I recently heard Cardinal Dolan talking about natural law (Romans 2:14-15). with respect to children being separated from their parents in US immigration and asylum seeking cases. For sure, it is a complicated mess with many factors at play and a host of unintended consequences… but at the very bottom of it, tearing families seeking asylum apart, is not only counter to the words of Jesus, its also counter to basic human decency, ie natural law. And yet… it seems there are some Christian’s that miss this entirely. I’m not quite sure what to make of this.
Beyond the natural law aspect, we have Jesus words in Matthew 25…
Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Such words are pretty hard to hear, as they ring of salvation by works, and seemingly could negate once saved always saved theology which some sectors of Christianity ascribe too… so apparently, they need to be toned down somehow. One way to tone down Matthew 25 is to narrow up the definition of brothers, perhaps to only include those within one’s immediate local Christian tribe… certainly it is possible to define brothers this way with some scriptures in isolation, but one must also ponder what Jesus was getting at when he said whoever does the will of his Father in heaven is his brother in Matthew 12:50.
Another way to tone things down is to look at the entire chapter of Matthew 25 and ponder whom Jesus is referring to as the sheep and the goats. He talks of the righteous being the sheep, so if we are justified by faith, we must be included in the sheep group, those who took care of the least of these… and the unrighteous the goats, those without faith, or rejected faith. But this doesn’t pass the smell test if the stranger is not welcomed, nor the hungry fed etc. James 2:15-17 may be instructive in this:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
And this is a sticking point for some… they consider taking care of the least of these much less important than telling folks about Jesus, or perhaps that His commands in this could be ignored. Imho, a form of gnostic dualism, where the needs of the flesh are to be put aside for the eternal. Such beliefs have dogged Christianity for centuries often leading to disastrous consequences. Consider the writings of Frederick Douglass .
“We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”
“Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”
And lots of “Christian” churches, even those who did not like slavery did not want to split the church… so many pulpits remained silent considering it a disputable matter. Rather, the works many chose to focus on, were the veneers of personal piety, the masks to make a dark heart look good amongst ones tribe, at least in public that is.
I wonder if the legacy of the veneers of personal piety, rather than the works of taking care of the least of these is a contributory factor as to why the outrage as to separating families is missing or subdued among some Christians? Veneers are pretty easy to show… we all know, or knew at one time a dickwad pastor or respected elder, who was great in the church, and an absolute nightmare elsewhere. Stats seem to bear this out too, at least in the marriage domain, with over 50% of born again Christians viewing porn monthly, and over 30% of the same demographic engaging in an affair while married.
Another thing I ponder is the human tendency to pursue works apart from faith, in some cases, a laudible goal, in others a form legalism. Its relatively easy to do veneer wise, as it comes down to acting and sales skills, and the con game works for a while, perhaps even a long while for some folks. Its harder to do sustainably over the long haul, without some form of corruption entering in. The temptation to do a little evil so good may come is often present, and has led to the crash and burn of many an org, even Christian faith based ones. The tail end of Romans 9 continuing into chapter 10 is instructive in this.
…That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone….
Ultimately, with respect to the faith and works issue, we know from Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, but in our zeal to avoid the hazards of legalism, we mustn’t loose track of Ephesians 2:10 either.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
And despite all the noise… I noticed many a conservative Christian, far beyond just Cardinal Dolan condemning the actions of the US govt tearing families apart. The US has a really sordid past in how it handled immigration and asylum seekers, going back decades if not centuries… the light of Christ is illuminating the country’s failures, perhaps this will spur congress to truly fix this once and for all.