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I’m horrified at what is being done to refugees and hopeful immigrants on our southern border. This treatment of our fellow humans is nothing short of outrageous. It’s a moral failing that I cannot stomach. I’m working on finding out where I can send support and money to help those caged by our government, in our name, with our taxes. I hope you’ll do the same.
But I’m not only furious with our current President, Donald Trump. I’m also incandescent with Mike Pence. Not that I expected better from the President, moral cretin that he is. But from Pence, on this matter, I expected more.
Let me explain.
Pence is wrong on gay rights and on a hundred other issues. I agree with him on so little I can’t come up with much other than that we both think that America is a good idea, even if we disagree on what the founding principles of this country are.
But we do share a Christian childhood. This gives us common ground.
I don’t talk about my religious history much, but Mike Pence wants you to know that he is a man of god. It forms part of his electoral argument, that he is a Christian man and will act as such. This allows us to judge him accordingly.
Again, Trump caging children and adults with indiscriminate hate isn’t a surprise, really. He’s the monster that I, and so very many others, feared. But with Pence we are stuck trying to reconcile the gap between what his faith says on certain matters, and what he actually does.
This is where Mike Pence becomes less than the zero that his tenure as Vice President could have tricked you into believing he is. As he won’t cop to what his professed religious leader (more on that shortly) demands as required, he’s less than a zero. He’s a damn net loss, someone content to use his religious faith to draw attention to himself while refusing to live out the ideals that his faith demands.
Let’s talk about it.
I have to give a short religious resume to continue, so bear with me a moment. My youth was spent in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I didn’t last. That church’s views on women, gay rights, even basic science, were antithetical to my budding worldview. I left the faith entirely around when my family began a move towards the Episcopal church, looking for a better home inside their religion. The Episcopal church, incidentally, is the same faith that my wife follows.
We have a deal. I go to church with her, and, in return, she buys breakfast. The latter half of the agreement made more sense before we got married, but the gist is that I’m the best-churched atheist you know. As a confirmed Lutheran I also have both religious training and a history of sincere faith under my belt. And unlike most American Christians, I actually show up on Sundays.
This brings us to today, when Liza and I arranged our schedule so that we could be in Providence in time for the 10 am service at Grace Episcopal Church. Sitting during the first minutes of the service I was mulling over what to title this post, and how to start it, when we ran smack into the gospel reading for the day, Luke 10: 25-37.
Even if you aren’t a person of faith, I recommend reading the following verses. They go a long way to showing what Christianity can be, and what most American Christians get wrong:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
In the beginning, Jesus nods at his interlocutor for a correct recitation of moral commandment. He appears willing to let things stand at that point. But then Jesus is asked to go further, to explain what it means to care for your neighbor.
Here, as with the best of Jesus’s teachings, we find a story both shocking and radical. Jesus uses religious leaders of his own familial faith as a negative example, calling them out in the story for failing to care for someone in need. Jesus demands that his followers do what the average person in the story did; that they take care of the weak and the needful and the sick at their own expense, whenever, wherever. Even on a dangerous road (as that path was at the time), and even if the person harmed is from a different people (the story of the Good Samaritan is also a key anti-racist parable, incidentally).
Jesus doesn’t expect that you’ll receive Earthly favor for following his commandments. It doesn’t matter if you are praised for caring for others (Luke 21:1-4). It doesn’t matter if you get paid back for what it costs (Luke 6:35). Jesus commands that Christians take care of those in need, full stop (Matthew 25:34-46).
It is these teachings that lead so many of my loved ones to stay in the Christian faith. The constant reminder to do well for others, and especially those in need, is a good demand.
And as Matthew 25 shows us, Jesus is pretty clear about what this dictate to care for other means for his faithful. It means salvation, which is to say everything:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Pence At The Border
Let’s return to our nation’s treatment of the meek, the poor, the sick, the hungry, the fleeing, and the dying at our border.
Mike Pence recently went to the Mexico-United State divide. After media reports detailed the terrible conditions that were to be found, he attacked not the treatment of the refugees, but the media! This, from a self-confessed Christian. A Christian leader no less. Someone willing to speak at national prayer events is more concerned about media coverage of the terrible actions of his administration than the actions themselves.
It’s an outrage.
Mike Pence has read the bible, heard the sermons, heard the message. And as his actions show, he’s either missed the message — making him an idiot — or he’s willfully ignoring Jesus’s plain-language commandments while claiming a Christian mantle. In this case he’s wicked.
I never expected a damn thing from Donald Trump except what we’ve gotten so far. But I hoped that Mike Pence would manage, from time to time, to summon the best parts of his faith, the same basic teachings that my wife and her family and my family and some of my friends follow.
Alas, it is not to be. This is the uselessness of Mike Pence. I would say damn him, but how can I improve on Jesus’s words?
‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’