Just a week ago we celebrated Independence Day, the day that we remember when our founding fathers and mothers threw off the tyranny of foreign empire and declared our nation’s independence. It was the birth of a country that is often proud to claim itself to be a Christian nation, though that moniker is itself a myth, for from the very beginning we have been a nation committed to equality without regard to religion … at least in theory. We claim in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Now, admittedly, we have never succeeded in fully living up to these ideals. It was a long time before women were fully enfranchised and even longer before African-Americans (and one could argue that in some respects they still aren’t). There was a time when Roman Catholics received a similar bigoted reception as our Muslim sisters and brothers often do today.
Today we are facing a crisis in our nation that we have not seen in our life-times – and it is NOT a crisis being caused by desperate human beings seeking safety in the land that once offered to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Political ideologies aside, before we are Democrats or Republicans or Independents or any other flavor of party, we are people who call ourselves Christian. In our rite of initiation, by which we received that name, Christian, we promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. When the disciples thought that they would shoo the children away, Jesus rebuked them and said, “let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” When Jesus taught his disciples what it looks like to follow him, he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” When they asked Jesus when he was any of those things, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Today on our southern border children are still being torn away from their parents, being locked up in cages, being denied clean clothes, a bed to sleep on, adequate food to eat or water to drink, basic healthcare, the ability to even bathe. These children are sleeping on concrete floors under foil blankets, and as if this is not cruelty enough, now reports are coming out that they are being abused, physically and even sexually. These children are suffering irreparable psychological trauma due a breakdown of a system that is supposed to protect them at every level of government: local, state, and federal. This is not how we treat other human beings. This is not what Jesus meant when he commanded us to love others as we love ourselves.
We believe in a God who created all life, and made each one of us in his likeness and image. When we look into the eyes of those who are being brutally and shamefully detained with no end in sight, we are looking into the eyes of the God who created us. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then the time has come for us take a stand for those who are being bound, and to speak up for those whose voices are being gagged. These beloved children of God deserve basic human dignity. Can you imagine how desperate these refugees must be to come to our border knowing what awaits them. If these conditions are worth the cost, then just imagine what it must be like where they come from.
I’m not normally one to pick up my picket sign and take to the streets, but these are extraordinary times when common decency, and the spirit of Love that Jesus calls us to follow, is being suffocated. But like the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness shall not overcome it! I invite you to join me Friday evening as we join voices with those all around the world who have committed to stand in the gap and be counted. A Lights for Liberty Vigil will be held in Homewood at Richard D. Irwin Park (18120 Highland Ave.) at 6:00 pm. We will stand in solidarity with those refugees being “housed” in inhumane conditions. Around 7:00 p.m. this Vigil will move to Kankakee where hundreds are being detained, right here in our own Deanery. The Kankakee Vigil begins at 7:30 p.m. near the gazebo in downtown (250 S. Schuyler Ave.). I am told that candles will be provided, but the organizers are asking that you bring your own sign. My Brothers and Sisters, we have been blessed with a voice. Let’s find a way to use it. Please, if you cannot attend tomorrow evening, write a real letter to your Senators and Representatives. Let us flood the halls with Congress with letters expressing our dismay and righteous anger.
May the same Spirit of God that led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, also lead us.
Someone asked me the other day why St. John’s is hosting a booth at the Homewood Pride Party next week. They were concerned that I was pushing my “agenda” on the Church. We had a good conversation that I was reflecting on this morning and it made me wonder if there are others out there who have similar questions. The short answer is yes. Yes I do have an agenda. It is the agenda of love and the deep conviction that God created every human being in the image and likeness of God. We have been created with an infinite capacity to love one another – with the capacity to do much harm to be sure – but much more so to love. And it is important we understand that the source of this capacity to love comes from the heart of God. God loves us! God loves ALL of us, just as we are, without any conditions, and desires nothing more than for us to share in that love with God and with each other. Events like the Pride Party are necessary because not every person has been told this message that God loves them. For many in the LGBTQ+ community, the only “Christian” message they have heard is the false narrative that God hates them, that they are not welcome, or worse. This is not the God that we know and follow here at St. John’s. It is so important, especially for our young people, that we embody the Good News of Jesus that is summed up in one word, love. It is important that our community know that there are communities of faith, like St. John’s, where ALL God’s children are welcome and valued and loved. This is why we will be at the Pride Party and I invite you to join us there next Friday, June 28 from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. And if you’re able, I invite you to help underwrite the cost of this event. May the God of love and peace be with you all!
Fr. Jeremy is an Episcopal Priest and a Franciscan Friar. He is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida with a Bachelor's in History, and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia with a Master of Divinity. He currently serves as Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, IL and is a Friar in the Community of Francis & Clare.