Simple Faith

by | Jul 2, 2018

Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

We Presbyterians have always valued education as a gift from God, and a source of empowerment and freedom from poverty.  We have also been rather prideful of being better educated than the general population, and we have held to rather strict education requirements for those seeking to become ministers of word and sacrament, as we prioritize an educated clergy.  What’s more, our polity, guided not only by the Constitution but also hefty case law from hundreds of years of ecclesiastical court decisions, has become so complicated that I often joke that it takes a master’s degree to understand it.

So as a cradle Presbyterian, I have appreciated the complexity of what one of my seminary professors called a “sophisticated” theology.  We know that the Bible speaks through multiple voices to tell the holy story of God and God’s people, and it’s often said that people can use Scripture to justify anything.  And our seminal theologian, John Calvin, was never known for simplicity of thought or faith.  Our recent General Assembly, like all others before it, revealed to participants the broad and diverse ministries and interests of the PC(USA), which was a joy to many and bewildering to others.

One characteristic of educated people is a tendency towards tolerance for different ideas.  This is usually considered a good thing—our Presbyterian penchant for argument (I often joke that for us, arguing IS a spiritual discipline) reflects our belief that disagreement is not a sign of division, but an opportunity to learn.  However, when I used to work with victims of domestic violence, we knew that this attempt to understand multiple views in education also leads to a higher=than-usual tolerance for abuse.   Our brain can explain away just about anything, and sometimes we can be victims of “analysis paralysis”—which has the side effect of helping us avoid any definitive action.

In the midst of all the complexity of faith that we enjoy in the Presbyterian Church, it’s important once in a while to be clear on the core of our faith.  For instance, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment, and added a close second, making it clear that this is the overarching dictate for our faith.  In fact, it’s one time when Jesus and the church leaders agree on some theological concept.

Another important priority in Scripture, attested to by its frequent mentions throughout the Old and New Testaments, is the call for economic justice and care for the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.

I mention this because in the midst of news overload, we may either gloss over situations that are too difficult to accept, or we may even seek some rationalization for actions that Scripture would read to be against the will of God.  I believe we are facing this as we continue to hear of our government’s failures regarding immigration.  First, we reversed our historic (albeit imperfect) commitment to help refugees seeking asylum from intolerable conditions abroad.  Then the government chose to criminalize asylum-seekers, many of whom followed our legal steps for applying for asylum, only to be searched, imprisoned, and have their children taken from them.  This has led to a judicial theatre of the absurd, as toddlers are left to argue their case for asylum alone before immigration court judges, after being separated from their parents.  Now that the government claims to have reversed this practice, and faced with a court order to reunite the families, there has been shocking inaction in returning the children to their traumatized parents.

As opinionated as I am, I try not to dictate to people what exactly is “right” or “wrong.”  And perhaps it seems redundant for me to express concerns over this incomprehensible callousness against families who are fleeing rampant and vicious violence.  But I cannot be silent as this government acts against our own laws and claims as a just society by failing to reunite the families that have been so ruthlessly separated.  And this is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg.  People who have lived legally in the United States for many years thanks to their Temporary Protected Status (TPS), having fled natural disasters in countries such as El Salvador and Haiti, are in danger of being deported as their status is being taken away.  And now that the oft-challenged “travel ban” has been upheld by the Supreme Court, some individuals may not even be able to visit family in the United States.

If we claim to love God, we must follow God’s will for mercy towards the stranger and the oppressed.  And if we love our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot push our neighbors away with specious fears of being “invaded” or “infested” by families seeking peace for their children.

In the face of these challenges to humanity, many of us want to respond.  As with other disasters, we can follow the guidelines given by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA):

  • Give:  You can give financial support to local families taking care of unaccompanied minors in Southern California through the UCARE Coalition with CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice)—you can send to the Presbytery and we will forward to them.  Also, PDA receives gifts here which they then channel back to local ministries.
  • Act:  See the related article on ways you can act as God leads you.  And you can learn from PDA’s site, which provides some resources on responses to the border crisis as well as to the travel ban.
  • Pray:  Always, pray.  If you don’t know what to pray for, David Gambrell from the Office of Theology, Formation and Evangelism offers the following prayer:

Reconciling and redeeming God,
we pray for children and families
separated at the U.S. border.

Protect those who are vulnerable,
deliver those who are in danger,
and encourage those who are afraid.

Change the hearts and minds of those
who establish these cruel policies.

Give wisdom and compassion to those
who are called to implement them.

Help us, in our words and actions,
proclaim this good news to all:
that nothing in life or in death
can separate us from your love
in Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Indeed, let us remember and take comfort in the sure knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.  And better, let us not separate our concern and love for God’s hurting children in our midst.

Praying that the peace of Christ invade all our hearts,