In the August 6 edition of the Southern Baptists of Texas’ Digital Texan, an article named “52,000 Immigrant Children and the Call to Love Outsiders” appeared (originally published on erlc.com), coauthored by Criswell College’s Barry Creamer and Brandon Smith. The article encouraged Christians to sensitively consider that the border crisis is more of a people crisis than a political one. It was a well-thought out article that posed and answered important questions concerning the situation.
On the same day, Ann Coulter published a blog on her own website called, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,‘” in which she argues that Dr. Kent Brantly, the man whom contracted Ebola, was “idiotic” for traveling to Africa for a mission trip. Coulter’s main contention is that Brantly lived next to Zavala Country, one of the poorest counties in the nation, and there was thus no good reason to travel to a poor country in Africa. According to Coulter, “serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanism Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”
Coulter says that this is “Christian narcissism.”
So why am I juxtaposing an article on the immigration issue and the Ebola issue? Aren’t they two mutually exclusive topics? Well, yes. Yes, they are. However, there is a common denominator between the two topics that deserves attention, mainly because Creamer and Coulter–two respected voices–come at the same issue from two entirely different angles.
Creamer looks at foreigners as precious people that need God’s love from Americans.
Coulter looks at foreigners, at least the ones in Liberia, as risky outsiders undeserving of God’s love from Americans.
Coulter holds no punches in suggesting that Christian Americans have no place in Africa. For her, it’s not worth the risk. She goes as far as to say that Brantly “risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless,” as if he was eager for the chance to contract a disease with a 90% fatality rate that would decimate his family for years to come.
Hundreds–more likely thousands–of Christian Americans travel to Africa every single year for mission work, and this is the first time in history that one has contracted the Ebola virus and brought it back to the United States. If I were a betting man, I would be very comfortable betting that Dr. Brantly didn’t intentionally risk “making his wife a widow and his children fatherless.” I’m sure that he was aware of the risks and that his goal was to come back home to be a husband to his wife and a father to his children, and hopefully lead people to Jesus in the process.
And this is the real issue. How far should a Christian go to share the gospel? How much should he risk?
I think the answer to those questions depends on the value we place on souls.
Coulter argues that Christianity would have been better served if Brantly “had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ.” She says that Brantly “would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia.” She also says that, “If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”
In light of these comments, it seems that Coulter might be suggesting that a soul in America is more valuable than a lost soul in Africa. In fact, Coulter goes as far as to put a monetary value on Liberian souls, writing, “Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan’s Purse and SIM USA.”
I don’t know if Brantly led anyone to Christ, but Coulter’s statement is general enough to encompass the potential of just one salvation. In short, she argues that it’s better to spend millions of dollars to save a physical American life than it is to spend millions of dollars to save a spiritual Liberian life.
This is very American, but very unchristian.
This might be a better example of “Christian narcism” than what Coulter originally argued. It reminds me of the old adage, “We spend more time praying people out of heaven than we do praying people in!” This is to say that we spend more time embellishing the lives of the saved than we do enthralling the lives of the lost.
I think Boyce College’s Denny Burk captured Coulter’s thoughts well when he called them “sub-Christian garbage” and “pagan foolishness.” Micah Fries, Vice President of Lifeway Research, agrees, writing that Coulter, “completely misunderstand[s] – if not misrepresent[s] – the nature of Christianity and the missionary heart of God.” He says that her blog “is a grotesque example of missing the point.”
As for me, my response is the same one I give when I’m asked, “Pastor, why do we go on mission trips overseas whenever we have lost people right here in our own city!” My response is, “The gospel isn’t restricted to regions.”
You see, Coulter assumes that one option is better than the other. In fact, she basically says that there is no reason to ever go overseas for mission trips, so it’s not just that one option is “better,” it’s that there is really just one option.
But the gospel isn’t restricted to our local contexts. If I’m in India on business and come across a lost person, I would never tell him, “I would love to share the gospel with you, but you see, there are a ton of lost people in my hometown, so I cannot talk to you about how you can have eternal life in Jesus.”
This is because the gospel is for everyone. We should share it with our neighbors across the street and with the strangers across the world.
This is what Jesus taught:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:14).
As Americans we ought to be concerned about the open border, and we ought to be concerned about our own citizens contracting the Ebola Virus from foreigners. But as Christians we ought to be more concerned about the salvation of people. All people. Liberians. Mexicans. And Americans. And our Christianity should always, always, always override our Americanism.