Outside the realm of Christian norms
Christians can and do disagree on many issues, including issues of public policy. Abortion, the interpretation of the second amendment and the right to bear arms, trade and tariff policy, immigration, minimum wage requirements, tax policy. The list is long (there is much beyond these few examples) and should be. Each of us is called to read the Scriptures, to pray and to follow Jesus, and where that leads us in many matters may differ. One of the joys of parish ministry is that we come from varied backgrounds and experiences which lead to different, sometimes even opposing, views, yet can remain bound together in community by the Gospel. That is a gift.
To read the Scriptures, to follow Jesus and to pray does, however, place certain views and practices outside the realm of Christian norms. A few weeks ago, in a sermon, Brenda said that some things are simply wrong: racism, misogyny, homophobia, and discrimination in any form, because all people, without exception, are made in God’s image. This is what the Scriptures declare and Jesus shows us. The Christian Church has certainly forgotten these truths repeatedly and acted in ways that take God’s name in vain and have done grievous harm. That historical fact does not make the truth of the Gospel any less true. Indeed, it makes its clear proclamation by the Church all the more urgent.
This November, Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States. The Presidential campaign was a long and complicated one, and included rhetoric that was abhorrent. Throughout it all, the clergy of our parish spoke about -- and for -- the required respect for all people. We have no doubt about the legitimacy of the election results, and we pray for our president and all those in authority. This week, however, as Christians we are compelled by two actions of the administration to share this letter.
Concerning the Proclamation for Holocaust Remembrance Day
The first has to do with the entire notion of alternative facts (which children learn are actually lies, whether of commission or omission) and what we believe was its application in the proclamation prepared for Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Final Solution instituted by the Nazi regime was intended to exterminate the Jewish population. They came shockingly close, systematically exterminating 6 million Jews. In the Nazi’s hatred for anyone who was not within the regime’s definition of normal, thousands of homosexuals, gypsies, and others were also sent to concentration camps and murdered. To produce a proclamation about the Holocaust that does not mention the destruction of the Jewish community is to present a false reality. When questioned, the President’s Chief of Staff said the omission was intentional as they wanted to include everyone harmed by the Nazis. They instead allied themselves with those who overlook or deny the pervasive and constant anti-Semitism that has plagued humanity since God called the Hebrews out of Israel and made them his people. That cannot stand unchallenged. We would do well to remember that Jesus was crucified because of two alternative facts circulated by those in power, with the charge of blasphemy coming from the religious authorities and the political authorities’ willingness to accept as truth the charge that Jesus was a traitor to the Roman Empire. Neither true, both deadly in their effect.
Concerning the Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees
Second, as noted above, we as Christians can have a variety of views about immigration and about how best to protect the nation in which we reside. However, two aspects of the President’s Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees are antithetical to Christian belief and Jesus’ ministry. The first is the conflation of immigrants and refugees. Historically many immigrants have been, in fact, economic refugees (the potato famine had a great effect on the volume of people choosing to emigrate from Ireland). However, as commonly understood, a refugee is a person fleeing a country because of a verifiable fear of imminent harm or death by other people or governments. In the Executive Order, those two have been made one and the same. Jesus and his parents were themselves refugees from Herod’s regime as they fled into Egypt almost immediately after his birth. In addition, he did not refuse help or healing to anyone on the basis of their national origin. The only criteria was need. Many whom he healed did not become his followers or disciples. No matter, the gift of grace in the form of food, healing and forgiveness was freely offered. Which leads to the second Christian objection to this order. It clearly discriminates by religion, giving priority to Christians over Muslims, and using a label of terrorist for some countries that have sponsored terrorism (but far from all who have) and for countries that have not. Christians and Muslims have both met horrific fates at the hands of Isis and Al Qaeda (and some at the hands of the governments of the countries in which they live). Yet Christians represent a tiny fraction of the population of the countries targeted. Jesus told his story about the Good Samaritan, because no Jew of his day thought there could be such a thing. Elijah healed the widow of Sidon and Elisha the captain of the Syrian army (neither a Jew; one a sworn enemy). Peter baptized a Roman soldier and Paul preached to Jews and pagans alike. When there is need, Christians do not, and must not, discriminate. By adding religion into the criteria for refugee status, the President demands we weigh in. This is not a policy issue. It is an issue of faith.
This letter may encourage some parishioners and disappoint others. But we hope all of us will take ever more seriously the claim that the Gospel makes upon us to worship God, not only with our lips, but with our lives, that it may be on earth as it is in heaven.
The Rev. Brenda G. Husson, Rector, together with the Wardens and Vestry of St. James’ Church