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The word “Gospel” means good news.
Jesus inaugurated his ministry by telling the world that he had come to proclaim “Good News” (Gospel) to the poor.
We Christians are very comfortable with the meaning of that word. We often consider our choices and beliefs through the lens of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus.
On one hand, we know there is a side of Jesus’ Gospel that is for the Dead (Heaven). On the other, we know there is a side of Jesus’ Gospel that is for the Living (the Kingdom of God). The good news of Jesus is by following Him we can experience God.
Recently, Time Magazine featured Bernie with the title “The Gospel of Bernie”. That got us thinking: If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for the poor, are politics which are also good news for the least of these gospel?
We don’t think that Bernie Sanders is a saint or anything weird like that. We just think that, whether Bernie realizes it or not, he is singing a lot of Jesus’ hit songs.
By accident Bernie has created a Jesus Tribute Band. He’s a Jesus impersonator and whether this imitation is intentional or not, its good news for the people. So we decided to make that comparison clear by talking about the Gospel of Bernie.
Liberty Alum For Bernie
Hi my name is Jim. I am the guy who recently posted onto Reddit under the Sanders4President Subreddit that I’m a Liberty University Alumni, and that I support Bernie, and think that he’s a good spokesman for justice.
I thought I would take a second to, sort of, unpack that, because I could tell there’s a lot of people, both Evangelical conservative folk and more liberal Bernie-supporting folk, who are very confused that I could occupy both worlds. So, I thought, I’ll take a few seconds and explain myself, and maybe that will be helpful for the conversation.
So a little bit about me. I am not a current student at Liberty. If I was, I actually wouldn’t have been able to post onto that Reddit board and say that I’m supporting Bernie. There is an Honor Code at Liberty University, and while it’s not always enforced, if you support a candidate who is pro-choice or pro-gay marriage, you can be punished by the University, up to and including expulsion from the school. So as a graduate of Liberty University, I’m in a good position to represent folks that might go there and people from the Evangelical tradition, but not be within the world that they can, you know, punish me for my opinion.
So I got my Bachelors degree in Religion from Liberty University, and I also got my Masters degree from Liberty University in Marriage and Family Therapy. In 2004 I worked for the George W. Bush campaign. I spent about 8 years as a Conservative pastor. And also as a schoolteacher at a conservative Christian academy. And today I serve my community as a therapist and also a pastoral counselor, somebody that folks from churches might go see to get counseling whenever they want to see somebody who’s both a clinical counselor but also a pastor.
So I serve all those roles. I think I’m pretty much a card-carrying Evangelical Christian. I still subscribe to a conservative evangelical theology. And what that means, a lot of people get confused when they hear the word ‘conservative,’ they assume you mean politically. ‘Conservative theology’ means that I believe the Bible is trustworthy, I think that God inspired it, Jesus was absolutely real, and really died on the cross, and really did resurrect three days later; and I am an Evangelical Christian in that way.
So, how did I come to find myself supporting Bernie Sanders? How did that evolution take place? How could it be that in 2004 I was working for the George W. Bush campaign, and today in 2015, as a double Liberty University graduate, under Jerry Falwell—when I went to school, Jerry Falwell was the Chancellor—how is it that I could be now supporting Bernie Sanders, who’s a very progressive, very liberal guy; he describes himself as a ‘democratic socialist.’ How do I find common ground on those two things?
Well a lot of people I think falsely believe that in order to do that you have to give up one of your sides. Either you have to not really be a progressive, and you’re just an Evangelical who just likes Bernie, or you have to not really be an Evangelical, and just secretly be a Progressive who’s faking it and pretending to be an Evangelical, but wouldn’t actually pass the litmus test of being an Evangelical.
I pass both tests, I am very much 100% legitimate in both camps, and I want to explain why that’s not a mythological thing, that’s not a disconnect. Some people call that a contradiction, or hypocrisy, it is absolutely not. I believe that my views are 100% consistent. And so I think that the shock value for that comes in beginning to appreciate that the Bible and Jesus, in my opinion and in my very moderate reading of the Bible and the words of Christ, leads us to a Progressive worldview. And that is shocking to a lot of people, especially folks back home in the Evangelical community, they hear that and go, “What are you talking about? That’s heresy—“ it’s like, hold on. Hear me out. There is a Biblical argument for voting for Bernie Sanders, believe it or not, and I’m gonna walk you through it really quick on some key issues.
So that first issue that I’d kind of point your attention to is kind of what Bernie brought up during his speech at Liberty. Basically, the wealth inequality problem—and see a lot of us, on the Evangelical side think that what Jesus really cares about is gay marriage and abortion. And of course, the great irony is if you read the red letters of Jesus, there are no statements on abortion. There are no statements on gay marriage. Now, that’s not to say the Bible doesn’t speak about these things, but it certainly is to say that Jesus, founder and master of our faith, did not see fit to make these high-priority topics. It’s not to say he doesn’t care. But it is to say that we need to be careful not to ‘major on minors.’ We should be focused on the things Jesus did talk about.
So what did Jesus talk about?
So here’s the interesting thing. When I was watching Bernie Sanders talk at Liberty University, I was just really shocked, and something kind of magical happened for me, because as I watched that guy stand up on that stage, here’s what I saw. I saw a wild-haired Jew crying out in a hoarse voice, in a very forceful and forth-speaking way, he was convicting the Christian leaders and religious leaders in that University and calling us out for being complicit in the abandonment of those who suffer: “The least of these.” And siding with the powerful and the rich and the masters of this world. And he was convicting us, and calling us out. And we scorned him, and we stared him down, and with sour faces we thought, “Who is this whacko? And why do all these people seem to follow him, seem to like him? This wild-haired Jew, crying out from the wilderness of the political Left, in his hoarse voice?”
And if you’re an Evangelical listening to me today, you already know where I’m going with this. When I heard Bernie speaking in that way, when I saw that guy on stage at Liberty University, I saw John the Baptist. I saw the wild-haired, roughly-clothed John the Baptist, eating honey and wearing camel’s hair, and crying out to the religious leaders, the Pharisees of his day, calling them corrupt and complicit with those who have all the power and all the money and all the wealth, and for abandoning the people that God loves, that God cares about. For the Pharisees, who were siding with those who already have power and wealth and saying that they will be the last in the Kingdom of God, and that the weak, and the meek, and the simple, and those who need help—they are first in the Kingdom of God.
And I saw that guy, that John the Baptist figure, who is standing up and saying “There is coming a messenger, there is coming a messenger who will bring equity and justice to the poor, and to the weak, and who will stand for ’the least of these.’” That’s the wild-haired Jew that I saw up on that stage. I saw, and felt, the same voice coming from the Bible when I read about John the Baptist, who cried out in the desert to the Pharisees, warning them that Jesus was coming, the messenger of God. And that he was coming to restore justice, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to value ’the least of these’ when the Pharisees had failed.
And as I heard Bernie talking, and as I listened to his cries for justice, I remembered, suddenly, what Jesus had actually said in the Book of Luke, when he unravels the scroll in the synagogue, and he quotes the Book of Isaiah, which says that the Son of God was coming. And then he says, “This has been fulfilled in your presence here today.” He quotes the book of Isaiah which says that the Son of God is coming to bring justice, and Jesus says “it is now come to pass in your presence.” And he says, “I have come to bringGospel to the poor.”
Gospel—is that word we Evangelical Christians have based everything on. Gospel means ‘good news.’ And Jesus said “I have come to bring good news to the poor.” To restore sight to the blind, to stand with the suffering, to set the captives free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
As I heard Bernie Sanders crying out to the religious leaders at Liberty University, in his hoarse voice, with his wild hair, this Jew, and he proclaimed justice over us. He called us to account for being complicit with those who are wealthy and those who are powerful and for abandoning the poor, ‘the least of these’ who Jesus said he had come to bring good news to. And in that moment, something occurred to me, as I saw Bernie Sanders up there, as I watched him I realized: Bernie Sanders, for President, is good news for the poor. Bernie Sanders for President is good news for the poor. Bernie Sanders is Gospel for the poor. And Jesus said, “I have come to bring Gospel—good news—to the poor.”
