“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
—Jesus of Nazareth
This allegedly Christian nation is apparently full of hypocrites. And in a weird sort of way, that is a good thing. It tells us something we need to know.
I have often heard evangelical religious leaders, including some I used to admire when I was an evangelical, assert that the United States is a Christian nation. You’ve heard that claim, too. These days it comes mostly in the form of, “We have turned our backs on God and God will punish us for it.” Yeah, well, maybe he is. From an article in NewsOk:
Since October, more than 52,000 children from Central America have been apprehended, more than double the previous year. White House officials said that while they are often fleeing extreme violence and impoverished conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, they are also acting under the misinformation that once they arrive here they essentially get a free pass to stay. Purveyors of the misinformation are thought to include people making money by smuggling them across the border.
Of course, President Obama is to blame. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin sums up the charge:
President Obama’s policies — including his decision two years ago that his administration would stop deporting young illegal immigrants as proposed under the DREAM Act — are directly responsible for the current border crisis that is now spilling over to facilities such as the one at Fort Sill.
Slightly more abrasive was a Breitbart piece (“THE NUCLEAR OPTION: OBAMA IS PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR RIPPING APART IMMIGRANT FAMILIES“) that began:
“Death trains” rumbling through Mexico teeming with children, headed for the U.S. border. Teenage girls raped. Unspeakable violence at the hands of ruthless coyotes, carrying out President Obama’s stunningly reckless new foreign policy.
Worst still was a charge I heard myself, while talking to a local businessman I ran into recently:
That nigger signed an order allowing all those kids to stay in the country.
Yes. He said that. Welcome to my world.
Obviously President Obama isn’t responsible for the misinformation that people-smugglers down south are putting out in order to make a fast buck. Neither is he responsible for honest misunderstandings by some migrants that the U.S. “was offering some kind of entry permit” for those seeking asylum, as The New York Times reported. The memorandum Mr. Obama signed in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, only applies to those undocumented immigrants who have lived here since June 15, 2007, among other requirements.
Now, I won’t pretend that I have any answers regarding what should be done (as opposed to what is being done) about the thousands of mostly kids fleeing their own countries and coming to the United States (many of them are also seeking asylum in Mexico and other places), hoping against hope that not only will they be able to stay, but that they will be welcomed by a wealthy and generous and, uh, Christian, people. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has any answers, if by answers one means anything beyond putting them back on buses and shipping them home today (which is what many Republicans seem to want to do, contrary to a Bush-signed law by the way).
I am looking at all this from the perspective of a former evangelical Christian and a former conservative admirer of Ronald Reagan. The thousands of young people who have flooded into our country recently (the flood began in 2009 and has accelerated the last two years) headed here largely because they essentially believed in the idea that Ronald Reagan expressed halfway through his presidency: “Every promise, every opportunity, is still golden in this land.” At the end of his second term, bidding farewell to the nation, Reagan, hero of Christian conservatives, said:
The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the ‘shining city upon a hill.’ The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
Just 25 years have passed since Reagan said America’s “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” And there is still plenty of will, still plenty of heart. We see it in the hopeful eyes of those who have struggled to get here from unimaginably poor and violent societies, “from all the lost places hurtling through darkness.” Their faces are full of the possibilities of this land. The will and heart to get to the United States are all most of those desperate folks have. But after only 25 years it is obvious that the will of welcoming Americans, especially of “Christian” Americans, has weakened and the heart has grown cold. Our doors-are-open vision is much cloudier these days. Hardly a shining city on a hill. We are not standing strong and true on any granite ridge. Our glow is low. What we see are “illegals.” What we behold are “lawbreakers” who need to be sent back as soon as possible. The faces we see coming over the border are full of impossibilities.
I’m not naive. I know that if Ronald Reagan were president today he would not welcome these unfortunate people in from Central America any more than Barack Obama is. I know the hazard that would be created if we were simply to welcome without condition the thousands of desperate people who have come here so far. I also know that Reagan’s idea of America as a shining city on a hill was, like so much of what we tell ourselves about ourselves, just a way of idealizing who we are and what we are supposed to stand for, and not an accurate picture of the real America.
That real America is all mixed up. In many ways we are a contradiction. We brag about the genius of our Republic, even as we watch its governing apparatus purposely brought to a miserable and grinding halt at a time when so much needs to be done. We claim we are a nation of Christians, of people who supposedly follow a man-God named Jesus, who told us first to love God then to love our neighbors as ourselves. “There is no commandment greater than these,” he said. But even the most zealous conservative evangelical Christians, from the pulpit to politics, have decided, at least in the case of our poor and desperate neighbors, that such does not apply to the country as a whole. America as a nation is apparently not subject to their God’s commandments. And that is as it should be. We do, indeed, live under a secular government. Acting as a nation, we are not, and should not be, bound by any religious doctrine or decree.
Thus, leaving aside the larger moral question of what should be done with all the kids we are now caring for temporarily, we can see that this present humanitarian crisis demonstrates, hopefully once and for all, that we are not, and never have been, a Christian nation in the sense that conservative evangelicals have previously claimed. That may be the only good thing that comes from our failure to have a coherent immigration policy. No longer can anyone with a straight and self-righteous face claim, as most evangelicals believe, that “America is uniquely blessed by God” and “should be a model Christian nation to the world.” Such a model Christian nation would have welcoming borders. Such a model Christian nation would not turn away tens of thousands of young people—from countries where Christianity is dominant and evangelical Christianity represents about one-third of the population—who believe they have no better place to go in order live a decent life. Such a model Christian nation would at least register outrage that we might soon be turning away thousands of children who obviously need our help, children who had the misfortune of being born outside the borders of Ronald Reagan’s shining, God-blessed land.
There isn’t much outrage. Heck, for the political party of the Christian Right, the outrage is going the other way:
For their part, Republicans appear to be taking an increasingly hard line on how to treat young illegal immigrants. A string of GOP members of Congress has denounced the president’s leniency toward those already in the U.S. and said the policy should be rescinded. Some in the party are backtracking from legislation that would give legal status to young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
At least those reactionary politicians are talking about the issue. For the professional evangelical right, there isn’t much discussion going on. I went to the website of the famous and very vocal Christian Right group, Family Research Council, whose self-described vision includes “a culture in which human life is valued” and where “families flourish.” The top story is about how President Obama is “giving special workplace benefits to the sexually confused.” I couldn’t find one story about the thousands of Christian kids seeking asylum in the United States. Not one story. The silence is damning.
For conservative evangelicals, perhaps God-damning:
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.