Re-posted in loving memory of Jay, who passed away last Friday at the age of 66.–gm
A guest Sunday Sermon
Inside the Checkpoints
By Jay Johnson-Castro
As a child raised in this great country, I was taught to believe in a loving God, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth. I was also taught that, while under human rule, America was the one place on Earth that protected the precious freedoms with which our Creator endowed us.
From childhood on, I was taught the highest of all principles were based on Love. Love of God, love of our neighbor, love of family and even love of our enemy. As citizens of a modern country that banners liberty, we have matured in some senses, and degenerated in other aspects. As Americans, we should realize that freedom of worship guarantees and protects religious along with ethnic and cultural diversity.
As a country, we can no longer rightfully call the United States of America a Christian nation if, as a country, it does not live by the most basic of Christian values. At the same time, if we are true to our American values, the many thousands of religions that exist on this planet are equally protected in this country.
In this millennium, this century, this decade and especially in this year, American Christianity is being intensely tested. For those of us Americans who believe in a loving God, we of all people must realize that we are under such a major testing. It is not a test of whether there is a separation of the church of our choice and the American political arena. We know that you cannot take the faith out of the minds and hearts of elected officials. Nor is the test whether our nation subscribes to fundamental Christian values. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights well outline the role of God and Christian values in the founding of this country. We Americans who claim to be Christian are being tested as to whether or not we as a people of faith apply those lofty values in our everyday American lives. And, if we do apply them, we are being tested as to how well we apply them.
As a people of faith in the laws of God, in the light of “love your enemy as yourself”, we could and perhaps should test ourselves on our attitude about the war and the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. We could ask if such warlike commitment is a display of “love of neighbor” or “love of our enemies”. We could use torture and torture camps to test the depth of our American and Christian values and resolve. We could test our attitude, our level of concern or even our level of tolerance with regard to the wanton lies, perversion and corruption being committed by the elected officials in America who make decisions and laws on our behalf.
Yet, there is almost an ideal test of our American and Christian values. It involves a basic issue facing our country. “Illegal” immigration. Let’s take the test.
As American Christians, in our minds and hearts, how do we deal with the “illegal” immigrant problem? Is it justifiable to our American values and our Christianity that men, women, even children, are being arrested as a criminals, simply because they traverse hundreds or thousands of miles to enter our country without documentation in their quest to find a job to support their family and to pursue liberty? Applying the law of “Love thy neighbor as yourself”, how are we doing as Americans, and Christians. Do we justify or even approve of the imprisonment of these people? How about the Golden Rule given by the Lord in his Sermon on the Mount? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Is criminalizing a starving refugee in harmony with our professed Christian faith?
If an American Christian, who says he believes that “all men are created equal”, and at the same time is a racist, supremacist, nativist or xenophobic, is he true to the highest American or Christian values?
The founding fathers believed that we are all endowed by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those Christian founders believed that we were all born with those “certain” and “unalienable” rights. They did not believe that you had to be an American citizen to enjoy them. On the contrary, they established a country and a government, here in America where such freedoms would be offered, guaranteed, experienced and protected. All one had to do was get here.
How about us individually? Do we see the lowly immigrant as a threat to OUR America. If so, how does that harmonize with “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Which law is higher? The convoluted and unjust immigration laws of this country, or God’s laws? Whose laws will we obey? God’s or man’s?
Why is it a crime in this country for even an American citizen, in many cases a Christian, to help or give safe haven to a starving, thirsty or even dying immigrant that has traversed hundreds of treacherous miles over extremely cold or hot wilderness? Why is a refugee arrested like a violent criminal? Why is that person, perhaps a woman, an elderly person, even a child, imprisoned in private “for profit” internment camps, without rights or due process?
Why would Christians build walls to divide people? Is that American? Is that Christian? Is that “love of neighbor”? Would Jesus do such a thing? Would he approve of such treatment of the lowly and innocent?
This is why the American Christian is being tested. If someone declares that what the immigrant is doing is “illegal”, does that justify the cruel and inhumane treatment committed by Americans who profess a Christian faith? What are we protecting by such bigoted conduct? America? Christian values? The vast majority of people that enter our country through our southern borders are themselves Christians. Is that how Christian brothers and sisters are to treat one another?
Indeed, loving our neighbor as ourselves is a great test of not only our national values but our personal and moral values as well. What if is was the other way around, and what if it was one of us that was desperately seeking a job or freedom from poverty or tyranny? How would we want to be treated? Would we want to be chased down like a criminal and thrown on the desert floor? Would we want to be cuffed and thrown into a “holding pen” and then an internment camp? Would we want our women and children locked up in cold prison cells?
If anyone takes the position that he or she would never stoop to breaking the law and entering another country illegally, they betray their most basic American and Christian values. Such an attitude belies arrogance and an attitude of superiority and prejudice. It was not God who created political boundaries. Christ never taught that “love of neighbor” had political or national limitations. Wasn’t that the lesson in his story about the Good Samaritan, a stranger, a foreigner…who helped a suffering fellow human that had been beaten, robbed and left to die?
Some “Americans”, who profess Christianity, are the very ones who treat immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in such a dehumanizing un-American and un-Christian way. In our own country some Americans who claim to be Christians get paid handsome salaries and are given high-tech and lethal equipment to hunt down, arrest and victimize immigrants who are simply members of our human family. Other “Americans”, who also call themselves Christians, own companies or invest heavily in corporate stock in companies that profit off of the imprisonment of these humble people whose only crime is that they want to work, enjoy freedom and to provide for their families.
“Americans” who call themselves Christians exploit these people in our country as well as in the countries of the immigrants for the “love of money” and greedy corporate gain. They can do so “legally” because they have successfully passed laws that favor corporate greed, laws that are pushed through by corrupt lobbyists and passed by morally ca
lloused politicians. Such laws which allows for the victimization and mistreatment of the immigrant that is too poor to follow the rules of immigration and citizenship.
So, when does the Christianity of such political and corporate officials ever get applied? When do these rich and powerful self-proclaimed “American Christians” ever apply the law of God in their quest for more power and money? When do they treat their neighbor as themselves? They don’t! They have continually failed the test of upholding the high moral values on which this country was founded. Additionally, they have certainly betrayed the laws of the God they profess to worship. If one believes the scriptures, they more likely resemble the category of what Christ called “hypocrites”, “blind guides”,” and “whitewashed graves” who “disregarded the weightier things of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness”.
It is up to “We the People of the United States” to apply and uphold the lofty and fundamental values on which this country is founded. It is up to each individual who professes faith in God to live by the highest laws in the universe known to man.
If we are to pass the test of American Christianity, we would uphold the most American of values and the highest of Christian principles. If we love God and we love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we will eagerly and willingly extend to all mankind the opportunity to experience the “liberty” we cherish. We would reject any form of enslavement, imprisonment of innocence without due process.
If we pass the test of American Christianity, regardless of any human law, we would reject any form of mistreatment of any member of God’s children. We would do all we can to prevent any mistreat the “alien residents”. We would not allow the vilification or victimization of the immigrant that cannot gain citizenship by normal means. We would not consider it “illegal” to share in the freedoms we enjoy. We would lay our lives on the line to love the immigrant as ourselves. In so doing, we pass a crucial test, that of being a Christian in America.
(March 24, 2008)