true religion

November 20, 2018

Religion is divisive, it’s undeniable. On one end of the privilege and wealth spectrum, those in power throughout history have wielded it to further cement their position and control others. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it has been an integral companion to the majority of the world’s poor, serving as a beacon of hope in the struggle to survive and a rock in times of desperation and instability. However expressed, religion has many faces.

The importance of religion surfaces repeatedly in the case of the Honduran migrants who make up the majority of the caravans heading towards the States. Immigration lawyer Rebecca Eichler, who has been working to counsel migrants who are seeking asylum in the U.S., has said the migrants’ strong faith surfaces again and again when they explain why they want to continue heading north. They resolutely believe God will protect them. One migrant man, after being informed of the reality of the border situation between Mexico and the U.S., was quoted as saying “With God, there are no borders.” Other immigration volunteers also report that the migrants understand the dire conditions at the American border, and that “without exception, their motivation for continuing on is an unbending belief in God.”

Eichler notes, it is “striking that the God of the migrants is so at odds with the God who blesses America.” While much could be said about this profound statement, any discussion of religion and gods should always boil down to identifying the true nature of love and the willingness to extend kindness to suffering beings - no matter where on the planet they reside, no matter their nationality, what they are fleeing, or what borders they cross. On this, all world religions seem to agree. Helping those in need is a core tenet of every major faith system around the globe.

An American volunteer who has been helping the caravan expressed that while he fears for the migrants and what they may encounter as they head north, he respects their self-determination and only knows that “in my moment with them I can treat them with dignity.” Not only is this a poignant example of serving as a bridge between divided populations, it is also a hallmark of real love - giving something away freely with no strings attached.

In contrast, it would seem that “the God who blesses America,” at least the one called upon by politicians in recent years, comes with many strings attached and a well-entrenched moral high ground designed to protect those who already possess the most. The underlying belief system of this God is that the poor and most vulnerable are only worthy of love and assistance if they adhere to the moral expectations of those in power.

However, I’m pretty sure it is our treatment of “the least of these” that was the gold standard by which our actions are be measured. For compassion isn’t dependent upon the recipient’s behavior, last I checked. It is dependent upon the condition of our hearts. True religion necessitates both compassion for those in need and a willingness to set aside our own comfort, preferences, and agenda to assist those less fortunate.

One migrant stated, “We plan to get in line at the border… hopefully, the American president will find it in his heart to let us in.” Although I am skeptical of the migrant’s hope for a change of heart in the President, surely a country of such great wealth can work towards compassionate solutions for the world’s poor who are congregating at its doorstep. After all, the Statue of Liberty herself says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I don’t know what will happen in the coming days in the standoff between the migrants’ God and “the God who blesses America.” But if love is indeed an indicator of true religion, then I side with love.

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