“We Have Failed at Christianity.”


Peering through the U.S.-Mexico border, August 2005. Photo by Jason Miller

On Sunday after running to catch the bus in order to make it to Church on time, I hid in the back row, still trying to catch my breath. But when the homily started, what the priest said nearly made me jump out of my seat. He started off by saying that “We have failed at Christianity.” I found my head nodding in agreement to this startling revelation when he noted that when angry mobs confront busses of children from Central America telling them to go back to their home countries[1] as they did in California recently, we’re forgetting about what it means to be Christian.

The priest went on to say that we’re comfortable with Christianity and even with helping others as long as it doesn’t affect us directly. But anytime we have to get within the margins—leave our comfortable homes, or do anything more than write a check, we’re unable to act. We fail as Christians. Powerful words that had folks in the pews clapping by the end, but as I sat there I wondered whether or not anyone on Capitol Hill would heed these wise words?

As someone who does advocacy work on behalf of Franciscans who are working with those outside of the margins of society—including undocumented immigrants and unaccompanied minors, I often wonder if anyone in Washington hears us. It’s difficult to measure success in my line of work, and sometimes after the end of a hard day, I wonder if it’s not time to try to find another job. I had these thoughts especially as I watched the news about the busses arriving to jeers in Murrieta, CA.

Have we learned nothing from our own history of a nation—why it was founded, or how we have mistreated the “other” throughout our own history?

Have we forgotten about our own shared humanity?

In Washington, D.C., one can become quickly cynical, as budgets must be balanced on the backs of those who need help the most, and political games are played to score points, rather than serve the people that officials were elected to serve. But when I saw the scenes from Murrieta, I was shocked and ashamed.

How desperate must a parent be to send their child on a dangerous journey, perhaps to die in the desert, not knowing whether or not that their child will survive? Tens of thousands have done that since the end of last year alone. That’s sheer desperation, and a full-blown humanitarian crisis—not an “illegal” immigration problem.

Collectively as a nation, as Christians, and as human beings, we have failed the least of these. Rather than caring for these children at the border, we don’t know what to do, engulfed by partisan hypocrisy, we are even unable to treat them with basic human dignity. Jesus is at our doorstep, and we have slammed the door in his face. Each of us should be ashamed of our inability to act. Financial cost or political points should no longer matter—but rather as Christians, we should do what the Gospel compels us to do and answer the call by caring for the children who have arrived at our front door.

Instead, we have failed as Christians and as human beings. And each and every one of us would be wise to heed the words of Thomas Merton who experienced a conversion one day on the streets of Louisville:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness…I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”[2]

I pray that our nation wakes up from our dream of separateness and that we realize our shared humanity and help the least of these—the children at our border, because we are indeed all shining like the sun.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/02/protesters-in-california-block-busloads-of-immigrant-children-and-families/?tid=sm_fb

[2] http://www.law.louisville.edu/cardinallawyer/node/61

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 11:42 pm  Comments (16)  

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  1. Turning our back to these people is inhumane and selfish, but what has the president of the USA have to say in regard to this matter.
    Although Germany has a country the size of Idaho, Angela Merkel also has many at the border. The difference is that she is not allowed to turn anyone way.
    Since WWII ,
    GERMANY is under oath to take in all immigrants no matter their home of origin.Not an easy task for the tax payer or any german citizen,but it is done.
    So why can’t the USA work it out? Can someone explain.

  2. Obama has instructed his people not to turn them back or to attack them. It is the local citizenry who are doing this, not your government. Unlike here in Australia where it is our government (and a proportion of our population) who are guilty of such heinous crimes. We are none of us powerless to stop this – it is up to us to ensure that our government (state or Federal) knows what we want them to do, or to stop doing. Voting in an informed manner is also an essential part of being a participating citizen.

  3. Our nation (i.e. We Taxpayers) helps MANY outside of our borders as well as those who choose to break our laws by entering illegally. I don’t believe this is a matter of being ‘unChristian’, it’s a matter of the reality of our resources. We simply cannot afford to pay for the all the needs of the world and be responsible for our own support as well. Taxpayers are burdened to a breaking point. Take a look at the private sector’s humanitarian efforts, and then decide if our nation is still failing at Christianity.

    • You are correct in saying taxpayers are burdened to the breaking point which is why this nation needs to STOP putting people in Washington that continue to maintain the status quo policies that have allowed the top 2% wealthiest in this nation to create the greatest income disparity gap internationally. There are more than adequate resources to take care of these women and children. Do you not realize that it is OUR nation that is the very cause of these people’s desperation??? It is this nation’s demand for drugs that fuels the drug cartels in their countries and places their lives in danger. We sure are Johnny on the spot to want to go fight for oil but where are we to go fight to fix the problems that we’ve created elsewhere??? We just have to change policies such that the resources are available and not a burden on the backs of the people who have always been forced to bear the brunt of the nation’s tax burden. Get the obstructionist out of Washington and you will see the best thing that ever happened for this entire nation. We will be able to take care of our own and others as Christians and with a clear conscience!!!

    • Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up, 1 Corinthians 13:4. Now tear down that statue,don’t tell people with the Lord all things are possible. It is clear where your faith lies. By the grace of God that could be you.

      • Do you mean all the resources we take from other counties? The same countries whose poverty we depend in to maintain our excessive wealth?

    • If our tax load were more equitably distributed, if the richest of the rich (not you and me of middle America), would simply pay a fair tax, the U.S.A. would be well-positioned to honor the vision carved into the tablet of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
      This issue is just the same as all other greed-charged issues regarding the poor and downtrodden. America has become a nation of, “keep your hands off my stuff!” …all the while, we law-abiding taxpayers are shouldering the burden of massive (billions of dollars) welfare going to the wealthiest corporations in the world. Yet, how many times have you heard newscasters screaming from your television set that we have to shut down welfare fraud that’s costing this nation hundreds of thousands of dollars? Hundreds of thousands? Even if it were $999,999.99 – which is as many hundreds as can fit into thousands, we’re not even close to the amount of money being squandered from the nation’s coffers by multi-billion dollar corporations; money that should be spent taking care of our infrastructure, of you and me – and the least of us. And the solution to fraud we offer?… take away, or make it nearly impossible to receive, welfare (food and shelter).
      “It’s for their own good,” we say… if they can’t make a living, we’ll force them to – or let them go hungry, homeless, die. If they come to America looking for opportunity, or sanctuary, we tell them we can’t afford them. Like hell.
      As a nation we ARE failing at Christianity. Individuals and altruistic organizations are doing what they can – and it is indeed honorable and Christ-like. However, as a nation that claims (loudly) to have been founded on Christian beliefs and principals, we have an obligation to put our money where our mouth is.

  4. Point well taken. Shouldn’t we be asking WWJD on this issue? “Let the children come unto me.” “Whatever you do for the least of these…” God will be merciful only if we “stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows.”

  5. Great article, and great reflection on how we have responded to this refugee crisis. The image of people screaming at a bus full of traumatized 12-year-olds is shameful and embarrassing. The media must share the blame as well for mis-characterizing who these refugees are, and who they are not. I just wrote an article on this same theme at http://nietorlaw.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-to-view-refugee-crisis-compassion.html

  6. Reblogged this on myfullemptynest and commented:
    Help the child refugees. Visit: http://fs7.formsite.com/NaLEC/form6/index.html

  7. when a country doesn’t mind killing 1.6 million of its own children each year, why would anyone think it cares about 60K from other countries?

    • When you’re ready to help sustain life outside the womb your comment will have merit. Until then stop pretending to be pro-life.

      • My thoughts exactly.

  8. I’m sorry but as a Christian I don’t agree with your conclusion. Americans may be failing to be Christians, but its not because we aren’t willing to give hand-outs to the impoverished.

    The United States is the most generous nation on earth, and American evangelicals are the most generous portion of that nation, giving more to charity per year than any other group on earth. When there is a disaster, even in areas where the people hate us, such as Muslim nations, we send money, and supplies, and we go ourselves. This is precisely because of our Christian heritage. By contrast, even extremely wealthy Muslim nations don’t reciprocate when we are the ones in the midst of the disaster.

    While we are supposedly guilty of not caring for the least of these, because of our social welfare system our poor live better than the rich in many nations – they have cell-phones, cars, cable, A/C, and food so plentiful that obesity rather than starvation is the great health risk for our poor. It is precisely because of our generosity that the world’s poor are flooding here, but at some point common sense has to come into play. Our social welfare system cannot absorb and provide for all of the world’s poor, we are already going into massive debt attempting to provide for the poor who already live here and it is our entitlements rather than discretionary spending that makes up the majority of our budget. At some point we have to be able to say, no mas.

    I know that you will almost certainly disagree with me, and perhaps point to higher taxation and cutting military spending (19% of our budget and scheduled to eventually drop to 5% of the budget) as the solution. But we are still expected to defend the free world, our Corporate taxes are already the highest in the first world, we print 87 billion dollars of new money every month to pay just the interest on our debt, and our economy is shrinking at an alarming rate as the ranks of the unemployed grow.

    Where do you suggest we find the money necessary to feed, clothe, house, doctor, and educate tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors?

    • I agree. Compassion is part of who we are, but the question is always from where will the resources come to take care of these refugees? Also, why come in droves now? Are all the buses full of unaccompanied children or others traveling with the children as a cover? Why have laws if we disregard them randomly during the next “crisis de jour”? This is more complicated than “failing Christianity”.

  9. […] ~ Jason Miller, “We Have Failed at Christianity” (Acting Franciscan blog) […]

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