“Everyone went to their own town to register” (Luke 2:3).
The familiar Christmas story starts with a governmental registry. Tracking — and taxing — populations helped Rome enact its oppression. So we read of a journey to Bethlehem by an engaged couple with a faith and ethnicity considered suspicious by the authorities. Another power-crazed ruler even ordered the slaughter of innocent children based on their place of birth. His actions sent the holy family fleeing as political refugees to another nation.
As we recount the biblical stories, enjoy live nativities and sing Christmas songs, let us remain watchful. Some political leaders and pundits suggest we need a new governmental registry to track people with a faith and ethnicity considered suspicious. Some say we should create a registry of all Muslims, perhaps even banning Muslims from this country. Some say we should create a registry of all immigrants and refugees, especially those from the Middle East.
I am not a Muslim or a refugee. But I will oppose any such registry. Even if there were not clear constitutional problems, Christians should stand against a registry that targets people based on their faith, ethnicity or place of birth. Baptists, with our long heritage of advocating for religious liberty for all people, should particularly oppose a faith-based registry or travel ban. A government with the power to ban Muslims or force Muslims to register is a government powerful enough to register or ban Christians. In fact, some of the proposed bans on refugees would even bar Christians fleeing genocide from coming to the United States.
As we celebrate God taking on flesh to show love for the whole world, we cannot look away when our leaders deny the basic human dignity of people who seem different from ourselves. We must not merely mouth the words to Christmas songs about the past, but also live out the message today. While it can be fun to perform in a Christmas pageant, let us make sure we do not in real life act like the innkeeper or the Roman rulers. Perhaps nothing will come from the political fear-mongering about Muslims and refugees. If it does, may Baptists again be known for standing up for the persecuted.
Brian Kaylor is editor-elect of Word&Way.