The Shining City On A Molehill

“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.


“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.

children detaineesNow, 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 nogales arizona shelterthe 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.

Unprecedented: More than 160,000 immigrants have been<br /><br /><br /><br /> apprehended in Texas' Valley sector in the first eight months of this<br /><br /><br /><br /> fiscal year, eclipsing the total for all of last year



  1. Treeske

     /  June 30, 2014

    A Christian Nation founded on Genocide and slavery.


  2. Bbob

     /  June 30, 2014

    Thanks for expressing my frustrations.


  3. King Beauregard

     /  June 30, 2014

    Exodus 22:21-22 is also hilariously clear on the point:

    You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  June 30, 2014

    In my view there is simply no such thing as a “Christian nation”. Sure, America is more Christian than Saudi Arabia (for example) but they are more Muslim than we are. So what?? Is America more Christian than say Italy, with the Pope himself enthroned therein? Who cares.

    I will lend this political view on America being a “christian nation” (which we are VERY FAR from being such). The people causing the most turmoil in social matters are Christians themselves with their hypocritical political views, like Akin, Santorum, etc. So I join you Duane in attacking their politics, for sure, but not their faith.

    But don’t discount Obama and his ilk in Democratic circles. Your own blog seems to plead to a degree to find a way to help all those kids. Sure it would be the moral thing to do, help any kid anywhere in such extremis. But there are rational limits to what a government, not God, might be able to do. Democrats will plead for social engineering costing lots of money to help the poor on moral grounds. Some will even inject God into that political ploy to spend more money to help the poor, from Ecquador for goodness sake, or Somolia, etc.

    God and Christ have long been intent on creating the “Kingdom of God” on Earth. Well I wish them good luck in doing so and at least will try to keep my own politics aligned with some of their teachings. But the American government must first of all do what is best for American people. By that I mean citizens in America as a first step.

    Interesting article on immigration in today’s (Monday) Globe. It is an argument about rapidly relocating Border agents to newly emerging “hot spots” where lots of kids are now coming across (or trying to do so). Guess who objects……… Unions for Border agents!!! Now that is politics, not morality!!!



    • Ben Field

       /  June 30, 2014

      “In God We Trust” is on the currency, “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance. So yes we are a “Christian” nation, though all religions are accepted with none being declared the religion required. Catholicism is Christian. It would seem to me that temples, mosques, and churches if truly practicing the tenets of love in their religion would sell their tax-free properties, holdings, and tithes to care for the innocent children fleeing their homes from violence. Services could be held in parks, online, on TV, in homes etc. so the word could still be heard. To turn these innocents away surely defies their message. I’m not saying advertise for more but these children passed through two or three countries to get here. I’m thinking God might approve after reading the Bible.


    • kabe

       /  June 30, 2014

      AB, do you know where I can find why the agents rejected this? When was this rejection? I have not been able to find anything on it. I assume they ( union) would prefer that more agents be hired instead of being moved around at will and taken from their families and having no control of their lives. If this is the cry of conservatives, that the unions rejected such a move, I think it will prove weak. What would be wrong with more agents? What conservatives would not want that? Will be looking for more on this story. I know you cannot resist a chance to slam unions, but there has to be more to this story.



      • ansonburlingame

         /  July 1, 2014

        Kabe, I know nothing at all about any union dispute other than the article in the Globe. And of course if men are going to be uprooted from hearth and home to chase kids all over the border then such men won’t like it, having to relocate with families (very expensive for all concerned) or taking six month “deployments” to do their duties. Note the correlation to military service, “deployments” and in today’s world six months is a really short period of time!!

        I don’t even object to a union getting into this fray. It is essentially the power of collective bargining and nothing wrong with that, in this case. I seriously doubt the President would call this a national emergency. So, yes, managers of border agents, probably some managers that are themselves members of a public employee union, maybe, should be challenged to assign resources to resolve a problem that is acceptable to all concerned.

        My intent was to point out the “politics” (union/mamagement issues) in the face of what Duane describes, intentionally or not, a moral issue, not taking care of kids from ……….

        As for your solution to hire more border guards, well hmmmmm??? The union would certainly love that approach but I doubt those calling for other political solutions other than closing down the border would like it very much. And of course there is the money to hire many more border agents so the ones now working can go home every night???



    • I will address something you wrote:

      But the American government must first of all do what is best for American people.

      Okay. Fine. But that is not what a truly “Christian nation” would do, right? That is unless you have read a different narrative of Jesus Christ than I have. Your statement sounds more Old Testament than New. My point is that we should never have to entertain the idea, advanced by many on the Christian right, that this country was founded as and remains a Christian nation. Hooey. And the current humanitarian crisis proves that.


      • ansonburlingame

         /  July 3, 2014

        You will note, Duane, that I have never claimed nor believed that America is a Christian Nation. I don’t know how any nation can do so and survive as a nation. It won’t work until the world begans to make progress towards becoming a Kingdom of God that ain’t going to happen during my lifetime!!! Hell after trying hard since WWI we have yet to rid the world of chemical and biological weapons now have we?

        Sure America took a much different approach during its founding in matters of religion. Other than burning or drowning some witches we never engaged in the brutal wars between religions that happened all over Europe, all “Christian religions”. Nor has America ever engaged in a “crusade” either against other non-Christian religions. Sure some called for a war against “god-less communism” but that was never the real and underlying motive force for the Cold War. That war was always about geopolitics, not faith, primarily.

        American government knew about but ignored the emerging holocaust in Germany and newly occupied regions. We did not enter WWII to save Jews, we did so driven by geopolitics, primarily.

        I submit that I have as much compassion for people in the Sudan, etc. as any liberal. But other than seeing a charitable America doing what it can, I refrain from allowing moral outrage over how people are treated to use as the basis for going to war. Rather I try to use geopolitical reasons for such matters, power politics if you will, mitigated or moderated by some forms of “christian beliefs” at the individual level. I suppose we are different in that regard, using moral outrage to dominate public policy for an AMERICAN government, for all the people, primarily, in America.

        The book I encouraged you to read speaks of such “motives” between liberals and conservatives as a fundamental difference, driven in large part by biology, if you can believe that, and as well psychology and physiology. The point of the book is there are very deep and fundamental “predispositions” (even some genetic to a degree) that drive one’s politics. No liberals are not born that way, or conservatives either, but there are certain predispositions that drive one’s politics at least “probabalistically”. Food for thought anyway.



  5. At least Reagan seemed to project a much more positve vision that today’s Republicans.

    Now they all seem about defending, white Christian, conservative america against a legion of real or imagined enemies, and not doing so with any confidence to boot.

    Fear seems to be the underlying theme. Sad.


    • Fear is the underlying theme. A lot of it is fear of those non-white folks who are demographically growing faster than the palefaces.


  6. The SCOTUS continues to treat organizations as people. If the Republican Party were to be viewed that way, it would clearly be a hypocrite, ignoring the most important tenant of its professed faith, the Golden Rule, while turning its back on this moral disaster. As usual, the party of No is all about condemnation while offering no palatable solution of its own.

    Great post.


    • That protest in Murrieta, California, which turned back those buses full of kids, just sickened me. Man, oh, man. Just look at the way this Fox “News” headline is written:

      Protests turn back buses carrying illegal immigrant children

      “Illegal immigrant children.” I wonder what Jesus would say about that description?


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