The Most Important Letter

This month’s events in El Paso, the presidency of Donald Trump, the realignment of American political parties over the past fifty years – indeed the totality of American history itself on this, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first documented black slave on our shores – can be summarized by one powerful letter:

W.

Mariana Chmielowicz was born and raised in the kingdom of Galicia in the late 19th century.Galicia was the poorest region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an amalgam of Poles and Slavs in the middle of what would soon become Europe’s bloodiest battleground.

Whether through good luck, ingenuity or a little of both, Mariana joined thousands of Galicians in emigrating first to Germany then by ship to New York City. She left the day after Valentine’s Day, 1902, with $12 in her pocket and, for the Anglophones of her new home, an unspellable, unpronounceable Polish name. The clerk recording her entry beneath the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on March 1 noted her simply as “Chmiel, Maria.”

She told immigration officials she was joining a cousin at a labor farm in Priceburg, a suburb of Scranton in eastern Pennsylvania whose name would soon be changed to Dickson City.

By 1910, Mariana had met and married Josef Matan, a fellow Polish migrant, who had been born on the western edge of Russia – a couple in the

closing years of the long 19th century fleeing the convulsive final decades of European empires soon to vanish in flame and blood, entering through the golden door beside which the Mother of Exiles lifted her lamp.

“Matan” was a shorter name, but apparently no easier for English speakers to spell correctly. The growing family – three living children by the time Census taker Joseph Eisenberg knocked on their door across the railroad tracks from the Lackawanna River in the working-class Scranton suburbs – was spelled “Matta,” “Maden” and “Maton” on official documents for decades.

But regardless of misspellings, the Matan family received something far more valuable from Eisenberg on April 26, 1910: under the column marked “Race,” he scratched the letter W.

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No matter their language (they couldn’t read or write English yet), no matter their birthplace (European backwaters), no matter their nationality (nonexistent at the time), the Matans had the W.

Continue reading The Most Important Letter

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A Meditation on Luke 10

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.

“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

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Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 

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Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 

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So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 

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But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 

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He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 

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The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

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Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

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He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Christians Saying (and Doing) the Right Thing – and Not – on Family Separations

Since my post about the abhorrent family-separation policy enacted by the Trump administration, two major developments have occurred:

One, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders invoked Romans 13 in defending this egregiously anti-Christian policy. I don’t have much to add to the many, many words of outrage directed at this despicable misreading of Scripture, except maybe two things:

  • The Atlantic pointed out the use of Romans 13 to justify slavery in antebellum America, then said its use in public discourse essentially disappeared. That may be true, but I’d add a use of more recent vintage: To defend segregation and criticize Martin Luther King Jr.’s program of civil disobedience. I know I’ve run across examples in researching the response by Churches of Christ to the civil rights movement. So Sessions and Sanders can join apologists for slavery and segregation in misusing Romans 13 for political ends.
  • One of the most disturbing and anguished over sayings of Jesus is his assertion in the Sermon on the Mount that “not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong’ (Matt 7:21-23). I confess I don’t have any better idea than you what that really means, but it’s hard not to think of it in light of Sessions’ and Sanders’ comments.

Two, since I leveled some pretty strong criticism of “the pro-life movement” – without acknowledging, as I should have, that there are plenty of progressives who consider themselves pro-life and pro-immigrant, as well as pro-social justice, and that no movement is an ideological monolith – I felt I should return since several organizations and people who I’d consider part of that movement, and largely part of the problem of turning the “pro-life” and “evangelical Christian” labels into synonyms for “Republican Party policy priorities, have since criticized family separations at the border.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last seen shouting down nuns for their support of expanding access to health insurance, pulled no punches:

Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.

Franklin Graham, long one of Trump’s foremost public defenders, was also critical – although notably he did pull a punch or two:

I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible, to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit. And I blame the politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to the point where it is today.

Somehow, of course, none of those politicians over the past three decades managed to implement a policy of widespread family separation the way Trump and Sessions have done.

The Southern Baptist Convention, after hearing from Vice President Pence, passed a resolution affirming “the value and dignity of immigrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status” and further rejecting “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation” as “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

WORLD magazine’s Twitter feed and website have been remarkably silent on the crisis and Sessions’ response, but one of their reporters, Mindy Belz, swatted him down:

So far, I can’t find any comments from Focus on the Family or the Family Research Council – and Democrats for Life’s Charles Camosy, in a column echoing my post, couldn’t find anything from the National Right to Life or Susan B. Anthony List. If they make a statement, I’ll post it.

Their silence speaks volumes about how much they truly care about innocent lives and family values – and how much they have sold out those lives and values for the taste of power Trump now gives them.