Immigrants are US

Immigrants Are US

Care to know a little history behind immigration to the United States? Here is a time line with numbers showing legal immigrants to the United States, some coming of their own freewill and others who did not.

1607: Jamestown Colony in Virginia
1619: Approximately 20 Africans forced into slavery in Jamestown.
1620: Roughly 100 people, later known as Pilgrims, come to what is known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1630 to 1640: Approximately 20,000 Puritans arrive in the region.
1680: Roughly 7,000 African slaves in the colonies.
1790: Approximately 700,000 slaves in the US, with between 500,000 to 650,000 brought between 17th and 19th centuries.
1821-1830: 143,439 immigrants to the US.
1831-1840: 599,125 immigrants to the US.
1841-1850: 1,713,251 immigrants to the US.
1851-1860: 2,598,214 immigrants to the US.
1861-1870: 2,314,825 immigrants to the US.
1871-1880: 2,812,191 immigrants to the US.
1881-1890: 5,246,613 immigrants to the US.
1891-1900: 3,687,564 immigrants to the US.
1900-1910: 8,795,386 immigrants to the US.
1911-1920: 5,735,811 immigrants to the US.
1921-1930: 4,107,209 immigrants to the US.
1931-1940: 532,431 immigrants to the US.
1941-1950: 1,095,039 immigrants to the US.
1951-1960: 2,515,479 immigrants to the US.
1961-1970: 3,321,677 immigrants to the US.
1971-1980: 4,493,314 immigrants to the US.
1981-1990: 7,338,062 immigrants to the US.
1991-2000: 9,095,417 immigrants to the US.
2001-2010: 13,900,000 immigrants to the US.

Between the years of 1820-2000, the following numbers of immigrants came to the US from each of these countries:

Germany: 7 million
Mexico: 6 million
Great Britain: 5 million
Ireland: 5 million
Italy: 5 million
Canada: 5 million
Austria & Hungary: 4 million
Russia: 4 million
The Philippines:2 million
China: 1 million
Sweden: 1 million

Take a moment to let these numbers sink in. In the last 70 years, approximately 41,758,988 people immigrated to the United States. Those numbers are the legal immigrants. There are likely thousands more undocumented people who have immigrated to the U.S. in those years, including prior to the 1940s. The vast majority of those people came to make a better life for themselves. Many, came due to war, persecution, and famine in their home country. I find it both depressing and ironic that now, under the new administration, there is a movement to deport people and a demonization of immigrants, particularly when many of those people advocating this were either immigrants or the offspring of immigrants only a few generations ago.

Demonizing immigrants isn’t new. After all, the Irish were demonized as they brought a very large influx of poor and Catholic people to the country. The majority Protestant population distrusted them based primarily on their religion. Now, we have the same occurring to people who are immigrating who practice Islam. We also have negative rhetoric about people of Hispanic and Asian decent occurring as well. It’s not the first time Asians have been discriminated against either as many Chinese immigrants were blamed for the decrease in wages when the railroads were built in the 1800s since they would work for lower wages. Hispanics, in particular, are demonized for similar reasons, but not many non-immigrant or non-Hispanic people care to become migrant farmers/pickers either.

The present administration promised to get the “bad hombres” out of the U.S. Yet, we see and hear news reports where people who have been in the U.S. for 20+ years are being deported for something as minor as a DUI that took place decades ago. Hardly the hardened criminal element. In fact, if having a DUI were punishable by deportation, then there are likely plenty of people who should be deported, illegal or not.

Rather than eliminating criminals, what is occurring is the breaking up of families of people who have done nothing major or even nothing at all, except for entering the U.S. without proper documentation. Many of these people have worked since they arrived and done jobs that will go unfilled if they are deported simply because former immigrants and the children/grandchildren of those 41,758,988 people who came to the U.S. since 1940 won’t do the jobs the illegal immigrants do because those jobs pay little and are under extremely harsh conditions. I challenge the unemployed white person to go out and pick vegetables or fruits for 12+ hours a day for low wages. Some may attempt it, but many more won’t even try.

Rather than eliminating criminals, there are children who live in fear that their parents will not be home when they finish school or fear their parents will be arrested when taking them to school or checking in with U.S. immigration services. What happens to these children, some of whom will be orphaned for no good reason? Some will live with neighbors or relatives, but the trauma they experience will not end as it will always be with them.

