A Very Touchy Subject
~~This is a conversation I can’t have in my very Republican, very conservative household. I wonder…can I have it here? Are you open-minded? Can we ask some questions, agree to pray and think and reason together without political borders limiting our Christian practice? I wonder. Here goes.
A bit of background. I live in Springdale, Arkansas. If you check the Wiki page for our fair city, you will learn that 35% of our population is Hispanic, and 22% are “Pacific Islanders”. (Read up a bit on the tragic story of the Marshall Islands and how the US Government “compensated” the Island natives and you will understand. Nationwide, we have the largest population of that displaced people living among us thanks to some anthropological study done by the University of Arkansas some years ago.) I say all that so that you will understand that this topic is something I live with. It is next door to me. It is in my son’s school. It is in my grocery store, my help-wanted ads, my doctor’s office, my home. It is the life-breath of my small community. It is not some far-flung problem for someone “else”. It is not something I’ve made judgments about from a distance. It is an on-going conversation in my soul about people – real people – that I live with every day. It’s personal.
A friend of mine posted something today on Facebook that troubled me. This is someone I respect immensely both as a human being, and as a Christian. A pillar of faith. The post was essentially recognizing the hypocrisy and injustice of a government that provides illegal immigrants with health insurance that is paid for by legal citizens. This is a weighty and complicated matter, but at its root, I believe, is that very American “give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death” mentality. We simply don’t want to be forced to do anything. I’m offering no solutions here to the political problem, and if you’re looking for a debate, you won’t get one from me. I’m firmly straddling the fence looking both directions. However… when I have my Christian glasses on, I tend to see things very differently from when I’m looking through my “American”, “First-World”, “entitled”, “white Anglo- Saxon” glasses. That tends to be the default view in these conversations. The whole issue rests on principle – you know, “it’s the principle of the thing”. But we still see those principles through American, first-world, entitled, Anglo-Saxon glasses.
So this morning, I took off the glasses that make me feel indignant and self-righteous when I think of this problem, and I thought about Jesus. I’m asking myself some questions. I’m asking myself if Jesus cares about the physical (IMAGINARY) boarders between countries that represent nothing more than human conquest, or if he cares about the people on either side of the line. I’m asking if he cares about “principle” or if he cares about who dies because we stand so firmly entrenched on it that we stop seeing people! I’m asking myself a lot of things.
Here’s one. I wonder, when the thief on the cross came to heaven’s gate if God asked him how he got there? Did he tell the man that he hadn’t come through the proper channels? I mean, he never attended church, never tithed, and for heaven’s sake, he couldn’t even speak the language (that blessing is his for sure!), how could he possibly expect to benefit from the blessings of heaven? I mean, it’s the principle of the thing!
I wonder if giving insurance (or public education, or honest work, or food and housing assistance) to “illegal aliens” is what Jesus had in mind when he encouraged us to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give our coat in addition to our shirt? In fact, I wonder if this was what He was thinking about through his whole Sermon discourse. “Give to the one who asks you…” “You are the light of the world…” “Blessed are the merciful…” “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth…” What if this is what He meant?
I wonder if this is what He wanted us to understand when He told the story about the Good Samaritan. I wonder if He wanted us actually to be like that. I wonder what our answer will be when we stand at heaven’s gate ourselves and He asks what we did with “the least of these”. I wonder if our principles will matter to Him then. I wonder if we will suddenly realize that all we had was ours only by His grace and was always His to use to bless the people we counted unworthy. I wonder how much treasure we will have forfeited there while we withheld those blessings here. I wonder if we will see things then less as Americans, and more as human beings sharing the planet under the same rain, sun, and blessings of God as every other human being. I wonder what that perspective will do to our entitlement. I wonder if then right will be right regardless of race, color, or immigration status. And if wrong will be wrong even when a Christian is doing it?
You know, it has always bothered me this trend in the evangelical church to dream big dreams about reaching exotic lands with the gospel of Christ, but never more than now. The poor are among us. But we don’t like them. We don’t want to serve them. We don’t want to share with them from our abundance (which is maybe why the government has to force us to do it anyway!). We have judged them unworthy because they have not followed the rules. We would deny human beings…God’s creation…the very basic levels of care because of “principles” based on the happy accident of our geography and the unhappy accident of theirs, and we would watch them DIE. AT. OUR. GATE. while we stand with our arms crossed demanding to know their status. We would be content to enjoy the blessings God has freely given us, and never consider sharing with a family in need who have violated our principles. And we do not even flinch in shame over it while we’re buying our “mission trip” tickets to Africa. We spit in our neighbors' eye by allowing their children to go to our schools hungry and barefoot…but we will travel across the world to serve more “worthy” people in need. Blessed assurance! Have mercy on us Lord! I hope you’re blushing. If not, you might want to spend some time with Jeremiah, or you might want to consider one of God’s reasons for condemning Sodom. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)
So this is where I leave the conversation. In an instant, I’ll be back wearing my political glasses and looking at things from my very entitled perspective astride this fence, tightly gripping my wallet in one hand and my flag in the other. The next financial aid meeting for Spanish speakers only that is held at my local public High School will likely tip me to the other side. The next scholarship I stumble across that is specifically for “undocumented students” will push me over the fence. And this is why this internal conversation is on-going for me. I have to choose whether I will suffer injustice for the sake of Christ and my fellow man, or not. It’s really that simple. Jesus told us to weigh the cost. But ultimately the cost was his, and because He was willing to pay it (and didn’t have to be forced to do so), we get to live on His dole forever. We get to move from a land that is not our own to a land that He will give us…no passport required, no green card necessary… so…go figure.