Let me give you a take on why the Muslim immigration ban instituted on Friday is neither Christian nor American that goes beyond the obvious “this is insanely cruel, heartless, and counterproductive,” all of which is true, by the way.
The take goes like this: Paul just about opens his address to the divided Corinthian church by telling them to check themselves before they wreck themselves. “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth,” he reminds them. But even before that, he begins his teaching with what must have been an astonishing image, even for Christians:
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Now, understand, the cross in those days wasn’t just a symbol of violent execution. It was a symbol of shame. Only the lowest of the low were executed on the cross, and they were left there for a good long while to symbolize Roman dominance. Yes, the crucifixion was a domination game, meant to convey to Jesus’ would-be supporters that the Roman state had complete control. The Romans could do whatever the f*** they wanted to supposed Israelite kings, prophets, even gods, and they let everybody know it.
But then here comes Paul saying, Embrace the weakness. “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” That’s God’s way, he says:
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Then he reminds them that they too were mostly low-born, not rich, not powerful. (Side note: his words imply that at least some of them were higher up the ladder.) Then comes something amazing:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
You dig this? God chose you humble people to make a point to the world. God chose you to show the world that all its wisdom and strength and power and might is all just a bunch of foolishness. (That word “foolishness” comes from the same root that gives us “moron,” by the way. God chose to show the world that it was a non-stop moronathon, in other words.) God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness to the world, is to embrace weakness, to embrace suffering, to embrace sorrow and rejection.
God chose to take human form in a man executed in a humiliating way as a threat to state security. You think that might be counterintuitive to the nominal Christians running the American government at the moment? God didn’t come to earth in the safe refugees, God took flesh in the guy who set off all the alarm bells.
And here’s the thing. The US may have—does have—a shitty track record with refugees, but it’s also had a track record of understanding that embracing the weakness is in fact strength, is in fact wise.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”? That’s not a statement of American generosity. That’s a statement that America is stronger by welcoming immigrants, refugees, people who need a second and third chance. We used to believe “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
The way I know that Americans used to believe that is that we tried, however imperfectly, to embrace the weak and do the foolish thing: care for them. Not just refugees or immigrants. All people. Again however imperfectly, however fraught with injustice, we at least freaking tried, because we believed that lifting up people in need made all of us better off. Now it’s just the law of the damn jungle. The extremist GOP runs on the wisdom of the world, which is to say: the survival of the strongest, or at least the best-connected. They want to boast before God:
David Brody: Tell me about how you view God. Donald Trump: Look at this beautiful place I bought on the Pacific Ocean!
That’s not an exact quote, admittedly, though it’s closer to exact than is comfortable. But let me tell you something. A word to the wise. Listen to Jesus’ blessings:
- “Blessed are the poor [or broken] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
- “Blessed are the meek [or humble or lowly], for they will inherit the earth.”
- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Each and every one of those is a blessing on people suffering right now, and a promise that they will rewarded in the future. Those of who have received our reward in this life? Well, great. Good for us. But the kingdom of heaven belongs to the people whose faces the president and his cronies love to grind into the dirt.
You hear that, Mr. President? You may think you’re pretty clever right now, but the humble people are going to get the earth, and the broken and the persecuted are going to get heaven, and it will only be by the grace of God almighty that there will be any room for you there, if there is any to be spared at all.
As for the rest of us, you know the drill. Embrace the cross and its message, which is solidarity for those suffer and tender compassion. Engage foolishness by the standards of the world, or, you know, else.+ + +