The United States is a country of immigrants. There is no question as to that, especially if you look at the numbers above. Legal or illegal really doesn’t matter in the long term, especially when you consider that the people we know as the Pilgrims were illegal immigrants. They did not ask permission to stay from the First Nations/Native Americans when they arrived. Instead, they simply stayed and took advantage of them to the point where First Nations/Native Americans were driven from their lands through wars and broken treaties. Imagine if they had the power to deport those who did that or the progeny of those who did that to them. Would that be fair?

When the vast majority of people leave their homelands, it is not done on a whim. It is done to survive. It is done out of fear. It is done out of hope for a better life. It should not matter whether they come with papers or undocumented because they come and enrich our culture and our country with their culture. The only reason people want to deport them is fear. Fear of the unknown that could easily be known if folks would simply step up and be welcoming to them. It’s amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can do to further understanding.

It is also ironic and depressing that many of those who wish to deport or demonize immigrants claim to be good Christians. They seem to forget that one of the most important commandments given in Christianity is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There is no commandment to hate others. There is no commandment to fear others. There is no commandment to deport others. Love your neighbor. That means to love your fellow humankind regardless of his or her immigration status, religion, skin pigmentation, or any other label placed on other people.

So, what are the solutions?

First, for politicians from both parties to stand up against the administration and end these needless deportations. Then, for them to create a fast-track way for immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain citizenship more easily.

Next, and slightly less than legal, for churches and people who care to create a network not unlike the underground railroad to shelter and provide sanctuary for people who need it. These same people need to stand up and speak up for immigrants, legal and undocumented, to stop the deportations and assist immigrants, recalling that their ancestors were immigrants themselves.

A key to all of this is not seeing people as immigrants or undocumented immigrants, but as people just like we are. As such, we are to treat them as we would like to be treated.

The Problem of Walls and Weapons

The tragedy in Paris, as well as Kenya and Lebanon, should send reminders of the fragility of human life in our modern age. Instead, it is fostering a growth in a continued movement for nations to erect walls and allow more weapons to be used to separate and kill people who are not like “us”. Think about that for a moment and consider the following.

More weapons will not stop atrocities like the events in Paris, Kenya, or Lebanon from occurring. A common message sent out from certain aspects of society, particularly in the United States, tries to state that had there been more guns in the hands of the innocent people in Paris, then the atrocity would not have occurred. They state this somehow believing it as solid fact. However, one cannot know if that is true or not. While there might have been fewer people killed, there also could have been may more killed in a crossfire between those who committed the atrocity and those who were trying to defend themselves. In addition, it is alleged that those who committed this heinous act were also prepared to die at all cost, including the use of suicide bombs as what happened near the stadium. I doubt more firearms could have stopped the bombers from committing their horrendous acts.

Then there is the call for walls to be built, either literally or figuratively, to keep out immigrants and refugees because it is currently assumed that one or more of the terrorists carried passports from Syria, the homeland of the majority of those same refugees. While it is horrible that this may be the case, what about the thousands more who are not the aggressors, but the victims of the aggressors? There are thousands of people who are fleeing for their lives from the violence caused by ISIL/ISIS. The majority of them are simply trying to survive, not flee to the West to commit violent acts.

Besides, walls don’t work to keep people, good or bad, out. If someone wants to get around a wall, he or she will find a way to do so. Centuries ago, China built a wall to keep out aggressors. It was breached. Each day, hundreds of people cross the walls and boundaries of countries as they seek a better life. Some remain, and some are deported back to where they came.

But there are other walls that become built that are unseen. These are the walls that separate people in a more social sense than a physical one. One wall is prejudice and the other is fear. These two walls are ones that are sometimes insurmountable, not because of their size, but because of how people latch onto them with such fervor. These unseen walls cause us to place barriers between one another. Sometimes, these walls are in the form of words we use to label large groups of people as being bad based on the actions of a few people who look like the group or happen to worship using the same terms as that group does.

