Category Archives: Politics

Biblical Values: Welcome the immigrant

As I listened to conversations around the election, I hear da lot of talk of Biblical values, usually invoked to keep LGBTQ people from having equal rights or using the bathrooms that assign to their gender, or when talking about abortion restrictions.

There are, of course, many other issues to consider when engaging in politics and being a public theologian: economics, immigration, gun rights/gun violence, the environment, racism, legalization of drugs, voting rights, and a whole bunch of other stuff. One of these conversations seems to consistently rise above the rest: immigration. And, more often than not, this conversation around immigration is coupled with fear. Fear of the possibility of violence brought by immigrants, fear of immigrants stealing jobs, fear that, as Donald Trump has said of Mexico “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

There also seems to be a large percentage of people who are afraid that a) we are allowing unvetted immigrants into the united states and b) these immigrants could be terrorists, preparing the next terrorist attack.

Or, as Donald Trump Jr. puts it:

trump-skittles

 

The solution that has been proposed to alleviate these fears is to end immigration from middle eastern countries, from Muslim countries, to some how label Muslims or people from the middle east, to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Oddly enough, Biblical values never seem to enter into this conversation. I imagine this is because Biblical values do not seem to fit into the narrative being created by those who would like our anxiety to be put upon immigrants. As Christians we are called to not be afraid. To love our neighbor AND our enemy. AND we are called again and again and again to welcome the stranger.

If we as Christians are willing to cling so strongly to the relatively few verses that support our views in other matters, why are we not willing to cling to those verses as they apply to those who are different from us, when scripture makes clear over and over again that our call is to care for the orphan, protect the widow and welcome the stranger? To love our neighbor as ourselves?

In Exodus, God says to Moses, “Do not mistreat a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – twice in but a few verses God says that. Again in Leviticus, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land do not mistreat them,” “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born, Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt, I am the lord your God.” In Deuteronomy, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Job uses his care of the foreigner, his feeding and sheltering of them as a sign of his righteousness and love for God.

God speaks through Jeremiah and says, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong of violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, do not shed innocent blood in this place.” God sends a smiliar message through Ezekial, Isaiah and Malachai.

In his parable to describe what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus uses care for the stranger as one example of loving your neighbor, ending with that which you did not do to the least of these you did not do to me.”

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Jesus consistently shocks his listeners by using outsiders as emissaries of grace, such as the single man who comes back to thank Jesus for his healing in Luke 17 or the many times Samaritans – dirty, suspicious, unclean outsiders, are the people who do the Godly thing. Jesus repeatedly crosses all kind of barriers to welcome people to him, in demonstration of how we should live in order to welcome people to God.

For crying out loud, Mary and Joseph were strangers in a strange land when they had jesus and they were refugees when Herod killed all of the children in the land. What if there had been a no refugee policy in Egypt?!

Again and again and again, scripture calls us to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the alien. And yet this Biblical value seems to be completely absent from the discussion on immigration – it is like the polar opposite of our discussion on same sex marriage and Transgender rights, where the Bible is all over the place in spite of the relatively few verses that can be used to support this topic and Jesus’ silence on the issue. Over and over and over again, the triune God asks us to welcome the stranger and to not be afraid, and yet we seem to be committed to living in fear and building walls so that the stranger we are called to welcome can be kept out. Not for nothing, many of these foreigners are also widows and orphans – two groups of people pretty much every book of the Bible says we are called to protect.

Why are we leaving these scriptures out? Because it does not serve the narrative. It does not advance the policies of those who want to keep us afraid because our fear feeds their policies and puts money in the pockets of politicians who benefit from our fear. Politicians who promise to keep us “safe.”

Which brings me to another thing – Christians are not called upon to be safe.

Safety is not a Christian virtue.

We are called upon to sacrifice ourselves for the good news of Jesus Christ — the news that God came down and became human to know us, to love us, to set the oppressed free, to break the yoke of slavery, and to proclaim good news to the poor as he proclaims when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah in his first moment of public ministry.

Christians are called to sacrifice. We are called to pick up our cross and follow God. We are called to give up what we have and follow – safety, security, shelter, clothing – we are called to give those things away. We are called to leave our families for God, to separate ourselves from all we know and all we have, to go out into the world and trust Jesus. We are told again and again that following Jesus is dangerous. And it is. For centuries, people have been killed because of their call to follow God. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for the sake of the gospel will save it.

Many will take this to mean that we should be willing to be killed for our faith, as in if someone is holding a gun to our head, we should be willing to say that we are a Christian and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s cheap grace, it’s pumpkin spice latte Christianity. It’s basic.

Losing our lives for Jesus and the sake of the gospel is losing our lives to live as Jesus lived and to follow Jesus’ call to give up what we have and follow him, to give up our cloak, to turn the other cheek, to be willing to give up what we have so that others may have as well. We are called to be willing to give up our lives for the sake of love, for the sake of the poor and the oppressed. To eat all of the damn skittles.

Those are Biblical Values.

 


Re-mything America

Most societies are built on myths —  symbolic tales of the distant past  that concern cosmogony and cosmology (the origin and nature of the universe), may be connected to belief systems or rituals, and may serve to direct social action and values. Our myths help tell us who we are and how we relate to the world around us. And, as Joseph Campbell wrote, when our myths are taken from us, when they begin to break down, the society structured around it begins to break down as well.

America (white America, in particular) is built on a myth. This myth is that this country was founded for the ideals of liberty and justice for all. These words are, after all, written into our founding documents. We believe that success is determined by hard work. If you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything. Our courts are fair, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and, while there may be a few errors here and there in our criminal justice system, generally the outcomes of court proceedings are good and right. After all, the rites and rituals of the criminal justice system are also some of the rites and rituals that help us act out our belief in our story, in the American myth. Our nation is fair, because it was created by brilliant human beings (who in some cases we revere in ways close to reverence religions have for gods). The protectors of our myths (our priests) the police and judges and the military, have gone through tests to prove their worthiness, they are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of our myth, and they can do no wrong.

The symbol for our myth is our flag, and when it is raised we praise it with promises of commitment (the pledge) and praise music (the national anthem). These have become (albeit recently) the rites and rituals of our myth, and to disrupt these rites and rituals disrespects the myth, and the priests, and scribes who attend to it.

Like the faithful who have never really had a prayer answered, there are many who are faithful to the myth of America who have never seen the fruits of the faith. There are many who have worked their fingers to the bone and yet don’t seem to get ahead, those who dream big dreams only to die poor and anonymous. But it is faith in the myth that keeps them pushing ahead, faith in the possibility that makes the hard work worth it, even if it may take generations.

It seems that there is a rather large racial divide in those who believe in the myth and those who don’t. To be sure, there are white people for whom the myth has proven to be empty, and people of color for whom the myth holds promise. But all in all, I would imagine that being born into a country that once saw your people as less than human (3/5 of a person), where your ancestors worked until they bled, and were beaten into working more, yet never saw anything come of that work but more work, would lead you to see the myth for what it is long before others might.

What I believe we are seeing now is a vociferous objection to this myth by those for whom the myth has never been seen as true and for those who have been listening to and learning from those who have not experienced liberty and justice. White people are hearing our brothers and sisters cry out that they have been working, working, working for generations only to see that it would take generations more work to catch up to the same amount of material wealth that white people have. Video recordings of police killing unarmed black people, of dogs being set on native people trying to protect what is theirs, are showing those of us who are white and willing to listen what our brothers and sisters of color have known for so long — the American myth is just that: a myth. It is a story we have told ourselves for generations both so that we might keep working towards an imaginary goal and so that we can blame those who do not reach their goal for their own personal failings. Believing in the myth ensures that those of us with power and privilege are not responsible for those who do not succeed. We are not complicit in the breaking down of the dream for another; it is their fault.

Yet there are others for whom this myth is so integral to the fabric of their being that to question the reality of the myth is to question reality itself, to question the core of one’s own being. If your life is inextricably tied to belief in this myth and this myth is being shattered, you have two choices: allow the myth to collapse and figure out a new story around which to find meaning, or fight like hell to keep the myth in place, facts and figures be damned. Many, many Americans are choosing the latter.

Myths are based in the past, not the future. They are creation stories and hero stories around which we guide the structures of our lives. We use them to guide our decisions, but always as a touch point in the past, not as a moment in the future towards which we aim.

The American myth is not a bad idea. To strive to be a nation that believes in justice and equality, that actually allows for everyone who works hard to get ahead is a wonderful goal. But it is that, a goal. It is not a reality, and it has never been. There is not point in the past to which we can point and say, “There! There is a time when the American myth was actually American reality!” And yet we gather around it as though it was. We focus our political and religious yearnings towards a time that never was, towards a myth that is as real as the stories of the Greek and Roman Gods. However, unlike the stories of the ancient Gods, this myth has potential. It is something we can strive towards if we are willing to let go of the myth and work towards it as a goal. If instead of looking to this point in the past (that does not actually exist) in which our nation was truly free for all, we work together towards a point in the future when this actually could be.

