Thinking about Dr. King and his activism has me thinking even more about faith and civil rights. I am not a Christian. I have, however, been raised, loved and cared for from the beginning until now by them. I know a lot of their stories. I know how noble they have been in fighting for equal rights. There has been a version of Jesus that informed William Wilberforce and John Wesley’s opinion of slavery. This Jesus is the Jesus Charles Sheldon was referring to when he asked “What Would Jesus Do?”. This was the Jesus of the Disinherited that Howard Thurman wrote about. This is the Jesus that Martin Luther King Jr. served. This is the Jesus men like Rev. Barber invoke when they what would Jesus have done for immigrants.
Let’s be clear. People who believe in Jesus have also always been on the wrong side of the history of slavery and civil rights. From the religious settlers who brought slaves to Jamestown Virginia, or this country’s founders who compromised on slavery in their founding documents while holding Christian church services in the Capitol. The Klu Klux Klan, in its charter, is a Christian organization. For every civil rights preacher on Sunday you could find a minister trying to keep the status quo and using the bible to do so. For them, the answer to “What would Jesus Do?” was a completely different one than for Sheldon or Dr. King.
Why do so many people hear Jesus’ voice so differently? A different question that I have not seen asked or answered is: What was Jesus’ lived experience? As a non-believer, it seems like a fortuitous coincidence that Jesus’ lived experience mirrors that of so many people who need Temporary Protected Status right now. For a believer, especially those who say their faith informs all their decisions, I wonder if knowing what Jesus went through in terms of immigration would help you recognize his voice.
Let’s talk about the holy family’s escape to Egypt. For some backstory, the shepherds and the wise men were not the only ones who read the sign in the stars of a saviors birth. The man who ruled Israel, Herod, had Magi (magicians) who ask read the stars and warned him of a Israelite savior, a direct political threat to him. If you turn in your bibles to Mathew 2:13-23 it says:
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[a]
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”[b]
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
In the biblical story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing Israel for Egypt, they left because of the mortal danger to all young boys in their country. My El Salvadorian friends speak of the same terror in their home countries. In the biblical story, the holy family comes back to Israel when they feel it is safe. No time sooner. There is no mention of them having a problem with Egyptians in Egypt. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll know the writers of the Bible would’ve told us how evil the Egyptians were if they could’ve. Again, they fled in a time of danger and returned to their home country when they thought it was safe.
Just like our brothers and sister fleeing from El Salvador, Syria, Iraq and many other places, their lives and the lives of their children are in mortal danger due to dramatically violent political climates in their home countries. The blood is doubly on every US taxpayers hands because they are usually fleeing climates our government, through military and intelligence actions, have helped create. From our unfair trade laws with Haiti, Cuba and even the American territory Puerto Rico and our protracted drug war and it’s affect on Mexico and other South American countries, or our work to destabilize democratically elected governments throughout Africa, this country is more like Herod than it is like Jesus. It is like not letting your neighbor into your house late at night after you accidently (or purposefully) set theirs on fire. Remember, Jesus is the one Christians credit with the golden rule (Mathew 7:12 do unto others as you would have them do unto you).
While it is a great question to ask “What would Jesus do?”, after answering “What was Jesus’ lives experience?”, I would like to hear a believer tell me they think that Jesus is the one whispering in their ear that you should send families escaping death and destruction back into the pit of it.