Right now, it happens to be Muslims who are being portrayed by media and certain elements of society as being nothing but bad people. They are called terrorists as a whole based on the actions of an extreme few of those who hide behind what is a peaceful religion. The vast majority of Muslims want nothing but to live in harmony within their communities as well as those places where they live among non-Muslims. The majority feels the need to pay for the sins of the few as they are pressured to speak out against acts of terror or be seen as supporting it. Yet, if people from a different religious background commit an atrocity, the innocent of those backgrounds are not pressured to speak out. If a Christian person commits an atrocity, there is no call for all Christians to speak out against it. If a Jewish person commits an atrocity, there is not call for all Jewish people to speak out against it. Only the Muslims. Yet, there are some who continue to say that if they don’t, then they are guilty of the supporting the crimes committed by the few.

The problem is not with religion, it is with people in general. The problem is not with needing more walls, but needing fewer ones.

That’s right, I said fewer walls to separate people. The walls of ignorance, fear, hate, oppression, poverty, war, and famine need to be torn down. In their place, we need to build one thing up above all else. We need to build up our fellow humankind. We need to end wars, and start spreading peace. We need to replace hate with love. We need to eradicate poverty and build plenty. We need to educate others so they may have what they need, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

A recent article I read was one where the interviewer had the rare opportunity to speak with ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq. The vast majority of those who were interviewed did not join ISIS for religious reasons, but for economic and emotional ones. They were starving and this terrorist organization promised them a way out. The terrorist organization gave them someone to blame for their problems, in this case, the West. While some of that is true since, while many of these people’s lives were bad under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, their lives became worse once he was deposed as civil war broke out in their country based on centuries old hatreds. Some joined out of fear that if they didn’t, then they and their families would die.

As I read the article, something occurred to me. The reason why many of these people joined was similar to why people join street gangs. Some fear that if they don’t, then they will die. Others do it as gang life promises them a sense of belonging and/or prosperity. Some join because they are so far in poverty that they need someone to blame and the gang tells them who to blame for their situation. This is not unlike those who voluntarily joined the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. It is not unlike those who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South. It is not unlike those who join militia groups in modern society or other fringe, hate-filled groups. The majority of people who do so are looking for more in their life in some way and the gang persuades them that gang life is the way they can have or be more than who they are.

There needs to be an alternative to this lifestyle to make it stop. Rather than waging war in countries against people, there needs to be a fight for better living conditions. A fight for jobs. A fight for equality for all people regardless of who he or she is or what he or she believes. There needs to be education for all people to understand different cultures and religions as find common ground between them rather than what is different about them. Education is a powerful weapon against hate, fear, and violence. When humankind understands differences, then it becomes harder to fear or hate them. Instead, there becomes a natural instinct to try to see the similarities. But this only occurs with the chance to learn about our differences in a non-biased fashion. It comes with knowing who we are as individuals and facing our fears, prejudices, and ignorances, acknowledging them, and going beyond them to build understanding.

None of this means we have to like the way others are. It doesn’t mean we have to become like who others are. It does mean we must respect our differences and embrace our similarities. We must learn to love one another, whether we like them or not. For some people, this is seen as being too politically correct, as if that is a bad thing. However, it is actually being more humane to our fellow humankind.

Will this end all the problems instantly? No, there is no quick fix as many hope. It took time to build the walls, it will take time to tear them down as well. But it’s worth it.

The late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This rings so true for our world today. Peace can only come through light, never darkness. Hope can only thrive where all humankind sees one another as one rather than as many.

The Fake War On Christianity–LGBT edition

The Fake War on Christianity

Conservative county clerks violating federal law as they refuse to issue marriage licenses for same sex couples because they way it goes against their religious beliefs to do so.

Bakeries refusing to bake cakes and florists refusing to provide flowers for same sex couples stating that to do so violates their free exercise of religion.

These have a common thread in that they all point to rhetoric that there is a war on Christianity being waged. There is no war on Christianity. What these people who refuse to do their jobs are really doing is using faith as a shield for their own ignorance and prejudices. Ironically, these same people likely see ISIS as being evil, yet they advocate a world very similar to that which ISIS wants except one hides behind Christianity and the other behind Islam.

