A Migrant Mother’s Journey

Watch this video. See a mother trying desperately to find a new life for her children. See her tears because drug gangs in her home of Honduras killed her husband, took her home, left her boys in danger. See her anger when she tells her kids the government of Honduras did nothing because they are poor. See the blisters, the dehydration, the dangerous, desperate crossing of the river on a raft. See the young man describing his fruitless two year search for work. See that these aren’t violent and scary monsters that Fox News is telling you they are, but are human beings, mothers, children, young men, trying to get away from violence and unemployment and wrenching poverty.

For decades, we – you and I and America -have told them that America is the greatest, safest, richest, most compassionate and desirable place on earth. They took our words seriously, they believed our promises, they accepted the invitation on our Statue of Liberty as authentic, and not a cruel PR trick. Now, 6000 believers in the American promise – 2300 children! – are at our door and the question is, what are we going to do? Are we going to embrace fear? Are we going to tear gas them? Are we going to throw up our hands and decide the hard work is too daunting , that human lives aren’t worth getting our hands dirty and solving problems? Are we now outsourcing the promise of the Statue of Liberty to Mexico, too?

We have to find compassion. We have to stop being afraid. We have to stop believing the lies – the lies of our president, who tells us these people are evil; the lies of right wing media, who tells us they are dangerous; the lies of the rich and powerful, who tells us if we take in these people, we won’t be able to afford to take care of our own, when in fact we are rich enough and smart enough to do both, we just choose not to. We have to take their pleas for asylum seriously, we have to understand we have a duty, an obligation, because we are responsible for what is happening in Honduras and El Salvador and all across Central America. We have to live up to our own promise.

And, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember that Christ himself was a migrant, that Scripture and the tradition demands our compassion and sacrifice on behalf of the stranger and the immigrant. This isn’t an optional piece of the Christian faith, no more consequential than grape juice or wine at communion. This kind of love and compassion, put to work for others, is the very center of our commitment as disciples of Christ. That means that, no matter the reality of immigration laws or processes, we Christians have a calling to figure it out and respond to the pain of fleeing mothers and children and young men and old men and anyone. This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. Screw politics. This is a human being thing.

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Jesus Was Tear-Gassed This Weekend

I don’t know exactly what the United States’ policy response to the migrant caravan should be, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t be this:

The first wave of men, women and children fleeing drug war-induced violence in Central America were met at the border this weekend by Border Patrol agents who proceeded to fire tear gas at them.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that those who are his disciples would be welcoming to the immigrant and the stranger. He tells us that as we do to the least, we also do to him. He implores us to love our neighbor. He is shown to us early in life as a migrant himself, fleeing with his parents across the border into Egypt.

If we believe Jesus us with us here today, then we almost certainly could find him in the caravan of people fleeing and looking for asylum.

If we really do think Jesus is found in the face of our neighbors, then he surely was subjected to tear gas this weekend at the border.

If we take seriously the Jesus we read of in the Gospels, then we know he is not found in the halls of power. He is not sitting in the Oval Office, and he is not blessing those who give orders to tear gas innocents, and he is not casting blame on those who are looking for a better life.

The Gospels show us that, time and time again, Jesus takes the side of the suffering, the poor, the convicted and the hurting. I have no doubt Jesus is fleeing back south, away from America, with tears streaming down his face, both from the chemical attacks he was subjected to, and because of the sorrow he feels for those who are victimized by the powerful.

Miguel de la Torre writes powerfully of the Jesus who was a border crosser and a migrant in The Politics of Jesus:

And while most border crossers today do so as an act of desperation, Jesus, theologically speaking, chose to be a border crosser as an act of solidarity with the least of these. The biblical text reminds us that, although divine, Jesus became human, assuming the condition of the alienated. Accordingly: “[Jesus], who subsisting in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, in the likeness of humans, and being found in the fashion of a human, he humbled himself, becoming obedient until death, even the death of the cross” (Ph. 2:6-8). The radicalness of the incarnation is not so much that the Creator of the universe became human but rather that God chose to become poor, specifically, a wandering migrant.

