In many churches around the world, last Sunday’s Bible text and its related sermon was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). How appropriate for our time. The priest in my parish gave a wonderful homily that caused me to think about how so many of our social values and morals are rooted in Christianity. The roots run so deep we often completely forget they are even there.
Just a refresher: The Good Samaritan is the man from Samaria who, in the parable told by Jesus, helps the Judean man who had been robbed and beaten on the road — after two of the man’s fellow Judeans had passed him by. We have to remind ourselves that the people of Samaria (the “Samaritans”) and the people of Judea (the “Jews”) did not like each other at all. They had different accents and even different versions of scripture. There was long-standing distrust, disagreement and disrespect on both sides. They hated each other. But, nonetheless, the Samaritan did the right thing and loved his neighbor. He was the one who behaved as he ought to.
Our priest, in his homily, asked us to imagine that we are the man injured in the ditch, looking up, and we hear the words “let me help you” spoken to us with a strong Spanish or Arabic accent. You could hear a pin drop in our church. My congregation is well-traveled and some may have been thinking of a time when they, in a foreign land, were assisted by a Mexican or a Moroccan. I know that’s what I was thinking.
What is it that so offends us in what is happening at our southern border? It is, quite simply, that we residents of the West, of what used to be called “Christendom,” have so thoroughly accepted the message of this parable that most of us believe no one who needs help should be ignored. It didn’t used to be this way in the world. As great as the Greeks and Romans may have been at so many things, the fact is that empathy, charity, forgiveness, mercy and concern for the weak were not on their A-list of important traits.
So, there I was in the pew, despite my best intentions, daydreaming about other issues that are offending me under our current regime. And again and again, they were issues which my beliefs as a Christian (I happen to be a Catholic one) demand that I address in my words and actions. These religious issues are going to be front and center in the 2020 campaign:
— High on the list is health care. I feel that it is my “Christian duty” to work for a fair, universal health care system, similar to ones that exist in every other First World Western country and many developing countries. After all, it was the early Christians who literally invented the hospital.
— Corporate predatory profit gouging and tax avoidance/evasion, in health care and many other areas. This is closely related to the widening income disparity in our country. A number of popes, including the current one, have warned us of this problem over the last one hundred years. The Republican Party has clearly become the party of corporate interests, placing the well-being of corporations above people over and over. Where is the respect for the human person that my religion demands? Cut the legal mumbo jumbo of “corporate personhood,” give us a break.
— The cultivation of an economic system that causes more and more people to incur unsustainable debt. This happens on account of the high costs of post-secondary education, high housing costs, medical insurance and out-of-pocket expenses. This is simple exploitation of humans to serve the institutions that charge and collect high interest. This is against my religion. Usury is a serious sin — yes, that’s an old-fashioned word, but it fits the bill.
— A foreign policy that appears more and more to be based on coercion above cooperation. This entails so little talk of peace and so much talk of military strength and strikes, including a national military parade through Washington on the July 4. The Fourth celebrates a document and an idea, not a war, not military might. We didn’t have much military might in 1776.
— A rejection of climate science and our obligation to lessen greenhouse emissions and soil pollutants. We have a moral and spiritual responsibility to care for our planet and “God’s creation.” Is this a religious issue? Perhaps it was not originally, in the early days of the environmentalist movement, but it has become a religious issue now — perhaps especially for those for whom environmentalism is their only religion.
— The misuse of religion to consolidate political power and foster extreme nationalism. A concrete example is the fact that in far too many churches in the U.S., the American flag is being placed not only inside the church, but even in the sanctuary quite close to the altar. In the American South, July Fourth has become a “high holy day” in evangelical fundamentalist churches — with ceremonies and music that blend nationalism together with their brand of Christianity. Trump’s crew is well aware of this.
— The injection (or implication) of End-of-Days apocalyptic thinking into mainstream political decision making. An example of this is evangelical white voters placing their support solidly behind Trump because he is playing his necessary role as laid out in God’s master plan leading up to the End of Days. Make no mistake about it, this is a significant factor in Trump’s Religious Right voter support (for example, see Newsweek, Jan. 12, 2018, by Christina Maza).
— Somewhat related to the above, the issue of the uncritical and unwavering support that the current White House is affording to Israel. This is only going (to) lessen the chances for peace there and worsen the welfare of Palestinians, while making Israel less safe for Israelis — and increasing antisemitism around the world.
— Last, but not least, the vilification of Islam and all Muslims. This is a religious issue that will continue to be a major factor in the 2020 elections, whether it is addressed openly or only via code words and carefully veiled reference (pun intended). My religion teaches me to respect all peoples, and if we can’t cooperate, (at) least we can co-exist in peace.
To those who think we are living in or headed toward a “Post-Christian” age or a “Post-Religion” age, I have a newsflash for them: Nope, not a chance. The 2020 election cycle is going to be laced through and through with issues of religion and faith.
The “separation of church and state” has never meant (for one minute) that religious values would never enter into political debate. How is that possible? It is not. We cannot afford to pretend that we can avoid these religious issues in 2020 by taking a “non-religious neutrality.”
As the great Jewish intellectual Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This is no time to be silent.
John Nassivera is a former professor who retains affiliation with Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. He lives in Vermont and part time in Mexico.