And lightning hit my heart in that moment. And I realized that we are Evangelical Christians, that we believe the Bible. We believe in Jesus. We absolutely shun those who attempt to find nuance and twisted and tortured interpretation of scripture that they would use to master all other broader interpretations, to find some kind of big message that they want to flout. We absolutely scorn such things. And yet somehow, we commit to the mental gymnastics necessary that allows us to abandon ‘the least of these,’ to abandon the poor, to abandon the immigrants, to abandon those who are in prison. I listened to Bernie Sanders, as he said he wanted to welcome the immigrants and give them dignity. As he said he wanted to care for the sick children, and mothers, and fathers, who do not have health care. As he said he wanted to decrease the amount of human beings who are corralled like cattle in the prisons. As he said he wanted to do justice for those who have nothing and live homeless. And I remembered the words of Jesus, who warned his disciples that there will be judgment, and on that day he will look to his friends, and he will say ‘Blessed are you, for you cared for me, for I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick, and you cared for me; I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was in prison, and you came to visit me; I was homeless, and you gave me shelter.” And the disciples said, “Jesus, when did we do any of those things for you?” And he said, “If you have done it for ‘the least of these,’ you have done it for me.”
And those words echoed in my heart. As I listened to that crazy, hoarse-voiced, wild-haired Jew, standing in front of the religious leaders of the Evangelical movement, calling us to account, as a Jew once did before. Telling us that he intends to care for ‘the least of these.’ To clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to set the prisoners free.
Yes. I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe in the Bible. I follow Jesus. When I look at Bernie Sanders, and I hear the things that he’s saying, it’s like he’s ripping them out of the pages of scripture. I would have to try to avoid the meaning of those words. I would have to bury my head in the sand to continue to support conservative policies. I am religiously conservative but I am not politically so.
And I think here is the heart and soul of it:
When we chose to follow Jesus, we decided that the Kingdom of God, and the men and women and children of this world, were more important than us. And that accidentally made us all liberals. The day we decided to follow Christ, and the day we decided that we value other human beings more than ourselves, we accidentally became liberals.
And so there is no contradiction between being a Bible-believing Christian and a Bernie Sanders supporter.
I follow the teachings of Christ: to care for ‘the least of these.’ And I believe that just as John the Baptist once cried out in the desert for justice, and called the religious establishment to account, and hearkened unto the day that Jesus would walk among us, and declare equity and justice and good news for the poor; and just as that day came, that Jesus stood in front of the multitudes at the religious institution and said “I have come to bring gospel to the poor,” I believe that Bernie Sanders now stands in front of us, wild-haired and hoarse-voiced, and he now declares justice for the poor. He declares good news for ‘the least of these.’ He has come to bring gospel. And I wouldn’t be much of a Christian if I didn’t stand on the side of gospel for the poor. Because the last time I checked, that’s where my master Jesus stood, and I’ll stand with him. And for now, that means I stand with Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders Sermons: War
I want to talk about the problem of warfare. I want to take a look at what the Bible says about warfare and about violence. I want to deflate the mythology of redemptive violence.
There is a hypervigilance that exists today. A hyper-utilization of violence to try to help and its unbiblical, and we need to adjust the Biblical perspective of what we understand violence to be and what its function actually is.
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:16 to be “as innocent as doves, and as wise as serpents”. One of the things I think is really interesting is that in our politics we tend to use that word “doves” too – but a lot of conservatives laugh at it and say “oh those liberal doves, they don’t ever want violence”. And we describe violence prone conservatives as “hawks” – and it sounds way cooler to be a hawk than a dove.
But I think its interesting because if we’re just comparing apples to apples doves are definitely the Biblical example. It was a dove - Jesus saw Heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending upon him “like a dove” in Mark 1:16. It was a dove which was the Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to be as innocent as doves. And I think that if Jesus had to vote on this he would probably be more of a dove figure than a hawk. And I think that that’s something we probably ought to take a look at.
On the other end we take a look at this idea of violence for its own sake, violence as something that is beautiful and glorious. But this is not something that is consistent with Jesus.
We forget, that Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me. All you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
You see, what we forget sometimes is that anger and violence are burdens.
And this is true if you look around at your conservative friends and some of your Evangelical churches -I’ve noticed this myself in the churches where I was worshipping – there was so much enthusiasm and anger and vitriol for the enemies for the Muslims for people we have to put a stop to, for the horrific and aggressive, and all these very antagonistic figures that we are taught about in conservative Christianity. Whenever we start to believe that, whenever we start to internalize that, we are really accepting an anger burden. And Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest”. He’s offering to trade that anger and that tremendous weight of aggression in exchange for his peacefulness and the dove that he offers us –which is just to accept and be peaceful and be at rest.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard it said: ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies’. But I tell you to love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
I’m not saying that its easy to live up to that standard, but I am saying that that is the standard.
If we are openly calling for us to kill everybody who has ever looked at us sideways – which is what I feel like I’m seeing when I look at Fox News or whenever I look at these conservative rallies. I hear the candidates and the professional pundits saying “We need to go destroy Russia. We need to go fight them, we need to really bring tanks and war machines and start killing people. We need to go to North Korea and we need to nuke them. We need to surround them with our ships and blow them up. We need to go into the Middle East and kill ISIS. We need to go into Syria and kill Assad. We need to go into Iran and kill their Supreme Leader the Ayatollah.”
Goodness gracious guys! Goodness gracious. We cannot invade everybody and murder everybody. And this really contrasts with what Jesus says. He says “yea you’ve heard it said love your friends and hate your enemies but I’m telling you to do something different. I’m contrasting that view. I am telling you, to love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.”
Pray for those who say “Death to America”, pray for those who want to see our country in ruins. Pray for them. Love them.
So here’s the radical proposal I have for you.
When Jesus said “Love your enemies”, he probably meant: don’t kill them.
When Jesus said “Love your enemies”, he probably meant: don’t fly over in your planes and bomb them.
When Jesus said “Love your enemies”, he probably meant: don’t burn down their homes and starve them.
He probably meant don’t turn their children into homeless, frightened orphans.
And yet, the most pious Christians available will still command us all to take up some kind of righteous flag of anger, put our finger on the button, and nuke as many people as we can burn and destroy.
That concept has always bothered me. Especially the Christian desire to see another nuke fall.
Because in Matthew 26:52 Jesus said something which is hauntingly true today.
He was being arrested.
Peter, the disciple who loved Jesus pulled his sword out and attacked the guard who was arresting Jesus. Jesus healed the enemy. He healed that guard. And then he looked at Peter and he rebuked him saying “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword”.
I think about that.
I think about when John F. Kennedy said “We must abolish the weapons of war before they abolish us”.
Nuclear bombs fascinate me in that way. Because they indiscriminately kill anybody who is unfortunate enough to be close to them. It creates a literal Hell on Earth as hot as the sun, scorching a circle, a crater, of absolute desecration and death.
It is elegantly and hauntingly simple.
When J. Robert Oppenheimer created this horrific death machine, he stared blankly at the floor and he quoted the words of the Bhagavad-Gita. He said, “Now I am become death. The destroyer of worlds.”
Folks, he who lives by the nuke will die by the nuke. We Christians should not be so eager to rip this incredibly powerful sword out and start slashing away indiscriminately at all these societies and all these people - For God’s sake they are human beings. They are the same enemies that Jesus told us to pray for to love.
It should be harder to kill them. It should be a more difficult decision than the one we are willing to make. It should be something that gives us pause, at the very least, if we want to be consistent with Christ. We should be at least slow, and thoughtful, and deliberating.
But when any of us exhibit those qualities we’re called “weak”. We’re called “stupid”. We’re called “dithering” – and much worse.
And yet that is the Jesus we see in the Bible. The Jesus who says:
“I’m going to ask you to do something extremely uncomfortable, love those who are enemies.”
“I’m going to ask you to do something extremely uncomfortable, be as innocent as a dove.”
“I’m going to ask you to trust that we can find a better way.”
And then Jesus said in Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God”.
The peacemakers will be called sons of God, not the warriors.
The peacemakers will be called sons of God, not the destroyers.
The peacemakers will be called sons of God, not the killers.
If we believe that we are a Christian nation, if we believe that we represent being a son or daughter of God, can we say that we are the peacemakers?
Or do we see that word wrapped in violence? Yea I’m a peacemaker –once I’ve killed all the bad guys. We imagine Wyatt Earp and his peacemaker gun and that’s the kind of peacemaker that we think God meant but clearly its not.
