I think I remember when America was a Christian thinking nation. I remember a poem we memorized as children:
“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.”
Those were the days when being an American meant acting on what we believed in. These are different times.
Most of us have seen the gruesome pictures of Syrians literally dying to escape their country. These people are leaving because they have been trapped in their bombed-out homes, afraid to move, for so long they are starving to death. Their only hope to live is to put themselves and their families in, quite possibly, lethal circumstances to escape.
Approximately 6 percent of Syria’s population, 1.5 million people, are Christians. We don’t know who is who over there, but my guess is that the people who like ISIS will stay and the Christians should get out as soon as possible. Those Christians we see dying are having that very thought.
Immigration is the new bad word in America. It is a useful term, but it’s shameful how it is used in polite conversation. It means moving oneself from one place to another. It implies one has a choice. “Stay where we are or go see the greener grass.” If you wish to stroll to America, do the paperwork, pay the fees, get a job and enjoy. If you don’t have the money or the time to do the paperwork, like if you are running for your life, you are an ILLEGAL immigrant and that means very bad things to “real Americans”. Those people may think they are escaping to the Promised Land, but when they get here, they are ILLEGALS.
There are times when words are not political vehicles and they just describe things like they were created to do. Sometimes people are not immigrating, they are escaping. They are running from persecution and certain death. To know that, we would have to ask a question or two. We would have to care about people other than ourselves. We might have to do Christian things.
One Christian thing we might be able to do is screen the people coming to our country and separate the decent people from the criminals, according to our laws. That would be a Christian thing to do, but it would take some work to create a visible application of Christian behavior. That is much harder to do than it is to talk about the problem. Doing nothing to help your brothers and sisters in your faith, is easy.
Back when we had a national method for receiving immigrants, we successfully registered tens of millions of people from all over the world into our country. Today, police forces are militarized and politicians make their audiences with the fear that can be created by unknown, but assumed violent, strangers. Even Christians are afraid to allow other Christians into our country and that hypocrisy is justified with false Nationalism and Bible quotes — rarely conversations about how to change laws to help people, only how to stop people from getting what we have.
It must be tough being a political Christian — having to decide who the important people are. All that pressure involved in correcting the teachings of Jesus to make them fit into those political parties’ platforms. All the pesky contradictions. Old Testament thumpers who just hate the new wave thumpers – it must be complicated.
We know American Christians can’t abide Mexican Christians who are looking for a safe harbor from drug warlords and corrupt governments, so it must be OK that those Syrian Christians die at sea while they pray to find a Christian place to live. Those refugees must not be the right Christians or the American Christians would petition their government to help people live in a Christian nation. Maybe we could document the people we see walking over our boarders to keep them and the rest of us safe. Maybe we can come to realize there must be a reason why this has not yet been done. Tough decisions.
Of course, the comfort of promised forgiveness, from anything, must make these life and death decisions easier.