In the intergenerational Sunday School class that meets in a musty basement room of a Northern Virginia church, there are three people battling chronic and terminal diseases right now. But when the first call went out for prayer requests this Sunday, a woman stood up and asked us to pray for the refugees.
Fifty years earlier, she and her husband had spent time in the Middle East, and she was worried about the fate of people we might return to war-torn countries.
Roy, an older gentleman (who I know voted for Trump), spoke up, too. He had recently been tasked with teaching a citizenship course for immigrants.
“I taught it earlier during one of the Bush administrations, and [I] was quite confident I knew everything about the government.” Now, he says, “I’m not so sure.” This was a bit cryptic, but understood to be a criticism of President Trump’s travel ban.
Across the room, George (who grew up a Maronite Christian in Lebanon) seemed to side with the president. He cited a chaplain to the Queen who resigned to protest the reading of the Koran in a Christian church; this particular scripture suggested that Jesus wasn’t the son of God.
“These worldviews are diametrically opposed,” George said. “You can’t coexist with them.”
After our class was over, he told me a horrific story that I somehow missed about Afghan migrants who were arrested for committing gang rapes in Sweden.
What George was saying is that we live in a dangerous world. There are terrorists who would love to come here and murder us. Left unspoken is that our little Sunday School class wouldn’t last long in the seven countries on Trump’s travel ban list. Left unsaid is that George has probably seen things that many of the good parishioners who gather here haven’t. Left unsaid is that the Bible isn’t a suicide pact.
Interestingly, the church I’m attending was founded by a martyr. The first pastor was an abolitionist who opened a school for freedpeople. For this sin, he was murdered by the Confederacy.
Each week, sermons are given in diverse languages: Arabic, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and English.
This Sunday, however, the congregation was united across cultures: they were all disturbed and torn—and I feel certain that this congregation is a microcosm of what took place in houses of worship across America today. Christians, having seen images of protests—and having heard stories of green card holders and interpreters being detained at airports—are distraught.
Just a few days ago, Vice President Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president to personally address the March for Life. In a few days, Donald Trump is expected to nominate a Supreme Court Justice “in the mold” of Antonin Scalia. If you are a Christian conservative, there are reasons to be ebullient. And yet, there was no celebration today.
In the main service, Sunday’s (pre-planned) sermon was on Daniel standing up to King Nebuchadnezzar, and the title was a take on Robert Heinlein’s novel, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Roughly speaking, the theme was this: Christians are called to be countercultural. After stressing one issue where Mike Pence might agree (defending the “sanctity of Life”), the pastor noted that much of the Bible is also about refugees and migrants—from Moses to The Good Samaritan.
We are “citizens of heaven,” he said, which doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t be good, patriotic Americans. But it does suggest (as the old Hebrew National commercial used to boast), “We answer to a higher authority.” This may not be consistent with the Steve Bannon-ian “nationalism” that always puts “America First.”
There are plenty of verses to suggest this executive action is not in harmony with Christian scriptures. Here’s one: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” You can look it up.
More and more, what Christians are reading in church and what Christians are seeing in politics are at odds. But what happens when your spiritual worldview and your tribal duties come into conflict? Choosing the right moral path is not always easy. But then again, that's what houses of worship are for.