Humanity is greatly characterized by contradictions, tensions and conflict. The United States, as an open society, generally presents its contradictions and conflicts in the open without dilution, for the entire world to behold, even when the conflict is ugly, painful and embarrassing. The same nation that declared all equal, intentionally forced some to its shores in chains, and forbade at least half of its population from participating in its political process – for a time. The same nation that lifts its lamp beside the golden door, beseeching the tired and poor from around the world to partake of its goodness, has from time to time vacillated between those it eagerly welcomes as Americans and those it grudgingly accepts.
No nation’s character is static, and the United States is no exception. America’s ethos is fluid, changing between generations and morphing into shapes that are sometimes unrecognizable until they have taken a form that stuns all those who love this land and the ideal that represents it. Ideals are difficult to attain, and within my lifetime, I have seen America struggle to live up to its ideal several times over, for a variety of reasons. This present age represents a shockingly uncertain era in American History. Cohesion seems illusive. Congeniality appears ungraspable. Unity is all but impossible. In America’s current state, even “facts” are constantly in dispute causing one to wonder if even the mighty “2+2” will ever again be “4” with any meaningful degree of certainty.
This land of the free is now in upheaval regarding issues of immigration and refugees. The issues are complex and the opinions about how to resolve those issues are varied and in conflict. I have been privileged to live a life that has exposed me to many sides of this current dilemma. I am the descendant of African Slaves and English immigrants. Over half of my family was not born on these shores, but under another flag beneath the same sun. Those family members and I went through a thorough and sometimes harrowing and even dehumanizing process of legal immigration, paying painstaking attention to every “jot and tittle” of the law so that we could eventually, as a family, live together beneath Old Glory as an American Family. I saw it as my duty as an American to obey the law and called my family to do the same. We did so even to the point of personal humiliation. Our efforts, nevertheless, were fruitful, and we all now live as committed and loyal citizens of the United States of America.
As ministers of the Gospel, my family’s duty to God has led us to help anyone we believed the Lord brought across our path – anyone. That has led to a variety of solutions to complex human problems with answers and results that were often – creative. While I can’t guarantee the accolades of people in some of our courses of action, I sleep soundly each night believing we have supported godly justice, even when choosing the “harder right over the easier wrong,” understanding that righteousness and legality are sometimes in tension with each other. At other times, we have challenged others to make painful decisions, convinced by their explanations that their dreams might be more righteously met in a place different than they imagined. The issues are as varied and complex as the stories of those who represent them.
In this season of high tension and broad disunity, it is my prayer that false characterizations of proposed solutions to these complex problems would cease, and that true dialogue and a mutual pursuit of the common good would eventually emerge. America is beautiful, but it has issues. We must find ways to live out the charge issued to ancient Israel in Leviticus 19:34 which states, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” At the same time, we must keep ourselves safe while we keep ourselves free – free for ourselves and open for those “yearning to breathe free” with us. In the midst of these very turbulent times and our painful struggles, we will eventually discover “If [this] nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” God, help us, please!