So what’s going to happen next? We’ll have restaurants which serve only Democrats and those which serve only Trump leaning Republicans. You know what comes then? Soon, you’ll find churches which cater to one particular political persuasion over another. Wouldn’t that be grand, to sit for an hour or so each Sunday morning with a group of people who look, think, talk, feel, and even vote identical to me! Wait, a minute, we’ve got that already. Welcome to America.
There is a place where this pseudo-dystopian reality already exists. I lived in Northern Ireland for two years. And like it or not, I found out the hard way: there are Protestant restaurants, Catholic pubs, Protestant grocery stores, and Catholic schools. I’ve lived in a place divided along ancient religious, political, and sectarian lines. Manufactured fear was the currency of the realm. I stood in the middle of those lines as Protestant pastor. Let me tell you the God’s honest truth about that world: it sucked. You don’t want to go there. You don’t want to raise children in a place where the first thing they’re asked in school is this: are you Catholic or Protestant? We don’t want to live in a place where tribalism becomes so predominant that declaring such a loyalty is the first step toward an education, a meal, or worshiping God.
I am not naïve. I sat with former Sinn Fein prisoners and Ulster Unionists. I listened to those, first hand, who languished in British jails. I prayed with my congregation members whose family and friends assassinated by Irish Republican terrorists. I’ve sat through modern day bomb scares. I was beaten and robbed in the street just yards from the front door of the Irish Methodist church I served. A tribalized society, fueled by self-righteous anger and socially sanctioned mistrust leads to more bullets, bombs, and killing. If you play this tape out, it doesn’t end with snarky tweets. Instead, people die.
What some Americans are talking about (kicking people out of restaurants as civil disobedience) is not the answer to closing camps on the border. I know this because it’s the failed dysfunctional reality in modern day Northern Ireland. Protestants live in East Belfast. West Belfast is majority Catholic. The British Army is still in Northern Ireland and the province is governed from London. Civil Disobedience died on Bloody Sunday.
Our blindness has descended swiftly and surely. America’s supreme moral arrogance is to believe we are going to reinvent the wheel when it comes to religion, society and politics. We are a self-aggrandizing and arrogant lot. Anything is on the table and everything is game because the past eighteen months have been so evil. We are wrong. We’ve convinced ourselves we are right. If we start down this road, it requires a toll, I can assure you, few are willing to pay.
There is much wrong with the present. Violence in Latin America is evil. Internment camps are evil whether opened by Wilson, Roosevelt, Clinton, either Bush, Obama, or Donald J. Trump. Asylum is good and joyful thing with a rich Biblical tradition. I do not believe it is too late, in eschatological terms, to condemn all that is evil and embrace all that is good. Our ability to be polarized depends on how much power we give to the polarization surrounding us.
Is it possible to make space at the grand Eucharistic table for those seeking asylum while we are fighting our own struggles of who carries the greater degree of moral clarity? That’s the question we face.
Tribalism, self-righteousness, and misdirected indignation only make the work of reconciliation harder.
We are all Syro-Phoenician women asking to be seen and heard. We have followed Jesus into a strange land. Refugees, asylum seekers for Grace, we seek only the crumbs from the table. None of us have permanent status. Whether it is the gift of race, birth, education; or presence here is fragile and based on sheer dumb luck. Some may call it privilege. Others may call it grace or the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whatever you term it, remember where to direct our outrage, how to direct our emotions, so that we can make the Kingdom bigger, not smaller. (Please go read Matthew 15-21-28.)
I want a bigger Kingdom and a bigger church that excludes no one. I mean everybody. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Gays, African-Americans, Latinos, Asylum seekers, Trans-gendered people, North Koreans, South Koreans, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and even University of North Carolina fans and alumni.
Richard Lowell Bryant