As we enter a new year, I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb and declare 2016 the Year of the Displaced. I do this to call attention to the fact that “one out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home“.
If that statistic alone wasn’t enough to get your attention, here are some others:
- The United Nations expected in 2015 that by the end of that year there would be at least 60 million people displaced, the highest level of displacement they’ve ever recorded.
- If these 60 million people formed a nation, it would be the world’s 24th largest — roughly on a par with the populations of Italy, South Africa or the United Kingdom.
- Not all of the displaced are refugees: 34 million of them (that’s more than half), are “internally displaced”, which means they’re still in their home country. For example, while Syrians account for 21 percent of refugees, they account for 28 percent of the internally displaced.
So while the international refugee crisis dominates the headlines and our discourse, the humanitarian crisis in the shadows is a new kind of global homelessness brought on by political instability and war.
Now, along with dis-placement, I’ll call out some mis-placement: The misplacement of our priorities. We are rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking humanitarian ship while there is real deprivation in the world. Here in America, we are struggling to address basic dysfunctions in our society that we should simply be better at handling, to wit:
The epidemic of gun violence. We are not the only nation in the world to struggle with this problem. But we act as though, because of the Second Amendment, our American exceptionalism means we can’t figure it out the same way the rest of the developed world has.
It’s naive and just plain wrong, and I lay the blame for it squarely at the feet of the gun lobby (who stay in business by helping us flog the idea that no red-blooded American is safe without a gun to fight the government) and the politicians who take money from them while not acknowledging what we all secretly know: That most of the headline-making shooting-spree gun violence is committed by people with undiagnosed or poorly treated mental health issues who are being failed by a mental health care system in shambles.
Police killings of black civilians. Thanks to social media we are now painfully aware of a silent epidemic that is a real cancer on policing in this country. In order for our police to be effective, they simply must figure out a way to do their jobs while dramatically reducing the number of people who die at the hands of police. There is no real alternative here.
We also need to deal with the elephant in the room: Racism. As a pastor friend of mine has said, racism hasn’t disappeared now that the Ku Klux Klan has been publicly exposed — it’s simply traded sheets and hoots for suits and ties. (See “institutional racism”.)
Religious freedom/liberty. The culture war is the biggest, most meaningless distraction imaginable. It is by no means what Jesus had in mind when he said he came to knit us together into a single human family. But the evangelical Christian community continues to have a fetish for stirring this particular pot with the notion that their faith and spirituality are somehow in jeopardy — and that the First Amendment suddenly, 200-plus years on, isn’t up to the task of protecting them from the liberal bogeymen who want to force them to bake gay wedding cakes, among other horrors.
Here in Georgia, we have a state senator who says he’ll introduce legislation this year to protect Christians in government and business. From what, exactly? I’m sure he’s not intentionally leaving out Muslims, interracial couples, the divorced (and the remarried), the unbaptized who need state services, alcoholics… Or is he? But we collectively seem destined and determined to waste another legislative session and the requisite resources debating the finer points of such proposed legislation when in metro Atlanta alone tonight, there will be more than 10,000 people who need shelter in a city where the number of beds awaiting them numbers far fewer than that.
So now you have a sense of what I’m praying over as we enter the new year. I invite you to join me. And let’s hope that a year from now, we have a very different list of things to take to God.
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.