainty, even if they heard rumors, that the Jews they illegally harbored would be killed if they turned them over to the authorities. What they knew was that they needed shelter from persecution in foreign places.

Finally I must ask one more question of everyone reading this. What exactly is the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee? Is it that one is from a Central American village and of indigenous descent and features and the other is a Protestant Christian fleeing persecution in a communist country? Just another question to ask yourselves.

Roger E. Olson is Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. His books include “The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform.” He is past editor of “Christian Scholar’s Review.”

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