I'm hardly alone in being frustrated and saddened by my Facebook feed lately. I sat down this morning determined to write and share my thoughts, but then my friend Stanci shared a link to a piece by Luther M. Siler that crystallized them so completely (minus the divinity school) that I'd rather just share these words, which I beseech, no beg you to read in their entirety. (Here's the link too, if you prefer that.)
I am not a Christian. That fact has probably been perfectly clear for a very long time; it doesn’t take a whole lot of reading around here to figure it out.
What may be less clear to non long-time visitors: Chances are I know way more about Christianity than you do. Is that a guarantee? No, not at all. But most of you don’t have a Master’s degree in Biblical studies. I do. And I got it from one of the best divinity schools in the country. So chances are I know more about Christianity and Western religion in general than you do.
I’ve been thinking about Jesus a lot in the last few days. Maybe I should go full wanker here and call him Yeshua, or something, to rid him of some of the cruft that’s accumulated over the past 2000 years, but the point is I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days thinking about Jesus. And also, in those last few days, I’ve watched an awful lot of people who not only call themselves Christians but tend to openly boast about their Christianity— in and of itself, an unChristian act— completely pervert the meaning of their own religion. To a degree that, frankly, should be physically painful along with spiritually.
All religions concern themselves with charity. All religions concern themselves with the poor. But I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb when I say that, of the three major Western religions at least (I’m hedging on Buddhism, mostly, which I know little about) there is no figure who is so concerned with the poor and dispossessed as is Jesus. Treatment of the poor is very nearly the whole of Jesus’ ministry. And his feelings on the matter, despite 2000 years and who knows how many translations (well, okay, two) of his original words, are perfectly clear:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
That’s Matthew 25, in case you don’t recognize it. The translation is the NRSV, which I generally find to be the most accurate translation available; there was a time where if it was the Hebrew Bible I would have translated it myself but my Hebrew is terribly rusty and my Greek is virtually nonexistent so I have to trust the translators.
That said, though, this is really, really, crystal clear. It is unambiguous and open. It is not a matter for debate and not a matter of opinion, a word American Christians are really fond of tossing around.
Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
There are reasons to oppose bringing Syrian refugees to America. None of them are good reasons. Most of them are sickeningly racist. And all of them are deeply, obviously, blatantly and clearly unChristian. You cannot object to helping these people and call yourself a Christian. Jesus himself would rebuke you. He already has, in fact. Reread verses 41-46 if you need to. If you refuse to help the sick and the destitute and the needy, you are going to Hell.
There is literally no way to make that any clearer. Christians are commanded to help those who are in need. Not requested. Not asked. Not begged. Commanded. In plain and clear language. By Jesus. There’s no way to wriggle out of this, folks. You either help these people– or, to do the absolute minimum, get the hell out of their way– or by the words of the man you consider the son of God you are going to Hell.
Let’s change the subject a bit, and talk about cowardice. I have grown desperately tired of fear being the sole criterion by which every political decision is made in this country, particularly by the same people who are so hungry to convince you of their own toughness in every other set of circumstances.
I do not fear terrorism. I do not fear “terrorists.” I do not fear being blown up. Neither should you. Yes, even though it just happened in France. Neither should you. I am tired of living in a country where people openly advocate leaving children to die because they are terrified that one or two out of thousands of people who desperately need our help might be bad people. Or, to be slightly more Biblical in my choice of words, people who openly advocate letting widows, and children, and orphans die horribly because of their own fear. America is truly a nation of cowards if we allow this to happen, and the loudest voices for cowardice among us are also, somehow, the loudest voices for their own toughness.
We live in a country where grown men are terrified to go to the mall without their guns.
We live in a country where people living quite literally in the middle of nowhere are afraid that a tiny militia group on the other side of the world might notice them and come to blow them up.
We live in a country where those same people are so proudly ignorant that not only are they unable to distinguish any one brown-skinned person from any other, they have the gall to be smug about it.
If we were to let some number of Syrian refugees come to live among us– for the purposes of this conversation I don’t even care about the number– we are certain to import some of them who are bad people. Some of them might even be deserving of capital letters; Bad People.
I don’t care. At all.
America has had one of what we like to call “terrorist attacks” in this country since September of 2001. So two in this century, I suppose. The Boston bombers killed three people and injured a couple hundred others. In that time we have had thousands upon thousands of our own people killed by guns wielded by our own people, and we do nothing. In fact, we insist that nothing be done. A certain segment of our population is literally ready to go to war to protect their right to own weapons that are virtually guaranteed, if they are ever used at all, to hurt one of their friends or family members and not some half-imagined “attackers.” And you can bet that had Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev been white, there would be an entire movement of people dedicated to proving that their attacks were either fabricated by the government or justified.
If the French attacks had happened in America, and had involved white people, an entire political party would be insisting we do nothing about it right now, and impugning the sanity and the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with them. Guns in America alone kill several multiples more people every year than terrorist attacks in Western countries have killed this century.
So forgive me if I do not find your fear convincing or important. You are so much more likely to be killed by the gun you keep in the glove box of your car than by a “terrorist” that I literally cannot take you seriously. If you live anywhere outside of the five or six largest cities in America and you genuinely fear terrorism you should seek mental help, and I say that as someone who actually sees a mental health counselor at the moment. It is not a flippant statement. It is roughly akin to fearing shark attacks while living in Nebraska. If you do live in one of those five or six cities, your risk is slightly– very, very slightly, because the total number of US cities affected by terrorism this century is currently two– elevated, but you’re still being an idiot. And you should stop.
I was made to memorize this poem, or at least the last five lines of it, in fourth grade. I typed it from memory, although I will admit double-checking to make sure I got the words right:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is, of course, The New Colossus, the Emma Lazarus poem that is currently mounted on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. It also has the advantage of rather exceptional clarity.
It is unChristian to keep these people out.
It is unAmerican to keep these people out.
It is inhuman to keep these people out.
And it is foolish in the extreme to allow fear to dictate our actions, especially– most especially– when that fear is not only rooted in our worst impulses, but is exactly what our actual enemies want us to do.
Amen, Brothers and Sisters. I love you all.