The bastardization of a religion for use as a shield of prejudice has gone on for hundreds of years. In more recent history, it has been seen in groups such as the KKK and Nazis who claimed to be faithful Christians and used religion to justify their hate. Now, rather than just having these larger organizations, and others like them, at the forefront, there are individuals who do so. When confronted in their hate or ignorance or both, these individuals then run behind the guise of religion and say that they don’t hate anyone, but their faith calls upon them to condemn others.

Some, like a county clerk in Kentucky, go as far to say “’I think that this is a war on Christianity, I think same-sex marriage just simply brought it to the surface, but it is a war on Christianity’” (http://freakoutnation.com/2015/08/kentucky-clerk-its-my-job-to-tell-gays-theyre-going-to-hell/). He even went on to say he believes the Creator placed him on earth to tell others “’…there is a higher power that we need to answer to, and it’s not people who wear black robes, it’s the one who wears the white robe’”(http://freakoutnation.com/2015/08/kentucky-clerk-its-my-job-to-tell-gays-theyre-going-to-hell/).

Personally, I think the only white robed fellow this individual truly knows are those who are in the KKK.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality in his lifetime. There is nothing in his speeches or conversations as far as we can know from scripture that says he had anything negative to say about homosexuality. He did, however, have a great deal to say about love and about hypocrisy.

One verse that comes to mind is when Jesus rebuked Peter and told him, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man”(Mark 8:33). Peter was focusing on how humankind thought rather on what God’s plan might be. I believe this is how it is when people, regardless of faith, insert their own prejudices into faith for their own ends. They focus on what they think rather than what God might want.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the two greatest commandments—Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. These two simple directives from God, reiterated by Jesus, are how Christians should live their lives. There is no judging, no hate, and no prejudice at play. Simply love. God/Allah/Yahweh, does not want us to sit in judgment of one another. For those of us who are Christian, there is no directive to judge one another. Instead, we are to love one another regardless if that other person is gay or straight, male or female, heterosexual, bisexual, transsexual, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or whatever label our imperfect human world wants to place on another person. We are to love one another.

Perhaps this county clerk, and others like him, need to go back to those two fundamental laws and focus on them instead of their own ignorance and hate.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

Musings on Jesus and the Abrahamic faiths

It’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. However, I’ve been thinking a bit about Jesus from a theological view when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity. What I am about to write may anger some people, but it is not meant to do so. Rather, it consists of thoughts that I’ve had based on life experience, the brief formal theological training I’ve had, and my own theological training through reading on my own.

First, most people, especially fellow Christians, seem to forget that Jesus never once said to pray to him as if he were God. Rather, the prayer given as the model prayer states that when we pray, we are to pray to Our Father/Allah/Abba. Most Christians consider the Lord’s Prayer to be the perfect or model prayer for our faith. It is simple. It is succinct. It covers all the major areas a simple prayer to the Creator should cover. Praises the Creator. Asks for His Kingdom to come to earth to save us from our human troubles. Asks God to grant us food. Asks God to forgive us for our sins. Asks God to help us to not be tempted to sin, even though we will be tempted since we are human and, as such, imperfect. Asks us to forgive others as we forgive them, which we try to practice, but rarely accomplish due to our imperfect nature. Ends with more praise to the Deity. A good prayer. However, it never says to pray to a Trinitarian Godhead, just to God/Allah/Abba.

So, why do Christians consider Jesus to be God? If Jesus never said he was God, then why do we? One argument uses the passage where Jesus says no one can come to the Father except through him. However, many of the prophets of the Torah or Old Testament also say they need to be heeded if people are to obey God and follow His commandments. One particular event in history occurred to make the theological statement that Jesus was and is God. That event was the First Council of Nicea in the year 325.

The First Council of Nicea was called together by Emperor Constantine the Great to bring about unity in the Church when it came to the nature of Jesus as either being the Son of God or actually God in the flesh. One one side were those who were led by St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius who stated the doctrine that Jesus was God, rather than separate or even a prophet of God. The term they used was ‘homoousios’ which meant that Jesus and God were of the same “essence”. The other side, called the Arian side due to the primary debater of the side being named Arius, used the term ‘homoiousios’ meaning that Jesus and God shared a ‘similar essense’. This one letter difference brought a substantial change to Christianity in that by deciding that Jesus and God were essentially the same rather than similar, then Jesus was God rather than just one of God’s prophets. Let me break this down a bit for you.

