I was having dinner with friends at Exeter’s 11 Water Street, a restaurant I favor for juicy medium-rare cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries, talking politics at a time Donald Trump was surging and GOP “moderates” were falling like granite bits chipped off the Old Man of the Mountains.
“I can’t decide who to support,” she said.
“Must it be Republican?”
“Yes. I’ve never voted Democratic.”
As we debated the virtues and vices of the GOP contenders I blurted, without really thinking: “Is it possible to be both Republican and Christian?”
She was startled; my question appeared to challenge her identity, her role in her vestry, her support for one of the ubiquitous white clapboard churches that sits in the center of so many American villages and towns.
I was a bit embarrassed. I hadn’t meant to call her out, and apologized, and explained further that I was wondering if one could be a follower of ANY faith tradition and Republican.
I love my friends, their passion for history, their faith in America’s institutions and their commitment to maintaining their Republican identity. And I love that most Americans, of so many varieties and degrees of faith find ways to know and work together to support a nation we love.
But what I’m hearing today — from both GOP candidates and their supporters — are messages of exclusion and separation that don’t comport with any understanding most of us have of Scripture from the Abrahamic traditions nor from any humanistic and secular understanding of the interdependence of humanity — nor is there acknowledgement that America might be partly responsible for the grievous plight that afflicts so many — at home or abroad.
Things have changed, I argued, and together we considered whether it’s possible to be fully committed to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution — which argue against any religious test — while also favoring policies of exclusion, expulsion, marginalization and disenfranchisement based on privileging some religious values above others.
No! It’s not possible, I believe, for those who praise God on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to then for the rest of the week also be committed to undo the moral, ethical and social ties that bind us as Americans.
I know that not all children of Abraham, for example, espouse supremacist and exclusivist views but those that do — and who embed them into privileged political platforms — betray the lives created and sacrificed in order to sustain the communal values we cherish.
I cannot find in Scripture words to deny the poor, discriminate against other religions, imprison the powerless, torture the captive, empower the elites, permit usury, restrict voting rights and deny refugees sanctuary.
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9
I cannot find in our Constitution that any religion is privileged above others.
Recently, Pope Francis commented on Trump’s plans to build a wall: “… And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel… I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
Francis didn’t say Trump isn’t Christian; he said problems can’t be solved by only building walls.
We must recognize that which has so rightly guided generations of secular and religious Americans is bridge-building; that although America is by design a secular nation, informed by Judeo-Christian traditions, we’ve all come here via bridges built by others — and across such bridges others will travel.
“We shall either learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we shall perish together as fools.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We’re strong not because we have higher walls and bigger prisons but because Americans together have signed onto a unique aspirational vision that includes, “…your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”
“One who cares for widows and the poor,” Prophet Muhammad said, “is like those who fight in the way of God or those who spend their days fasting and their nights praying.”
Rabbi Hillel the Elder, asked if he could teach Torah while standing on one foot answered, “What is hateful to you do not do unto others.”
Today, how can America avoid doing unto others what is hateful to us?
Do we affirm the humanity of Dreamers, migrants, refugees and immigrants — or do we live out of a dark place where our hearts become but stones stacked by uncaring masons, mortared by eight years of fear.
“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 25:45
Does America, through overweening arrogance, want to erect, as Richard Niebuhr wrote, “A pyramid of moral preferences on the basis of a minimum moral law,” or do we want to build a habitat for humanity where all mankind is sheltered?
“Beware! Beware! Do not ever be neglectful of orphans,” Caliph Ali wrote to his son Hasan, “I warn you again, never leave an orphan hungry and unprotected.”
We jeopardize our future if we neglect such visions of sages, prophets and Founding Fathers and I wonder if it’ll be the salty tears of neglected orphans, migrants, the weak, the poor and vulnerable that’ll seep through walls, effloresce and crystallize on our souls and weaken all to which we’ve been called.
“Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them!“ Ecclesiastes 4:1
“And on the last day – because all of us will have one! – that day what shall the Lord ask us?” Pope Francis recently asked. “Will he say: ‘What you have said about me?’ No! He shall ask us about the things we did.”
We’ll be asked about the things we did.
This column was originally published in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald