Faith Lived Out: What will Jesus say?

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My family never came to the United States. That’s right. The United States came to my family, and I am not of Native American descent. My people were French immigrants, living in North America well before the Revolution. They were kicked up the St. Lawrence Valley by the British when that empire took control of the region. My ancestors lived in old Detroit, under English rule, and then they moved south, along Lake Erie. They enjoyed friendly relations with the Potawatomi community and were allowed to stop running. They made a subsistence living through hunting, trapping, and modest farming. One day in the 1790s Grandpa Louis and Grandma Agatha woke up and found that the union jack had been hauled down from the village flag pole. The stars and stripes were now waving. It was alright with them. They were happy to be part of the new nation. Their children even served the American cause during the War of 1812. My grandfather and four uncles gave honorable account of themselves. One was seriously wounded in action.

The winter of 1813 turned my family and others into war refugees. Their town was burned to the ground, they were starving, and they almost froze to death. Some of them braved the Lake Erie ice to reach relative safety in Ohio. My direct ancestors slogged over toward a quieter part of the Michigan Territory. In what is now western Michigan, a community of early Methodists took us in.  I love the United States. I am proud to be American.

flagbusesSo you can imagine my shame last week when some in California waved our flag while blocking the buses of people who entered the country without documentation. The passengers on those buses were overwhelmingly women and children. They need a place to stay while the complex issues related to their entry are sorted out. Some chose to wrap themselves in red, white, and blue to block the most modest of hospitality.

I don’t get it. With the exception of those who first lived in these lands, citizens of this country all came from somewhere else. Many arrived through abduction and unconscionable use of force. Even my people, who were here before there was a United States, arrived from across the ocean. When did it become American to deny this story?

Part III of our Social Principles details so many human rights and human respect issues that it is difficult to keep track of them. Among the many items highlighted, there is a word about immigration. Under the “Rights of Immigrants,” our church takes a clear stand regarding the inherent worth of all persons. We affirm that all, regardless of country of origin, are “members of the family of God.” Note that this statement and the more specific convictions which follow do not attempt to parse the details of immigration policy. We understand that people of good will may differ over the best approach to this issue. Children who enter the United States without family or friends and without a sustaining community may not be able to stay. It very well may be in their best interest to help them find a safe and affirming place among their country of origin. Those who profit from manipulating desperate people, taking their scarce resources with promises of an easy future in the United States, must be held accountable. Other matters must also be considered. However, nowhere among these legitimate concerns is there any room for mean-spirited reaction to powerless folk – most of them children. My God, do we really think it is American to wave placards dripping with vitriol at buses transporting kids?

Moreover, this is not simply an issue of citizenship and national identity. It is a gospel issue. For more than one hundred years, we have heard the question, “What would Jesus do?” It is a good question, but it is really only a hypothetical question. If we look at the end of Matthew 25, we see a glimpse of the final judgment. According to our theology, this is not a time of hypothetical scenarios. This is an appointment with the future. The question shifts from “What would Jesus do?” to “What will Jesus say?”

I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.
Matthew 25:40 (Common English Bible)

Jesus was on those buses last week, and this sobering thought should haunt everyone who claims to follow him.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

Join the conversation....

  1. Wes Andrews says:

    Chris, thank you for sharing your family’s story of immigration. My family immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1800’s. They were escaping a volatile political and social climate and were grateful to come to the U.S. They arrived in Galveston, Texas and were required to go through the legal immigrations process. They were eager to comply. We have documents, letters, journals kept by our family describing some of their experience. They gladly settled in the U.S. in the state of Texas as farmers and craftsmen. Some fought in WWI and WWII. I can’t imagine the sacrifices they were willing to make because of their love for this country.

    I have been on mission in Mexico building homes for people living in violent and deplorable conditions, and have been for many years part of an non-profit agency that helps refugees from all over the world settle in the U.S.

    I experienced revulsion in observing of the kind of “welcome” that those on the buses received which was ugly, sad, desperate, and very unChrist-like.



    But this issue is NOT about those people in California who appeared to be protesting the circumstance of desperate people, most of which are children, in need of a home.

    1. The issue is about our government (including Democrats & Republicans) that is FAILING to uphold its own laws, rules and principles that make immigration safe, legal, fair, and which prepares immigrants to have a successful and orderly entry into the U.S. as they establish citizenship.

    2. This is certainly the failure of our current President who has sent confusing cues to Mexico, Central and South America that the U.S. will not follow its law regarding immigration.

    3. This is about self serving political exploitation here in the U.S. by progressive minded politicians who really don’t care about the least of these crossing the border. It’s about “business” minded folk who were glad to look the other way because the “problem” allowed for cheap labor. I live in Texas. Unlike our President I have been to the border on many occasions have seen the utter chaos that is occurring and that is a real and growing crisis.

    The people in California were protesting our broken government which failed to include and inform their own city officials that our federal government was essentially dumping illegal immigrants, (yes, people who have arrived in the U.S. without following the law) on them without any coordination.

    We as Christians should welcome and serve the needy and reflect Jesus. But we should also do so by requiring our government and our elected officials to function according to our Constitution and our own laws. Laws of, for and by the people are designed to make this kind of process just, without the law we have chaos.

 (Not unlike our current UM chaos in which clergy break their commitment to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the UMC.)

    This crisis is manufactured by the corrupt and morally bankrupt. There has been no natural disaster, or even current war that causes an urgent need for the U.S. to change or ignore our own laws in order to help people. This is mostly criminal and politically corrupt people in power on both sides of the border exploiting the least of these.

    • Chris Momany Chris Momany says:

      Wes: I can tell that you have given this much thought, and I agree that the system needs serious repair. However I am very uncomfortable with the language of “dumping,” people — regardless of whether that reflects the behavior of governmental officials or the attitudes of people resisting those who come. I think a principled theology of “Imago Dei” must guide the overall discussion.

    • Wes, thank you for articulating a complex problem.

  2. Mark Payne says:

    I will state right up front that I am with Chris on this issue. As I read your response, Wes, there are points that I disagree with but I hear what you are saying. I understand your desire for the issues of justice and fairness in a chaotic situation. It would be great if there were clear answers that could be put into place and bring some sense of order around our borders. But I want to point out that politicians on both sides of the aisle are playing this to their advantage. Yes, some progressives may be trying to circumvent laws and policies to gain an impression of higher ground. I also see conservatives using this to rally certain groups to their cause by sticking to the letter of the law and ignoring the precarious nature of the children’s situation.

    I would question you on the statement that you made: “We as Christians should welcome and serve the needy and reflect Jesus. But we should also do so by requiring our government and our elected officials to function according to our Constitution and our own laws.” I’m not sure exactly what you meant here, but it sounds like you are saying that we reflect Jesus by requiring our government and leaders to follow the law. I would differ with you on that point. Jesus always held people above the law, especially those who were powerless and vulnerable and being used by the powerful.

Your thoughts?

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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