St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius, hereafter known as the Orthodox side, argued that God the Father always existed and God the Son always existed along with Him in an equal manner. They used the scriptures where it quoted Jesus as having said phrases such as, “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30), and the “Word was God” (John 10:30).

Arius, and those who followed his idea of God, argued that God was God alone and that the Son of God was created by God and therefore could not be God due to his being a creation of God. As such, there was a time when the Son did not exist. That would make the Son separate from the Father and therefore inferior to the Father. To use Arius’s words, “were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being”(M’Clintock & Strong, 1890, p. 45). They also appealed to scripture by using phrases such as, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and stating the Son was “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

In the end, the Arian side was branded as heretics and the orthodox side held sway over time as a whole. They adopted what Christians know as the Nicene Creed which declares that Jesus is and always has been God, rather than just God-like.

Yet, if you think about it, for the 325 years leading up to the First Council of Nicea, Christians varied in the belief of Jesus as being God. That would have made them much like the Jewish and Islamic faiths of the time in that Jesus was considered a prophet, albeit a major prophet. In a way, it makes the early followers of Jesus much like our cousins of the Muslim faith in that Christians see Jesus as the last of the great prophets and Muslims see Mohammed as the last of the great prophets. For them, God was God. One God. Allah. Abba. Father.

It becomes even more ironic when you consider the fundamentalist branch of Christianity which says it longs for faith like the early Christians in that the faith they long for is more in tune with Islam and Judaism than it is with what is now seen as Christian theology.

If one looks deeper into the Islamic faith, it is also seen how Muslims view Jesus with reverence as a prophet. I have a long way to go to fully understand my cousins of the Islamic faith, but I can say that they and our cousins of the Jewish faith are closer to us than many Christians realize. It just takes all sides wanting to open the door to dialog and understanding rather than simply believing all that is given to us by media outlets. Our common heritage through Abraham exists. Sure, we have different theologies and variations on those different theologies, but we share in the common belief of one true God as Creator of the Universe.

Just food for thought in a world where there is too much negative stew.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

References:

M’Clintock, John; Strong, James (1890), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 6, Harper & Brothers.

Borders and Boxes

Thousands of children from Central America are flooding the southern part of the United States on a daily basis at this time as they search for somewhere safe from the ravages of rampant crimes, particularly drug crimes, in their homelands. As is typical for some of those who live in the United States, the call for these children to be instantly deported is loud and sometimes violent.

Turning to another part of the globe, there are refugees fleeing from the unrest in Syria and other parts of the Middle East due to everything from government troops to the rising terrorist group ISIS. Refugees here are fleeing primarily to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, but a few are going to Germany and Sweden in their search for safety. In Europe, a few countries have closed their borders to the refugees, such as Bulgaria and Spain.

Add to this the recent rising of anti-immigrant conversations from the United Kingdom as they deal with a rising Middle Eastern population, and you have yet further division among the human race.

All of this has gotten me to ponder why we require borders in the first place. Secondly, and related to this, why is it that humans feel the need to place people in boxes that categorize and subdivide ourselves from one another rather than looking for those things that make us similar? All these borders and boxes serve no real purpose than to divide humanity even further. They do not serve to bring people together as should be the desire for the sake of the human race and the future of our planet.

John Lennon, the former Beatle, once sang the words, “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace”(Imagine). I often wonder why we humans cannot strive for this as vehemently as we strive to create more weapons to destroy one another or even more boxes to subdivide ourselves from one another. There is no one thing that causes we humans to do this, of that I am certain, unless the underlying reason is fear.

That may be it. Perhaps we divide and subdivide ourselves so much because we fear having to learn about our fellow human being. As the American poet Robert Frost once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). Yet, if that poem is read, even it goes against the idea of borders and boxes as it states, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out/And to whom I was like to give offence” (Mending Wall). A wall would make sense if there was a good reason for it. If there were, as the poet says, cows to roam and the wall used to keep them in check. Perhaps we humans have no reason for the wall other than to repeat as the neighbor does by simply saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”(Mending Wall). We do not know why it’s there, but that it’s always been there, so it must stay there.