Because he said “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” and those who live by the gun will die by the gun. And asked us to be as innocent as a dove, not a hawk.
When Jesus told us to “Come all you weary and heavy burdened” I alluded to the burden of anger that is inside of you. That was one of the biggest things that caused a change in my heart. I used to work for the George W. Bush campaign, and at that time we were arguing that he will keep us safe. That he is going to do the Christian thing and murder the Muslims, and I believed with all my heart back then that this is what Jesus would want us to do. And then I read that passage that says “Come to me you who are heavy burdened” and I imagined that burden as anger and hatred for others.
And what struck me at that time was a quote from a book called Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.
“A bird is active because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its own nature go upwards, because fragility is force. Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. It is easy to be heavy, it is difficult to be light.”
The Bible says that Satan himself fell to the bitter depths because of his pride. I look at America today and I see this heavy iron core of pride, wrapped in this red hot magma of anger.
And I start to imagine that we too like stones are falling.
If we could release those burdens, we could fly. Like birds we could take to the air and be more flexible, more able, more adept at navigating the difficult and diplomatic issues of our day.
Yet instead I see that we are eager to fight, eager to kill, eager to harm, wrapped in pride believing that we have been insulted or that others have dared us – and so we must respond with violence and with extremism.
That we need to one-up Putin’s Russia.
That we need to one-up Radical Islam.
Are we trying to imitate Jesus if we are trying to be better at radical religious violence?
Are we trying to imitate Jesus if we are trying to be better cold war brinksmanship in Syria or Russia?
Who are we trying to imitate?
Now I’m not saying that Jesus’ ways won’t get you killed. The way of Jesus leads to the cross.
I’m not saying that the way of the dove is going to ensure national security though I do believe there is great wisdom to restraint and to lightheartedness and to the ability to fly like a bird rather than sink like a stone.
I do believe that, and yet I still accept that Jesus’ way is dangerous for a nation but it is something we should wrestle with as Christians. The world should not expect that we as Christ Followers will just unequivocally support violence in all of its manifestations.
That is outrageous.
That, to me, is unacceptable.
I believe that we can do better than that, and I don’t believe that is most consistent with the Jesus we see in the Bible.
I want to conclude with one last quote and thought.
There’s this passage. If you go to any Christian bookstore or any Christian giftshop you will find this passage. You’ll find it written on plaques or granite or necklaces. It really comforts a lot of us, it’s a passage that we all have heard as Christians.
I want to conclude with this because of how remarkably mistaken we all are when we quote this passage and how few of us have ever learned the context of the passage.
Its Psalm 46:9-10.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
If you are a Christian out there today you hear that you and say “Yes. Yes I have heard that. I’ve said that to myself so many times. I have necklaces and bracelets that say it. I have it highlighted in my Bible.”
But here’s what you probably didn’t know. You probably didn’t know that that passage hasnothing to do with your spiritual tranquility. You probably didn’t realize that that passage hasnothing to do with your stress or anxieties. That passage was not written to calm you down and remind you that you live in a world where God is in control and Jesus comforts you and stills your beating heart.
That is not what that passage is for, and you probably don’t know that. Because like many of us, me included, for years you heard that quote in order to reassure you.
But here is what the full passage says. Psalm 46:9-10:
“He makes war cease, to the ends of the Earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.
He burns the shields with fire.
He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God”
That passage has nothing to do with your personal anxieties.
He says “Be still and know that I am God” to the warring tribes of the Earth for he makes warscease. He breaks their weapons, he shatters their missiles, he destroys their very shields and then he declares over all of them “Be still, and know that I am God”.
He does not say these words to you in the daily anxieties of life.
He says them to the military. He says this passage to the Republican candidates who cry out from the stage behind their podiums and they name their lists of all the people that they are going to kill and all the tribes and armies that they are going to attack and He says “BE STILL, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD!”
That is who God is speaking to. To those who give a hit list to us in their candidacy for president. When they tell us they are going to kill Isis, kill Russia, destroy Syria, invade Iran, rip up diplomatic understandings and treaties, invade, torture and murder.
He speaks to those who say they cannot wait to utilize the weapons of war.
Those who cannot wait to live by the sword.
Those who cannot wait to be hawks, and not doves.
Those who cannot wait to straddle themselves with the burdens of hatred and anger and violence.
Those who cannot wait to bring a mythological redemptive violence to our enemies rather than forgiving or praying for them.
Those who do not desire peace.
God says to them “Be still, and know that I am God. That I shatter the spear and I break the bow. That I burn your shields with fire. That I make, war, cease – to the ends of the Earth.”
Folks, if you’re a Christian out there today I’m not telling you that cannot live in a country that has a military. I’m not telling you that you have no right to self-defense.
But I am telling you that we have allowed violence and the mythology of redemption through hatred to grow out of control.
We have become Death, the destroyer of worlds. That is not Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the redeemer. He looks into your heart now. A hear that might be just burdened with hatred and anger and fear of so many tribes and devils that are out there in the news.
He says “Come to me. You who are weary and heavy burdened. I will give you rest.”
He says “Be still, and know that I am God”.
I urge you to reconsider what you believe the point of violence is. I urge you to wrestle with Jesus, that you would be peaceful like a dove, that you would love and pray for goodwill even among your enemies. That you would not live by the sword. Wrestle with the conflict of that. Wrestle with Christ in that. Sit and meditate and reflect and ask yourself “am I unequivocally endorsing whoever is the most violent among us?”
And I ask you to take a second look at Bernie Sanders – yea, the dove, the socialist guy from Vermont. Because he is advocating for thoughtful diplomacy. He is advocating for being conscientious and reminding ourselves that if we spend 50% of our money on war machines then that is obviously the only thing we care about.
Folks, I urge you to consider the passage in the Bible which says “where you treasure is, there yourheart is also”.
America’s treasure is not spent on her children.
America’s treasure is not spent on our elderly and our weak.
America’s treasure is not spent on our poor and our hungry.
America’s treasure is not spent on building ourselves. On growing. On becoming more healthy in our infrastructure. On knowledge or wisdom.
America’s treasure is not spent on Universities or Hospitals.
America’s treasure is spent on weapons. On bombs. On bullets. On guns.
America’s treasure is spent on the swords and spears and the bows and shields – but your God has said “Be still, for I burn your shields and break your bows and shatter your spears and I sheath your swords. Be still, and know that I am God”.
The power of life and death. The power to take life away. Is something that should give us pause. Its something that we should very reluctantly take up. Because it is not consistent with Christ.
The burden of hatred of anger and of violence sinks us like a stone for it is pride. And Christ commands us to let these burdens fall to the ground.
“Be still”, he says, “and know that I am God”
“Be as innocent as doves”
“Come to me, all you who are weary”
Folks I challenge you to give violence a second look. To contemplate the incredible challenge of Christ. To contemplate the way of the cross and where you believe that actually leads.
I’m not asking you to endorse surrender or weakness. But I am asking you to contemplate: “Where is my heart? Where is my treasure?”
Bernie Sanders says that our treasure should be invested where our heart actually is.
In the hearts of our children. In our sick and hungry and dying.
In the heart of business and commerce. Infrastructure and personal growth.
That we should be investing our treasures in the heart of our people.
Not investing our treasures in stopping the hearts of our enemies.
The Sanders Sermons: Immigration
I am speaking to the Christians out there. I am speaking to those who are progressive. I am speaking to both the conservative Evangelical and the liberal, progressive Bernie supporters—the socialists if that’s what they want to call themselves. I am speaking to them all. And here is the deal: if you are looking at the world from the Christian view, the way we are treating the immigrant is unacceptable. I listened to the CNN debates among all the presidential candidates, and they could not get the words out of their mouths fast enough to scorn the immigrants, to speak about them as if they are rapists and murderers. To talk about building walls, and keeping them out. And then they have the audacity later to say that this country was built on Judeo–Christian values. But they have no idea what those values are. “Judeo” means Jewish. And if you know anything about the Jewish story, you know that they were a people without a home, that they were immigrants—and that their God is the God of the immigrant and the stranger.
There is a song that I have sang countless days in countless churches, a song that has touched my heart so many times, and led me to weep in the pews, in the chairs, in the basements of a church as people get together. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous…just regular Sunday worship. As I have sat with men at revival camps in the middle of the forest—we have sang this song. As I have gone to older, more ancestral churches all across the country and the South—I remember singing it, in the stadium of Liberty University. And I sang it to my children, as I have held them on my lap, and I rocked them to sleep as babies.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch—like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.
The thesis of Christianity is that there is a God who finds the lost, a shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek the one hiding in the crests of the mountains. That he endures the bitter cold, and the rain, and the scorching sun, in a never-ending mission to find us: the lost. The central tenet of Christianity is that the lost may be found. That we are they who seek, and that we call this “amazing grace”—that the lost are found. The lost are those without a home, without a tribe, without a people. The lost are those that wander—those that seek asylum, sanctuary. And that for so many of us in the Christian movement, that meant a spiritual quest. But we know, that that in the Bible is every bit as spiritual as it is physical. Because the Jews, whose faith is our own, whose story is our past, whose God isour God…they are strangers, are lost, they are wanderers, are seekers of home—both spiritually, and physically.
Lostness is the enemy of Christianity. We used to be a faith of finders, a faith of people who go and find the lost. And we would find the broken, and we would find the homeless, and we would find the suffering, and the poor, and the lonely. And yes, by God, we would find the immigrant. We were a Christian nation of finders. And now, we are a Christian nation of losers. We tell the immigrant to get lost. We tell these desperate people, as they carry children clutched to their chests, as they wander through deserts, evading drug lords and assassins, as they seek home and peace and shalom: we tell them to get lost.
We are a country now of losers, not of finders. And we forget, we forget that the Jews whose faith is our ancestry, the Jews who gave us all that we have, that their story, that their God was first really revealed to them in their exodus from Egypt—they, too, crossed the desert; they, too, wandered hopelessly, running away from devastation and brokenness and hopelessness. And it was their God who sustained them. It was their God that led them to the promised land. And so many American Christians believe with all of our hearts that America is the promised land. And yet we want to build a wall in front of it. If the Jews were seeking shalom and home in our country, if they crossed the deserts of Mexico to get here—they would be greeted by lines of angry yelling people, telling them to go home, to get out of our country. That their God is not our God; that their people are not welcome here. That we have no mercy or sympathy for them. My God, how can we call ourselves Christians? How can we say that we are finders of the lost when weexplicitly reject the lost? How can we say that we represent Amazing Grace, and how can we call that sound sweet—when we are the blind and we do not see?
There’s a statue—there’s a statue that’s very important to American history. It’s called the Statue of Liberty. And the statue is a woman holding a torch in the air. And so many of us don’t even know what that is. Why? Why is there a woman? Why does she hold a torch? Why does she face the east? Have you ever read the poem? The poem inscribed on that statue? The poem that explains all of this? The poem which sought to capture the soul of America so many years ago? Have you ever read it?
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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 lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
That is the inscription that is beneath Lady Liberty: she holds a torch and faces the east to welcome the exiled. The world once called America the Mother of Exiles. Who are we today? That statue is iconically us—and yet, we have forgotten its meaning. We have forgotten why the giant stands on our coast. We have forgotten the meaning of her torch. We have forgotten the name inscribed upon her. She is the Mother of Exiles. Who are we? We do not invite the wretched refuse, the suffering, the hurting. We do not invite them to call this place home. We do not give sanctity and dignity to those who suffer, who are rejected, who are unloved. We do not do this anymore, and yet we are Christian? We follow Christ? We come from the religion of the Jews?
When Moses led the Hebrews to freedom, they spent forty years wandering through the desert. And in Exodus 22, God commanded them: when they finally get to their promised land, when they finally set up shop, when they finally step into their own—they are so thankful for home. And if you doubt that, if you pay attention to anything you know about Israel today—is home important to that country? Is identity important to that country? Do you believe that that is their promised land? If you do—and if you know the history of their suffering, and that touches your soul—then you have no right to not believe that America too is the promised land where the suffering and the wandering and the seeking are welcome! And you have no right, if you call yourself a Christian, to reject the Bible—which told the Jews this, in Exodus 22:21: “You shall not oppress a stranger since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger.For you, also, were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you were strangers once.
