Terrorism, Profiling and the Gospel
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, once the initial shock had passed and the investigation into the event began, every cable news show, morning radio show and online news outlet immediately began the search for who to blame.
Now, of course there was nothing wrong with their attempts to identify those responsible for this heinous act so that they could be brought to justice. Neither is there anything wrong with recognizing the fact that there are certain nations and groups that have expressed animosity towards the United States or even committed acts of terror on our nation. It is only prudent for us to be cautious and recognize that reality.
But where do we draw the line? Particularly for those of us who consider ourselves Christians, how do we think and act rightly about this? We need to find a God-honoring balance between recognizing the harsh realities of our world today and the character of the God we serve.
A few days after the Boston marathon bombing, I heard a morning show host on a Christian radio station talk about the importance of “profiling,” specifically mentioning that if you saw someone of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd and felt concerned, you should bring it to the authorities’ attention. Another person on the show then said that we need to “listen to the Holy Spirit” at times like that, and follow as He leads if we feel concerned about a suspect individual.
I found this conversation very concerning, and I would strongly caution any Christian against trusting that the Holy Spirit is the one telling them to assume someone is a terrorist, especially if the main characteristic this feeling is based on is that individual’s ethnic appearance. Good theology teaches us that the Spirit’s direction will never conflict with Scripture, and I believe that it is clear from Scripture that “profiling” based on superficial characteristics is not the way God calls us to relate to those around us.
For example, in discussing God’s decision to choose King David, who was the youngest and smallest among his brothers, 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
We see another example in the New Testament as well- in the second chapter of the book of James, specific instruction is given against showing favoritism. A hypothetical situation is described in which both a rich man and a poor man come to the church’s meeting. The writer describes the favoritism that might then occur towards the rich man, and then pointedly asks, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:4).
This kind of judgement is not only unscriptural, it is also dangerous. It promotes an ethnocentrism and xenophobia that is totally contrary to the Gospel, which brings every tribe, tongue and nation together in unity and levels the playing field for all.
We are called to emulate this characteristic of our God, working to look past people’s outward appearance- whether that be their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, socio-economic background, or any of the myriad of other reasons we often judge others- and recognize every human being for their unique worth and dignity that run so much deeper than these superficialities.