A Christian Nation?

Luke 15: 1-7  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

I am not in the habit of quoting scripture in my writings, and my reasons for this are both multiple and already stated in prior essays.  But all too often I encounter people who seem to want to impress us with how ‘Christian’ they are while lacking any foundation from anything Jesus did, said, or taught in the Gospels.  (Similarly, some of these same people throw around the words, “constitutional” and “unconstitutional” as if they know more about the U.S. Constitution than someone who taught constitutional law at an accredited law school.  But I digress.)

When Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl – or “Pvt.” Bergdahl, to hear him tell it –was released from captivity with the Taliban in Afghanistan in a prisoner exchange, there was an issue.  That issue was that it happened while the President of the United States was Mr. “I-Hate-That-Guy.”  Never mind that Bergdahl had been captive for 59 months (Quick math: One month shy of five years), a good chunk of his life.  Never mind the military code of “No soldier left on the battlefield.”  No, the accomplishment of getting our sole POW from our Afghanistan engagement had to be besmirched by the conservative media and talking heads.  First, criticize the President for giving a go-ahead to the swap because, you know, the five Guantanamo detainees are the Taliban’s ‘A-Team.’  Then, slime Bergdahl himself; “He’s a deserter!”  “He’s a traitor!”  “Soldiers were killed looking for him!”

Oh, and before President Obama was criticized for getting Bergdahl released at all, he was criticized for not bringing him home sooner.  One could get whiplash from such a quick pivot!

Meanwhile, as of this writing, the criticisms have not yet passed the sniff test, if they ever will.  Four of the five Guantanamo prisoners exchanged for Bergahl’s release were Taliban bureaucrats, not active combatants.  The fifth may have had a military role with the Taliban, but all five had aged over a decade in captivity.  They will spend a year in an American-friendly nation monitored and unable to leave that country.  In the unlikely event that any become combat-ready to threaten the U.S. or our allies, it won’t be soon.  If we were at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan, the five detainees were POWs and eligible for a prisoner exchange under normal wartime policies.  If they are terrorists as the term is commonly understood, then they are criminals who long ago should have been charged, put on trial, and convicted in accordance with our constitution.  Calling them “enemy combatants” instead of POWs is a distinction without an articulated difference, and appears only to serve violations of our constitution.

As for consequences for what led to his capture, that is under investigation.  So far we know that deaths of soldiers have not been directly linked to any search for him, and it may be impossible to do so.  What do we know of Bergdahl’s version of events?  So far all that has been given is that he was beaten and held in isolation after an escape attempt.  It’s easy to take a side when you only have heard one, but “innocent until proven guilty” is a principle that applies to American military justice as well as our more familiar court system.  The expedience of rushing to judgment does not qualify as an American value.

But more to my point, where is the joy in the finding of our ‘lost sheep?’  Where is the celebration for the return of the son who insulted his father and squandered his inheritance, as told in the parable of The Prodigal?  Where in the Gospels does Jesus say, “Him?  Fuck that guy.”

I realize that not everyone is a Christian, and the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that none of us is required to be.  If you are of a different faith tradition or are a non-believer, you are not one I am calling out here.  My quarrel is with those who proclaim the name of Jesus with little or no regard for his teachings. If you truly believe that Jesus would have you leave Sergeant (unless it’s ‘Private’) Bergdahl in the hands of hostile captors, kindly make your case.

And now I shift my focus to the people of Murrieta, California.  At least I think most of them dwell in or near Murrieta.  I’m not aware of a residence survey, nor do I know for certain who or how many among them self-identify as Christian.  So my disclaimer here is that I am making an assumption that at least some of the protesters call themselves Christian despite their un-Christ-like conduct.  The activity that put this community — very near where I was born and raised — in the news is that a crowd of protesters successfully got three busloads of undocumented immigrants from Central America to turn around and go back to San Diego rather than be screened and processed at the Murrieta station.  These immigrants, mostly children, had been flown to San Diego from Texas, where they had crossed the border with Mexico and surrendered to the Border Patrol.  Most of the children were unaccompanied by adults, and tens of thousands of them have been crossing into the U.S. in recent months, more than can be processed – as U.S. law requires – efficiently in Texas.  It is very apparent that the protesters do not grasp the function of the immigrant processing center in its outskirts, what ‘processing’ entails, or appreciate the jobs or other economic benefits such a facility brings to its community.

The law, passed by The House and approved in the Senate by unanimous consent and signed in 2008 by then-President George W. Bush, says that unaccompanied minors from non-contiguous states (i.e., not Mexico or Canada) must be processed by the Department of Health and Human Services, have safe housing provided, and advised of legal rights until they can appear in court prior to deportation.  Calls for President Obama to immediately deport them to their home countries – or Mexico — are really asking him to break the law.  Some of the fear for following this law is that some of the undocumented immigrants might be bringing diseases into the U.S., and therefore into their communities.  Fair enough, but processing includes screening for diseases, so the bus turn-around only delayed that.  Nice job.  And do some of these protesters really believe that just dumping them just across the border in Mexico will keep disease from coming into the U.S.?  Are they aware that Mexicans cross the border, too?  Only they don’t usually surrender to the Border Patrol immediately upon doing so.

But paranoia trumps facts.  I get that.  Who wants to contemplate empirical truths when it contradicts your raging predispositions?

So, dear Christians, ponder; Luke 10: 25-37.  This is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  I trust this one is familiar enough that I don’t need to retell the story.  However, I would point out that Jesus chose a Samaritan as the good guy because of how Jews in his day regarded them.  Samaritans were considered not just foreign, but as reviled, heretical half-breeds.  I think it’s clear enough that Jesus wanted his listeners, Pharisees, to consider the humanity of those they hated or feared.  Also, there’s Matthew 25: 31-46.  You can look up this passage yourself to read it in full, but I will tell that it does not say, “I was a stranger and you shouted, “GO HOME!” at me.

I would venture that most – if not all – of the children on the buses were unable to read the messages on the protesters’ picket signs, and likely they were unfamiliar with the language of the angry shouts and chants directed their way.  But even the toddlers among them could have discerned hostility from friendliness.  Kindly explain to me how irate shouting at children is something that Jesus would have you do.  Hell, explain how this comports with your concept of basic human decency.