Thursday, September 09, 2010

Amazing Grace

Last night I rewatched the amazing movie Amazing Grace and I got to thinking about how popular it's been among American evangelicals, and how potentially weird that is. I think we like it because it's finally a well-done movie with actors we've heard of before (well--at least if we watch British costume-dramas), portraying a genuine Christian as--a little eccentric, perhaps, but--a really positive, liberating, historical figure. There is no question in the movie that Wilberforce's faith was the driving force behind his movement to abolish slavery in England, and there is no apology made for it. I think, for most of us, this comes as something of a relief. And it should. We should be proud to have a man like Wilberforce in our "family history."

Here's the thing I find potentially weird, though. Most of the American Christians I know (and I love you truly, but if you know me you probably already know that our politics don't match) today take a political attitude that is not unlike that propounded by Wilberforce's opponents. Those guys were the conservatives. Wilberforce was a threat to the then-current capitalist system. The entire economy was built on the backs of slaves, and getting rid of it was going to turn everything upside-down. Wilberforce was accused of being unpatriotic and a rebel and immoral and all kinds of things, all because he loved Jesus and therefore loved people, and he wasn't afraid to give up the comforts of his life and to identify with the oppressed . . . and to recognise that his people were among the oppressors.

Look. If you're a regular here, you know I don't like to talk about politics. Furthermore, I know I'm not exactly a woman of action here--it's not like I'm doing a whole lot, by myself in my parents' comfortable house, with my dog, to ameliorate the plight of the homeless or the slaves around the world or the sexually-trafficked. And in this day and age there is so much oppression and so many different things we could focus on that it's almost overwhelming to talk about any of it. But I've been wanting to say something about immigration for a long time, so I guess I'm just going to say it.

I really don't get the majority evangelical attitude on immigration. It seems to me that when we get all bent out of shape over people obeying our immigration laws or not, we're kind of losing sight of something--namely, that our identity should be found in Jesus, who loved all people no matter where they were from and whether they were law-abiding or not, and that our identity is not first and foremost as conservative Americans. What are we trying to conserve, anyway? By all means, let's conserve unborn babies. I feel very strongly about that. But it just seems to me that, at least when we're talking about people from other countries and whether they're allowed to be/work here or not, what we're trying to conserve is our own white sense of power and superiority and our own cultural convenience.

It seems to me that a more Christlike approach would be to see the influx of immigrants as an opportunity. Guess what, all of us whose churches send people to foreign countries to tell people about Jesus (and I'm not saying we shouldn't)? We can tell people from foreign countries about Jesus, too! And guess what? Getting all kinds of angry and moral-high-road with them, and then kicking them out, is not going to help. I'm hearing an awful lot these days about how this nation was built on Christian principles and most of the founding fathers were Christians and and and . . . but I say if that's true, then indeed--let's go back to our roots, and remember that with a few exceptions all of us were immigrants here, and this country was built with the premise that "all men are created equal." This place was designed to be a haven . . . for religious, political and yea, even economic refugees. At least, so it seems to me. Did I miss something, or did my Swedish great-grandfather show up here because of a job? Is that okay, and if it is, is it just because he's white?

Jesus hung out with "tax-collectors and sinners," and what I get from that is that He didn't require people to get their act together before He spent time with them. He was perfect and never sinned, but He never told anyone they had to be the same before they could follow Him around. Sure, a nation needs to have its laws. I'm not a proponent of anarchy. But I think the general refrain, "I don't mind if they immigrate here as long as they're legal" is frankly simplistic and self-referential. And I think as Christians we need to have a bigger picture about the whole thing. Jesus told us to go into all the world and tell it the Good News. If all the world is coming to us, does that mean we should tell it the opposite? I suspect it means we all have the opportunity to change the world with Good News instead of bad.

Sure. Terrorists might get in. Or we might breed our own. (Warning: this video is offensive . . . but it makes a point. And it makes me think that if we were still talking about a war on terror, we might want to look within before we start pointing fingers.) Bad things are going to happen either way, and I don't think we're going to keep the bad things out by keeping people out--or by giving them a hard time for getting in. Sometimes, by making immigration laws more stringent, worse things happen. It seems to me that if we're going to tout this country as being a Christian one, we should be reaching out to the world the way Christ Himself did. We should be on the front lines like Wilberforce was, standing up for human . . . humanness. Not preserving our own comfort-zone and living in fear of the Other, but loving, come what may.

I know. This is not a bullet-proof argument for relaxing immigration laws. It probably isn't even an argument at all. Someone will accuse me of being a "bleeding heart liberal" or whatever people are calling them these days. I don't know about that, but I'm fine with it if it's true. I'm just saying, if we say we follow Jesus, I think we should stop getting all sidetracked with manmade laws, and stop living in fear, and reach out to people.


dave grosser said...


Mary Anne said...

Just saw this. LOVE IT.

I think this is a good question to ask oneself: am I thinking as an American right now or as a Christian?