Some argue that the borders we have are there due to the result of military action and the truce documents saying they are located between certain coordinates. If they are there only to mark the areas where one side may venture due to a disagreement, are they not like when two children or roommates share a room and one lays down a line saying that everything on one side is theirs alone and the items on another belong only to the other person? Sounds rather childish if this is the case, doesn’t it? Rather than talk out our disagreements, we fight until we feel there are enough people dead (or, heaven forbid, the other side is annihilated), then create an invisible line to ward off the other side (again, provided anyone is left on the other side). Seems like a great waste of human potential and the opportunity to work together to create harmony rather than discord.

Others argue that these borders and boxes are needed to delineate easier governance of the people. I guess I would argue that perhaps sharing governance of ourselves might be best. Why not set basic laws for all humankind to ensure all are treated with respect and dignity? Basic ones like not killing one another, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reaching out to help our fellow human being when they need it, and respecting each person’s faith journey or even right not to have a set faith, but just choosing to live and let live. Yes, it makes it easier to set laws specific for a given country or state or region because no one has to talk with anyone else other than those who are set to govern that particular place. The United States does not ask Canada for permission to create a law and the opposite does not happen either. Would it not be worth it to have people talk to come up with what is good for all humanity rather than set up borders and boxes?

I can almost hear the calls of people shouting that I’m a Communist and should be watched or put away. I can even hear those questioning my sanity. Yet, maybe this was what the Christian scriptures refer to when the comment is made by Paul when he stated, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28 NRSV). If one would prefer to hear what is attributed to Jesus, then look at the passage from John 14:2,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”(John 14:2 RSV). Given I am quoting Christian scripture; it places me not so much with Communism, but certainly within Socialism.

Who cares? It is just a box. A human formed opinion to label me in some convenient way. Does it matter? Not really, except for the person placing me in that box and others who may agree with him or her.

Divisions and subdivisions happening at a rapid rate,
Always building walls and gates.
Keeping someone out or in.
To me, it seems like such a sin
Against humanity.

Back to my opening images, though. For the thousands of children who survived the perilous journey to the United States in hope that the words on the Statue of Liberty, “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-tost to me,/I life my lamp beside the golden door”(New Colossus by Emma Lazarus), are still true; my question remains is it true? It was for our forebears, but will it be for you?

For those fleeing tyranny in hope of safety, will they find it?

For those who are caught between the rockets of Israel and Hamas, will they ever know peace?

When will we, as human beings inhabiting the 3rd planet from the Sun, spend more time trying to erasing borders and knocking down boxes instead of trying to create or build more?

One can only hope it is soon.

References:
Galatians 3:28– http://biblia.com/books/nrsv/Ga3.28
Gospel According to St. John 14:2– http://www.biblestudytools.com/john/14-2-compare.html
“Imagine”– http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnlennon/imagine.html
“Mending Wall”– http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html
“New Colossus”– http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm

Where Some Religious Problems Began and Hope For Peace

I have always been interested in religion, between having been in a number of denominations, visiting a number of different faith paths as well as seminary, I have seen the varying aspects of the way humanity worships and finds a niche for our spiritual side. I keep returning to one event that may have been one for which there arose some issues between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). That event was the First Council of Nicaea. It was at this meeting where the Christian church truly set up a barrier to differentiate itself from Judaism and, in a way, Islam. The difference caused by a single word containing a single letter changed how Christianity viewed its namesake.

Prior to the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, the Christian church had no agreement on the nature of Jesus. Some viewed Jesus as one with the Creator, while others saw Jesus as a separate entity from the Creator. The concept of one Deity is the foundation for both Judaism and Islam. One God, monotheistic in nature, serves as the Deity for these two faiths. Up until the First Council of Nicaea, this was even the foundation for the Christian faith to an extent. The nature of Jesus was not concrete. Was he God? Was he another God? Was he a subordinate God? Was he simply a prophet? Members of the early Church wrestled in their faith with these questions.

The purpose of the First Council of Nicaea was to put an end to the arguments over the nature of Jesus as Son of God in relation to God the Father. On one side were the Arians who claimed that the Son of God was created by God the Father and was, therefore, not actually God, but a separate being from God. The other side, usually referred to as the orthodox side, claimed that the Christ was indeed God and was not a distinct entity from God the Father. It all came down to one letter that changed a single word, the letter “I”.