Is it any wonder that the second most common phrase used throughout the Hebrew Bible exhorts the reader to take care of the alien among you, along with the widows and the orphans? For those who claim to be Christians, responsibility toward aliens is paramount; after all God incarnated Godself as an alien – today’s ultra-disenfranchised. Jesus understands what it means to be seen as inferior because he was from a culture different from the dominant one.

Politicians have used fear of immigrants as a tool for countless years to win power in this country, and we are at a point where those words are being translated into violent action against innocent people. Christians have a duty to stand with those who are in need, because that is where we find Christ. All Christians should find what is happening abhorrent, regardless of how we feel about immigration laws in this country. No law is more important than a person.

That is what our faith is all about: love before legalism.

Christians should consider it their duty to welcome the immigrant if America won’t. We must be the hands and feet of Christ, regardless of how hard the powers of the world try to exert control through fear of the other. Let us find the love for our neighbors that America is unwilling and unable to muster.

We Must Do Better

The bankruptcy of popular Christianity in America is on full display. The plight of immigrant children, ripped from their parents and housed in cages in camps and warehouses, is heartbreaking, and a new national low in the Trump era. This, we tell ourselves, is not what the self-crowned greatest country in the world does to anyone, much less refugees.

Amy-MissingChildrenPerhaps worst of all, to those of us who identify as Christian and care about the future of the faith, is Attorney General Jeff Sessions defending the policy as “biblical,” by citing the much misused and maligned chapter 13 from Romans, a set of verses often seized upon by those in power to justify whatever immoral and evil actions they are taking at the time. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of evangelical loud mouth and hyper moralizer Mike Huckabee, repeated the claim. And one only has to glance quickly at Facebook or Twitter to see self-proclaimed conservative Christians claiming that they care about children and families, but laws are laws and must always be enforced, no matter the outcome. All of this, after almost two years of full-throated evangelical support for every action of Trump, and almost 40 years of co-option of the Christian mantle by the Republican Party.

Christianity has to be better than this. It simply has to be about more than moralizing and conservative politics. But, even more crucially, it has to be seen as something worthy of loyalty, something life giving, something that has outcomes that are full of love and compassion, not cruelty.

This is the call of all religion, and the reason it is dying in the world today. Too much of religion in this world – whether it be Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or anything else – presents a face to the world that is small, and cruel, and intolerant. Millions of people across the globe no longer see religion as something worthy of their time, because it so often doesn’t seem like something relevant to this world, in 2018.35750760_10211566573669719_8473202165488287744_o

In the case of Christianity, it so often seems concerned with a salvation mechanism formulated in a pre-scientific, pre-rational age, something that just doesn’t make sense to people anymore. It rejects a broader and broader swathe of people everyday. It seems stifling and deadening and angry.

Christianity doesn’t just exist to work as personal fire insurance, in which you save yourself and God take the rest. It has to be more than that if it is going to be worth anything at all.

A belief in God has to serve as more than that of an anxiety-inducing apprehension of a condemnatory old man in the sky. Christianity should point us towards the things God is, which is love and mercy and compassion. Everything else Christianity does – communion, baptism, theology, ethics, orthodoxy, the church – must direct people to life, to love, and to care for others.

For too many Christians here, their faith is nothing but a personal salvation machine, a set of rules that each individual is responsible for following. If they don’t, that’s on them, and them alone, and they deserve whatever consequences God deems appropriate. God, in this conception of faith, is cruel and capricious.

But faith is not this. Faith is about knowing and desiring God, knowing and desiring love. It’s an attitude, one that should transform us. Love should always be recognizable as love. If it takes squinting and convoluted reasoning to justify your actions as some form of love, then you are doing faith all wrong.

This is why the child separation policy in America is so anti-Christian. It is a policy conceived in cruelty and fear. It places following the rules and bowing to authority over love and mercy and compassion. Any human law is never more important than actual human beings. God’s justice for the oppressed and the downtrodden always take precedence.

The first Epistle of John states, unequivocally, that “God is love,” and that “love drives out all fear.” Fear and despair are not the fruits of love. They are the fruits of evil. This policy of separation and internment produces fear. It goes against God, and it goes against humanity. It is evil. Those who formulated it, who enforce it, and who defend it, are practicing evil. They are putting loyalty to the arbitrary idea of “America” before God, and before their fellow human beings. It must be ignored and replaced. We must, as Christians and as people, do better.