I am an American. I am a conservative. I am a Christian.
I grew up in the 80s while Ronald Reagan was president, followed by George H.W. Bush, and I was raised with fairly conservative values — honor God, family, and country, respect and support the military, give an honest day’s hard work for honest pay, keep your pants on, respect your elders, don’t do drugs, love your country. Love your country. Why? Not because of its deep history, for it has none; on the contrary, for what its people, drawn from all colors and creeds and all walks of life from so many other lands, have been able to accomplish by setting aside to some extent the identities of their homelands in order to come together as a new thing, a new People: Americans. As Americans we stood up to the might of the British Empire, not once but twice. As Americans we overcame whatever random obstacles creating a new country in a new land threw our way. Need mail? Let’s use ponies. Need goods transported faster? Let’s build a railway. Mountain in the way? No problem. As Americans we faced our own demons, clung to unity, and put an end to slavery. As Americans we faced down world-scale European Imperialistic aggression, not once but twice. The first time we kept one hand tied behind our backs, the second it was busy dealing with Asian Imperialistic aggression. At the same time. My country has made its share of mistakes and more, but by and large as countries go I’m rather proud of it.
We are a nation of immigrants who came together, made a new home with a lot of very different people, and invited even more to join them. Our history and our DNA speak volumes of open doors. I grew up in New Jersey, roughly an hour from the Statue of Liberty, and visited her more than once growing up. Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. That is our legacy, one we continued to build on in the twentieth century by leading the world in resettling refugees both here and abroad so they can find and make a new home and a new life for themselves. When I was very young in the late 1970s, my family took in a refugee family from Laos. Husband, wife, a young boy my age and his little sister. We helped them learn English, get jobs, learn to drive a car, gain citizenship. Helped them move to the apartment next door when they were ready to support themselves. That boy and I were fast friends for awhile, getting into all kinds of trouble in the woods (and the old neighbor’s garden patch, as I recall…). I had no idea at the time, but that portion of my life was greatly influenced by the American policy of accepting and helping these refugees. Long after that, after my parents divorced and we moved to a new house, my staunchly conservative mother opened our home time and again to folks who needed a safe place to get back on their feet.
My essentially conservative upbringing has largely followed me into adulthood as well; while I endeavor in general to think for myself (I don’t watch Fox News or listen to Rush, for example), I do tend to vote Republican in most elections and my social and economic inclinations usually line up, more or less and with perhaps some nuance, the way you might expect.
My father served in the Marines, my brother in the Air Force. Three uncles in the Army and Navy. I was raised to respect not only the military, but what they proudly stood for and fought for. The flag, our freedom, the American way. I would get choked up as a kid whenever Lee Greenwood’s voice would come over the radio on 92.5, WXTU out of Phildelphia. I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…I could probably sing the whole thing word for word from memory even now.
I am an American. I’m also a Christian, which contrary to the casual belief of some is not nearly the same thing. I take my faith seriously and continuallly struggle with how best to live it out in the world around me. I do believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, both fully God and fully man, walking on the earth a couple thousand years ago. I believe he died to pay for the sins of the world and yes, actually literally rose again in victory over death itself. I believe the full measure of Scripture is a story that screams out his name, louder and louder the more deeply and more fully I study it, from Genesis through the history and the writing prophets, through his arrival and ministry in Israel, through the writings of his followers afterward, to the final chapter of the final book. My local church is deeply committed to the integrity of the Bible and to teaching it well, in which context I’m surprised to find myself occasionally teaching adults various aspects of its history and theology. Though I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, you might say I’m somewhat familiar with the writings of Scripture and with what it tells us of the character of the Lord.
He is the one who established in the Mosaic Law a system of sacrificial temple worship. He is the one who established the feasts and assemblies. And yet he is also the one who said, through the prophet Amos:
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Long before that, he made clear through Moses his concern for the foreigner, echoed throughout Scripture:
18"He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19"So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
My friends, my brothers and sisters, my fellow Americans, tonight I am grieving. I don’t think ever before would I have imagined the extent of fear and hatred fill my people, Americans, brothers and sisters who claim Christ, as I have seen on display tonight. Are Americans a people of fear? In a land that rose up as one to defeat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, that stared down the Soviets and won the Cold War, that told Qaddafi and Saddam where they could stick their aggressions, that knocked the Taliban back into the stone age it came from, I do not see fear as one of our strong points. And yet tonight we wrap fear around us like a comforting blanket. Are believers in Christ a people of fear? With a history of speaking truth to power to end slavery in western civilzation, of standing firm to serve needs in the midst of war and disease when all rational people have fled, of returning to spread the gospel to the very people who killed your loved ones, I do not see fear among the saints who have marched in before us. And yet tonight we claim fear instead of compassion, veiled hatred over being our Lord’s hands and feet. We fear what we do not know or understand, and we have allowed louder voices to teach us to hate the Other.
My friends, fellow Americans, brothers and sisters in Christ, if we close our doors now I tell you we reject the America we have long celebrated. We claim fear over strength and hatred over humanity. We declare the American dream finally dead, no longer vibrant, no longer able to grow and thrive. We declare fealty to the Old World ways of separation and seclusion, focused solely on our insular comfort and prosperity and deeply suspicious of anything or anyone that might threaten them. As followers of our Lord the Christ, the one who declared the Mosaic Law fulfilled and who conquered death itself, I tell you if we close our doors now we aspire to be nothing more than the goats of Matthew 25. We no longer have any interest in serving the poor if it inconveniences us. We no longer care to visit anyone in prison, because why would we? They’re criminals, after all. And welcome strangers? No, we can’t do that; they might hurt us, you see, and we’ve paid a lot for our cloaks and our shirts and aren’t interested in giving up either, much less a crust of bread or a blanket.
My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my fellow Americans, I love you. You are my people. But if you do this, if you close your doors, if you turn away these huddled masses who no longer have a patch of dirt to call home, who barely escaped with the clothes on their backs from the horror of 4th century barbarism brought back to life…if you do this, you are no longer the people you have claimed to be. You reject the legacy of this land you call home and you reject the character of the one you call Lord. Tear down the damned Statue, build the wall, and tell the world once and for all that the America they thought they knew and looked to has left the building.
But that doesn’t have to be the way, and I say it must not. Are we truly a people of fear? No, we are not, and we should shout that from every mountain. We are not afraid of any nation large or small, and we are certainly not afraid of any 4th century band of idiotic barbarians who have the gall to think they can conquer the modern world with suicide bombs and small arms weaponry.
We have an opportunity before us, folks, and we need to decide not only who we are but who we want to be. We can show the world we really are weak, self-centered, full of fear and unable to help the least of these for fear of getting stung. Or we can show them what it means to be a light, a refuge, an example to the world of compassion and mercy to thousands, to show them what America is made of besides shock and awe. Which path will we choose? Who do we really want to be?
I for one refuse to live in a spirit of fear. I say let them come.