The mandates of faith

Published 7:36 pm Friday, August 9, 2019

Jews, Christians and Muslims, for all their differences, claim the same scripture as authoritative and purport to pray to the same God.

The second assertion was called into question for me a couple of months ago when I got into a discussion (to put it politely) with a Christian brother with whom I disagree on almost every issue. We were like two old dogs fighting over the same bone. He grasped one end and I the other, and we pulled for all we were worth, which, considering our ages, wasn’t all that much. I finally let go of my end, because, to me, the bone smelled funky and looked diseased. He swore on his mother’s King James Bible that it was as fresh and healthy as a newly baked loaf of bread.

The “discussion” started over coffee and sticky buns when I offered that I was appalled to read in the day’s paper about how our dear President’s visit to little ol’ Greenville, North Carolina, turned into a xenophobic pep rally. Apparently, most of those in attendance “spontaneously” chanted “Send her back,” surprising the President who later claimed to have been caught off guard.

To my Christian friend, I offered that calling for the ouster of democratically elected officials not only violated the democratic principles upon which the nation was founded but also violated some fundamental Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions about how refugees and immigrants are to be treated. You know — the loving your neighbor as yourself kind of thing. The mandate to welcome rather than oppress the stranger and treat him as a native (Lev. 19:33). Jesus’ injunction to love your enemy as yourself (Matthew 5:44). And Mohammed’s admonition to show kindness and hospitality to the refugee (Quran 4:97, 99-100).

To which my brother in Christ replied, “Well, I guess we will just have to agree to disagree about this one, friend. But at least we pray to the same God.” And I thought: Do we really? How can the same God call for the expulsion of native born Americans (or anyone else for that matter) and, at the same time, call on His people (chosen and otherwise) to welcome all kinds and conditions and colors and nationalities of foreigners into their land with open hands and hearts.

As much as the thought upsets me, it would seem that the God of the good folks at the rally — mostly white and probably mostly Christian — is not the same one I read about in my Bible. Throughout the sacred Book common to all three world religions (popularly referred to as the Old and New Testaments), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Jesus and Mohammed is a devoted lover of Creation, even humans beings and that Leviathan, whom She made for the sport of it (Psalm 104:26).

When I was but a wee lad in Sunday School too many years ago to mention in public, we sang our little hearts out whenever the piano player started in on “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” You remember:

“Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world.

Red, brown, yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

The teacher summed up the song’s message in just seven words: God loves everyone and you should, too. Maybe my fellow Christians at the rally missed Sunday School that day.

Trump’s rally supporters profess to follow a radically hospitable savior who welcomed everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — into a community of love. How can they do that and shout “Send her back” at the same time?

Welcome the stranger. Love your neighbor. Let the little children come unto me. These are the mandates upon which the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths are based. May our churches, synagogues and mosques be as determined to honor them as they are to honor God.

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopalian priest, former lawyer and a Washington resident.