“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” And, I respond with my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, “I will with God’s help” (The Book of Common Prayer, pg 305). These questions and response are directly from our Baptismal Covenant that we reaffirm during each sacramental practice of Holy Baptism. I name the sacrament of Holy Baptism as a “practice” because, indeed, these promises, and others along with them, are promises we get to practice and implement every day of our lives. True, Christ has defeated death, once and for all, but we still get to practice dying to self daily that Christ may live and shine in and through us.
I need to be perfectly clear with all of you. It is of paramount importance that families not be separated from one another. And yes, I know that an executive order was declared to cease the act of separating families at our borders, and I am thankful for that action, but what about the thousands of families already separated? Will those families be reunited? At the time of writing this article, the reality of any reunification remains to be seen. Now, I fully realize that our immigration process is fraught with complexities, and I am in no way attempting to make immigration sound like a simple process. Immigration policies are complicated and multi-layered and far, far from perfect. At the beginning of the day, at midday, and at the end of the day, though, the families separated at the borders should have been able to remain together as a family unit, or at the very least, had every attempt for them to remain together. For, it is my general observation and guess that if most of us attempted to put ourselves in the shoes of those seeking safety for their families through coming up into our country, that we would want to remain united with our children in the process. For me, it does not cut it to declare that, “They knew the law and what would happen.” For one thing, there is not a “them” and an “us.” We are all one. We are all God’s beloved children, regardless of our country of origin. For another, those fleeing their life-threatening surroundings may or may not have known our laws, and even if these endangered children of God’s knew our laws before heading for our border, they were heading for hope and for safety for their loved ones.
It is hard for me to put myself in an immigrant’s shoes because I am one of the lucky ones. I was born in the United States of America. I am white. I am Christian. My parents are still married and love each other to this day. I grew up in a middle class household. I am heterosexual. I did not do or say anything to influence any of the above. Additionally, I was raised in a conservative household, which has served me well with many of the areas I have lived over the past forty years. I tend to remain quiet on many national issues today because our nation lives in polarized times, and I do not want to polarize any. Furthermore, I am typically quiet on justice issues due to the way I was spoken to and the way I was treated at my previous parish in West Virginia. In 2009 I attended our General Convention, and while there I voted my conscience for the consecration of an openly gay man to the episcopate. I came “home” from that General Convention and was raked over the coals by my church lay leadership. Notice that I have not run to serve as deputy for General Convention again. I have served on our Diocesan Council, Diocesan Budget Committee, and I currently serve on the Diocesan Commission On Ministry. None of those ministries have me at General Convention, though, do they? What has happened is that I have grown fearful, fearful of how you will respond. My last parish could not handle me acting justly and compassionately for the Gospel of Christ. How will you respond? I do not know, but I do know that I am tired of living in fear.
Our outreach team, along with Vestry, met in late June to discuss the moral issue of these families being separated. The congregation was invited, too. In listening to the healthy dialogue, I realized what has been bothering me for quite some time now. What matters most to me in my life, aside from my human family, is my relationship with God as I follow the life and example of Jesus of Nazareth. That is to say, the biggest thing I identify myself as is a Christian, a follower of Jesus. I have been observing that many are making idols of our political affiliations, or even making an idol of our nation. I will be the first to claim a love for our country. I have never served in the military, but I am quite thankful for the service of those men and women. I enjoy serving as Chaplain on our local fire department because I was always taught that it is important to give back to your community; the church was certainly included in the thrust of that communal giving, but more than the church engagement was expected of me. Now, I have many identities. All of us have multiple identities; husband, wife, son, daughter, grandparent, republican, democrat, independent, and the list could go on and on. Today, we are a people divided along party lines.
I really do not care who started the practice of separating families at the border. I really do not care if you are a democrat or a republican. What I care about is your love for Jesus. What I care about is how I influence you on Sunday morning during the liturgies I officiate and the sermons I preach. What I care about is how we treat our neighbors. What I care about is that we consider living in the light and love of Jesus with each word we utter and with each action we take. I want us to think for just a moment. What is more important to you, your political affiliation, or following in the example of Jesus? Are we making our decisions based upon the values of our party lines, or are we making decisions based on our relationship with Jesus? I am fairly certain that our Lord will not ask us at the Pearly Gates what our political affiliation was here on earth. I look forward to seeing you on the streets and in the pews as we choose to live into the promises we have made together through our Baptismal Covenant. May we proclaim the reconciling love of Christ through our words and our actions, individually and as a faith community.
In God’s Grace, +Eric Miller