Knocking on Heaven’s Border

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When I logged on to Facebook one morning recently, my homepage pickings included a share by a high-school classmate, a post that had originated on a page called “Handcuffs for Hillary.” It had not even a vague connection to Mrs. Clinton — unless, I suppose, you believe she’s secretly funding the Central American migrants gathered along the Mexican border seeking U.S. asylum. Or maybe baking them cookies.

The post my classmate shared features a photograph of a procession of said migrants, one of whom is carrying a Honduran flag.

“Don’t come here waving your freaking flag!” reads the boldface inscription above the photo.

“You leave your country behind because of poverty and corruption but you drag your flag with you to our borders?” read the line below it. “Go home, take your flag and clean up your own mess before you bring it to our country!”

I was thinking to myself, “I wonder if the earliest Americans who saw pale, tired, disheveled people disembarking the Mayflower expressed similar sentiments,” but then I noticed a second Facebook share by the same old classmate. It was a sweet, pastel rendering of the Nativity scene, complete with beaming baby Jesus and a precious little lamb. It was captioned “The Reason for the Season.”

The clash of these juxtaposed words and images, the first set hostile, the second beatific, encapsulated a conundrum that’s been bugging me for several years now: How is it that some of my fellow Americans who profess a deep faith in and love for Jesus can hold views that seem to be in direct contradiction of Jesus’ teachings?

I’m no Bible scholar, but I’ve had a whole lot of Christian education in my lifetime, from weekly Sunday schooling to Wednesday night prayer meetings, even a few tent revivals. I’ve read Christian philosophers from C.S. Lewis to Thomas Merton to Dale Evans. Nowhere have I encountered the notion that Jesus counseled his followers to loathe, fear or resent the poor and downtrodden. I’d say Jesus was pretty clear in the Sermon on the Mount about what kind of folks “Blessed are….” The people who comprise the caravan are much closer to what Jesus described than anybody who hangs around Donald Trump’s gilded towers.

Before someone accuses me of being one of those naïve, reckless liberals who wants “open” borders, let me be clear: I don’t, and I don’t personally know any liberals or progressives who do. Though we are a nation of immigrants, we have a right to regulate the flow. We should be having serious, civil discussions of how to do that in a manner that’s fair and humane.

Demonizing immigrants is neither of those. There are almost certainly some bad guys in the current caravan. But it’s people of that undesirable ilk that our asylum-seeking process is designed to weed out. It’s just as true that the majority of the would-be immigrants on the whole are no better or worse than the Irish, Poles, Lebanese or Russians who’ve come here in hopes of a better life.

I’ve also seen a Facebook post recently by a friend of a friend, a Trump supporter who wants prayer and Bible reading back in the public schools. He said that he will forever despise Barack Obama for saying the U.S. “is not a Christian nation.” Actually, what Obama said was that we’re no longer “just” a Christian nation. He was simply acknowledging that we are considerably more diverse religiously than we were 250 years ago. He could have added that our glorious Constitution made the diversification possible and continues to protect it.

But let’s say, just for sake of argument, that we are a Christian nation. If that’s the case, the least we can do is act like it.

Feliz Navidad.

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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