“God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.” – Community of Christ Holy Text
This past week there has been an image of the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California in where Baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary find each of themselves in their own cage. It’s a protest visual in response to our governments border policies. To view the image, check out this article from CNN. To use the nativity in this way is provocative, sad, disconcerting, and even maddening, and that is why it is incredibly appropriate. I wish more faith communities were brave enough to make a similar statements. For the purpose of Christ’s message wasn’t to spread a message of rainbows and butterflies with pats on the back for good deeds done. It was to challenge unjust laws and spread a message of Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace in the midst of a society that seemed to contradict that message. It was to bring hope to those who were lonely, oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten. It was to live within a spirit of shalom, not fear.
When I first saw the image, I was captured by this simple yet intense but sobering nativity scene. My first reaction was to share it on social media. And I did… On Twitter with a note that just said “Powerful”. I mean, technically I didn’t need to say more than that for the image alone says all that is needed. That’s not why I shared it there though. That’s not why I only said that one word. I deliberately chose not to share it on Facebook where my post would get a lot more traction. I found myself choosing to be uncharacteristically cautious. Not because I didn’t believe in it’s powerful message but because I have grown so weary of the negative response from other people of faith when addressing serious acts of injustice that appear to contradict so much of what Christ has taught us. As one who is passionate about many issues where I witness injustice, I’m afraid I’ve grown just so tired of the voices who can justify them. So in this case, I chose not to engage. I took the safer route and tweeted it. While children sit in cages, I took the safe route because I didn’t want to “get into it” with those who disagree. Ugh. And yet, I can’t get the image out of my head. And where one can justify my response by noting that making a social media post won’t really change much anyways, I internally wrestle with choosing to disengage all together. It’s inauthentic to who I am as a disciple of Christ. Steve Veazey, President of Community of Christ, made a public statement about this issue in June 2018. Earlier this year at the triennial World Conference gathering for Community of Christ, John Glaser, one of our faith leaders, made a statement against this policy during an evening worship that was streamed online to homes throughout the world. If they could make public statements, knowing that they and the church could receive intense backlash from some of its own members in response, then surely I could make speak out in a simple Facebook post.
“On Friday, June 15, I contacted the United States Attorney General by email and voicemail to express my grave concern about the policy of separating children from their refugee immigrant parents.
I stated that such a practice is ungodly, unchristian, and contrary to scriptural teachings about how to treat the most vulnerable in our midst, especially children.
I called on the attorney general to immediately end the current policy because it is unjust and unacceptable. I urge other members and friends of the church who share this concern to communicate your views to governmental officials.
We must join our voices and efforts with others who are working daily to liberate the children and reunite them with their families.” – Community of Christ President Stephen M. Veazey (June 2018)
I often feel that those of us who follow Christ have become so disconnected from his teachings and the way he lived his life. And yes, this includes me at times. We respond in legalistic ways to the matters before us when so many matters of law were created in fear of the other. Christ challenged laws as well and we all know how that story goes. You see, it seems that it is so much easier for us to keep Christ on the cross than to let the way he lived his life continue to radically change our communities and dare I say, even us!
And for me, there is a stark hypocrisy in all this as well. Not just because I believe that the response is contrary to the teachings of Christ but also because we are citizens of a country that is on stolen land to begin with. And not land that was stolen thousands and thousands of years ago but just within the past four hundred years. As a nation, we suck at honoring those ancestors who came before us and and respecting the First Peoples of today. We’re still in our adolescent years as a country and yet, we already seem to be experiencing nationalistic amnesia. One where instead of letting our history inform our path forward by learning from it and choosing not to repeat it, we choose to respond in fear instead. So we create laws that keep others out on land that our ancestors invaded and took to begin with. Like… WTF!?
Here’s how I see it… Our United States constitution states that, “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”. On a plaque at the Statue of Liberty we read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” And our scriptures give us teachings where Jesus says that, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So whether our response to modern issues such as border control and immigration are shaped by patriotism, nationalism, religion, or a mixture of some or all, it seems our response should be similar. The spirit within each statement isn’t that different from the other.
So as I sit in a period of sweet expectation this Advent Season, I hope for a world where how we interact with others is not defined by invisible borders but by holy and sacred love for the other. I hope for a world where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus would encounter a compassionate, radical welcome rather than steel cages and separation. I hope for border policies that make sense for the safety and wellbeing of all while upholding the integrity and worth of all people. I’m realistic. I realize policies are needed. I just believe in a better way.
Community of Christ holy text invites us to “strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth” and that we do that when we “courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God” in our efforts to “pursue peace”. Whether it be through social media, protests and marches, calls and visits to elected representatives, sermons, dialogue with others, and so on, there is much work to do in pursuing peace. I hope for myself is that I continue to challenge unjust systems even it isn’t always popular with everyone. Will you join me? What a great birthday gift we can give to honor the essence of the one whom we follow!