The words in question are Greek. One is homoousios. This means roughly “same essence”. The other, also Greek, is homoiousios meaning “similar essence”. This one letter, which ironically we get the phrase “one iota of difference,” changed the world and relationship of Christianity as it relates to our cousins of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. By the Christian church deciding that Jesus the Christ was God, it set up Christianity’s distinct view of a Trinitarian Deity, or more simply put from my catechism, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How many Gods are there? One.” If you answered three, the nun slapped you on the wrist and made you go through the lesson one more time. From this council the first Christian creed was adopted, which is what we now call the Nicaean Creed. It helped to bring an end to the divisions in the early Christian church, to an extent as those not agreeing with it were banished, and established the orthodoxy of the Church.

The problem arises as many people do not know this history of the Christian church, in addition to forgetting that the Christian faith, as well as Judaism and Islam, all hearken back to Abraham as the patriarch for these three faith paths. We are cousins. The issues we have with one another are due to the human desire or foible to be completely correct on an issue, in this case, religion. Yes, the media shows people from every side who are hell-bent on eradicating the infidel regardless of the faith of the infidel. There are misguided Christians, misguided Muslims, and misguided Jews who would rather advocate the differences and attempt to eradicate the other two than to open dialogue between us. We need to recognize that and accept it for being the bastardization of their faith to the point of using it as a weapon. It is up to those of us in all three of the Abrahamic faith paths who are open-minded and intelligent to work together to open the lines of communication and instruct others, and ourselves, into knowing that we have more in common than we have different.

The biggest similarity is that we all believe in One True God. Whether we see One God as just one distinct Deity or a Trinitarian version does not really matter in the long run. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in charity. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in love for one another. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in striving for peace. We cannot allow the fringes of our faiths to lead us down the path of continual hatred and war. We must strive for peace and acceptance of our shared lineage and shared values.

Time to Speak Up for an Open View of Faith

The Christian faith continues to suffer from the rhetoric coming from our brothers and sisters on the more conservative side. They are a loud and extremely divisive bunch of people. Unfortunately, their extremism is causing many to view the Christian faith as only supporting their views and, in turn, causing many to either abandon their faith or see Christians as narrow-minded people using their faith as a cover for their prejudice. People are seeing churches protesting funerals, movies that advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to salvation, and even churches giving away firearms to try to boost attendance. Due to these and other extremist voices coming from a section of Christianity, the Christian faith often appears as one where no one unwelcoming unless they are like these particular people. It is time for those of us who are more to the center or even left to speak up to save our faith!

Ironically, our conservative Christian brothers and sisters call what they are advocating “religious freedom” or “religious liberty”, yet what they are advocating is that these ideas are only valid if the people agree with them and their way of worshipping the Creator. Recently, the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit against the State of North Carolina saying that the state law against the solemnizing of same sex marriage violates the right of their denomination, as well as other denominations, to practice their religion freely. Yet, the very same people from the conservative side of Christianity who champion religious liberty and religious freedom remained either silent or spoke out against the United Church of Christ. This is hypocrisy and shows that the goal they have is not for all religions to practice freely, but only the ones that they (the conservative side) think are valid.

The people who created what is now the United States of America were, for all practical purposes, predominantly Deists. As such, they believed that no religion should hold sway over the government of, for, and by the people. While I cannot speak for all who are center or to the left in Christianity, I think it is safe to say that most of us stand for this same ideal. While we are Christians, we also know that not everyone follows this same path. The Creator calls each person to believe as best suits him or her. Considering the multitude of different forms of Christianity that are in existence, this should not be a difficult concept for even the most uneducated person to understand.

The essence of Christianity is found in the two main commandments that Jesus gave to us. The first of which is to love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, and strength. In addition, the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. This is what Christians should practice. It is not about forcing particular beliefs on anyone. While Christ called upon his followers to “make disciples of all nations”, he did not say to force them into it.

Christianity is accepting and open, not unwelcoming and closed. Our conservative brothers and sisters act as if they hold the only keys to Heaven. They do so no more than we who are considered center to liberal Christians. Only the Creator holds those keys. In addition, at least for myself, I believe the Creator leads people to Heaven in different ways that all need to be respected as such. We need to speak up to show that our faith is more than what most have been hearing.