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Fr. Richard Rohr

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Religion And Immigration: We Have Not Yet Begun To Love

Posted: 10/18/11 01:44 PM ET

If our love of God does not directly influence, and even change, how we engage in the issues of our time on this earth, I wonder what good religion is. "God talk" becomes an opaque screen in which we see only reflections of ourselves -- instead of any kind of true enlightenment or Light. "Anyone who says she loves God, and hates her brother or sister, is a liar" (1 John 4:20). None of us wants to be a liar, yet the high goals of religion make deceit and denial almost inevitable for all of us. (Read Paul's attempts to describe this paradoxical phenomenon in Rom. 7:7-25). For all o,f us, the daily question is this, "Have I even begun to love?"

Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:38). These two commandments mirror one another. How you love God is how you love your neighbor, and how you love your neighbor is how you love God. In one of his most famous stories, Jesus concretely illustrates this definition of "neighbor," making a Samaritan -- a foreigner -- a living example of one who knows how to be neighborly, even to his own isolationist and un-neighborly religion (Luke 10:29-37). As always, Jesus' teaching is highly subversive to both our private egos and our common cultures.

Most Christian "believers" tend to echo the cultural prejudices and worldviews of the dominant group in their country, with only a minority revealing any real transformation of attitudes or consciousness. It has been true of slavery and racism, classism and consumerism and issues of immigration and health care for the poor. From a religion based on a man who was always healing poor people and foreigners, it defies any logical analysis!

One would think that people who insist on being monotheistic would be the first in line to walk across the artificial boundaries created by nation states, class systems, cultures and even religions. But often they are the last! It makes one wonder if they believe what they say they believe. Religion has too often become the way to defend the self instead of the way to "let go of the self" as Jesus forthrightly taught (Luke 9:23).

Christians, in particular, know that Jesus primarily talked about the "Kingdom of God" as his defining world view. Yet, the vast majority of Christians in history have identified with their own much smaller kingdoms for which they were willing to fight, kill, surrender and grant pledges of total allegiance. "Caesar is Lord," has been the rallying cry of most Christians more than the first -- intentionally subversive -- creed: "Jesus is Lord!" (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3). Christian history up to now has been overwhelmingly and adamantly provincial, ethnic and tribal, much more than "catholic" or universal. We have defined ourselves more by exclusion than inclusion. Ironically, World Wars I and II were fought among various "Christian" tribes of Europe. Any reluctance to admit our embarrassing Christian history reveals our immense capacity for avoidance and denial of our own shadow.

National boundaries are simply arbitrary lines and mean little in the eyes of God: "The nations of the earth are like a drop on the rim of a pail, they count as a grain of dust on the scales... All the nations mean nothing in God's eyes. They count as nothing and emptiness" (Isaiah 40:15, 17). The New Testament puts it in a more positive way, "Our true citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20) and "we are mere pilgrims and nomads on this earth" (Hebrews 11:13) -- my father Francis loved to quote this passage from Hebrews to his friars, and how I wish we could hear it spoken with passion in our time.

We, on the other hand, identify with our land, homes and possessions as if ownership and real estate are, in fact, real! In time, we will all hear Jesus' message: "You fool!... This hoard that you have collected, who does it belong to now?" (Luke 12:20). I see little difference in the attitudes of those who consider themselves Christian and those who are openly secular and agnostic. Most Christian citizenship appears to be clearly right here -- on this little bit of very unreal estate.

So let's get real about where our estate is and what is our real estate. Are our security, identity and treasure in our small kingdoms or in the great "Kingdom of God"? As Jesus said, you cannot finally serve both of these demanding masters. (Matthew 6:24).

Finally, I encourage you to read the statistics concerning what immigrants have given this country. Most of our negative opinions of immigrants are not substantiated, but reflect our convenient prejudices. Historically, immigrants have a reputation for a dedicated work ethic and willingness to strive.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), "Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."

"We Have Not Yet Begun to Love: Religion and Immigration" by © Richard Rohr, OFM, Radical Grace, Fall 2011, Vol. 24, No. 4 is used by permission of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Visit Radical Grace to read the current and archived editions of Radical Grace.