In order to do this, however, we need to find a new myth around which we can gather ourselves. We need to provide those for whom this myth is a defining life belief (those who have faith in this myth) another story. As it is, half of our nation is fighting the loss of this myth, fighting it with all their might. We have people absolutely irate at the perceived disrespect shows to our rites and rituals, to our priests and scribes.

We need to re-myth America.

These are just some things I have been thinking for which I have no statistical evidence. I am not an anthropologist or sociologist, I am a person who thinks a lot about myth and ritual. I am working this out. Feel free to add your own thoughts, we can all work this out together.


A nation of Sodomites

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis is often cited as a story about how wrong homosexuality is, and God’s desired punishment for such “crimes.” The story has angels coming to Sodom, whom Lot welcomes into his home as honored guests. When the men in the village find out that Lot has visitors, they come to his house and demand that he send the visitors out so that the men of the village may “know” them (aka, have sex with or, in this case, rape). Lot refuses, the visitors pull him inside the house before Lot gets hurt and tell him to gather his family, for the Lord is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah “because the outcry against its people has become so great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” The common cultural understanding of this story is God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of gay sex. It is such a common understanding that laws outlawing sex between gay men (and sometimes just anal sex in general) are referred to as anti-Sodomy laws and one of the epithets hurled at gay men is “Sodomite.”

This understanding is wrong.

God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of gay sex. That’s not what this story is about.

Lot welcomed the visitors into his home — welcome being a high cultural value of the people of God, iterated again and again throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. This is Lot’s saving grace, his display of welcome. The men of the village destroyed that welcome. They were going to violate these visitors, running counter to culture, custom and the word of God. They were going to commit violence against the stranger, being about as unwelcoming as one can be.

The book of Ezekiel (16:49) makes the sins of Sodom plain, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

God did not destroy Sodom because of gay sex. God destroyed Sodom because they had everything they needed

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I mean, cool, you want to criminalize not caring for the poor, be my guest!

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I mean, cool, you want to criminalize not caring for the poor, be my guest!

and more and did not help those who were in need, because the people of Sodom did not welcome the stranger.

Sound familiar?

As I think of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, I think of the new law in Indiana that allows business to deny service to members of the LGBTQ community, I think we need to redefine the word Sodomite.

Those who would not show welcome to visitors, regardless of the differences they may have: those are the Sodomites.

As I read about continued efforts to kick people out of this country because they didn’t come here legally (even those who were brought here as children, those who did not have a choice), those who would not welcome the alien as the Bible commands (Ex 22:21, Deut 10:19, Lev 19:34, Rom 12:13, Matthew 25:40), those who exhibit the sin of the men of Sodom: those are the sodomites.

Those of us who would cut benefits to the poor provided by our government, who would tell those in need to fix themselves, who would deny help to those in need (particularly those of us who live in plenty): those are the Sodomites.

The God who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ is a God of radical welcome. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of drawing all creation to him through his death on the cross. He tells his followers that that which you did to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did to me, to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Our God is a God of radical welcome and inclusion, who will turn away no one who knocks on God’s door — and God asks us to do the same. Over and over again, throughout the laws, the prophets, the gospels, and the letters. Not showing this radical welcome and love was the crime of Sodom and Gomorrah, for which the punishment was death.

It’s not about gays. People who engage in sex with those of the same gender are not sodomites.

But far too many of us are. Far too many of us are willing to kick out those who think differently, and act differently, as well as people who we feel don’t “deserve” to be here. Far too many of us ignore the plight of the poor and the marginalized to aid our own gains. Every day many of us are indifferent or even hateful as we walk past others on the street who are in great need. We keep what is ours for ourselves. We prop up structures that benefit the privileged while we ignore, shun, demean and oppress those who have little. This is Sodomy.

We are a nation of Sodomites. Our public policy is Sodomy.

If I didn’t believe in the God who will bring all people to God’s loving grace, I might wonder: what will be our fate? Will the fate of a nation that consistently refuses to welcome the stranger and care for the poor end up like Sodom and Gomorrah? If angels were to come to take those who show radical love and hospitality to safety, how many of us would be invited to go with?

What would the God of the prophets have to say to us, as we continue the ways of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Maybe something like this:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble onself?

It is to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quicklt; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”  ~ Isaiah 58