Christians, Jews: ours is the God of the stranger. Ours is the God of the immigrant. Our God is with the lonely and the broken and the suffering. And our God is the shepherd who seeks the lost. How dare you do anything less? You build walls…when you should be tearing them down.
The Bible says, in Matthew 25, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered before him. And he will separate the people, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will say to those who disobeyed him, ‘depart from me. You, who are cursed, into the eternal fire, prepare for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes, and you did not clothe me. I was sick, and in prison—and you did not look after me. For I tell you the truth, whether you did not do, for one of the least of these—you did not do for me.’”
Christians: on the Day of Judgement, Jesus will not be judging us according to a game of theological trivia. He will not be judging us according to whether we have memorized enough Bible verses. He will not be judging us according to a wristband that says four letters that somehow ascribe meaning to him. He will not be judging us by which church we have attended or which charity we have donated to. He is not going to judge us based upon whether we went to Liberty University or some Godless place. He is going to judge us by whether or not we did onto the least of these as we would have done unto him. And I tell you this: if Jesus, in rags, with sun-drenched skin, was crawling across the deserts between Mexico and America, clutching children to his breast, seeking life—God help him if he is caught by a Christian. Because he will be shown no mercy, he will be shown no love. He will have no dignity. We wouldn’t do it for the very Son of God. How much less so we do it for these people, these women, these men, these children…they’re not coming here so they can start a crime syndicate. They are coming here so they can live. Because if you looked into the eyes of your fearful child, hearing gunshots in the night, seeing dead bodies in the street, and you knew that a promised land was mere hundreds of miles away—what would you not do to save them?
The Jews wandered for forty years to find peace; to find salvation. Their God is the God of the stranger. And Jesus tells us that I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. And therefore there is a command to invite in the stranger. Does that mean we don’t get to have any laws? Does that mean we don’t get to have a boundary? Does that mean we don’t get to have structure? Or rules? No. No, that doesn’t mean any of that. But it means what we’re doing now is unacceptable. It means the anger and the chanting has to stop. It means this nonsense about walls must end. Because walls do not invite strangers in. They keep strangers out. And we will be judged by whether or not we invite them in. For our people were once strangers in a foreign land—seeking peace, and promise, and life. And our God says that we shall not reject a stranger. For we too, know the plight of the stranger.
America is a special country—and I know it stings a lot of people to hear it described as a Christian nation, but it could be. I don’t believe we are today. I wish we would be. A Christian nation would be a most embracing place, a place where the suffering and the lost are found, where Amazing Grace exists. Where the lost sheep, the one who has gone astray, is sought. Christians, we shouldn’t just be welcoming the stranger. We shouldn’t just be inviting the stranger. If we believe the Gospel of Christ, if we believe that Jesus is our master, if we believe that we are His disciples, and that we ought to be conforming to His image, if you really want to be a Jesus impersonator—then do you know what you’d be doing? If Jesus Christ were here today, he would be combing the deserts of Mexico, not to find these poor families and put them into hot trucks and send them back, but to give them water and food. He would be guiding them, nurturing them, inviting them, feeding them, caring for them, clothing them. That is what it would look like if Jesus were here. And we look nothing like Him.
I imagine what the Statue of Liberty—with its emblazoned poetry, its symbolism—must have looked like to those first immigrants. I imagine her: I imagine this giant edifice, constructed to greet the oppressed, the hopeless, the bankrupt, as they drifted to this new land, desperate for a better life. Their tears streaming down dirty faces as they read those words and as they think, “God All Mighty”—for such a place, a land where the poor and the broken are made whole. Where the unskilled and the ignorant areempowered, where the least of these is valued as if they were the very Son of God.
We can become again the Mother of Exiles. We can become again a Christian nation. But it begins with the Bible. It begins with Amazing Grace. And becoming a nation of finders rather than losers. If you are a Christian out there today, if you are listening to this message: I beg you to contemplate the meaning of these words. I beg you to read carefully your Bible, the red letters of Christ. I beg you to meditate on the history of our people and of the Jews whose faith we have adopted. I beg of you to remember that Jesus said that foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. The founder and finisher of our faith was a stranger: a man without a home, a wanderer, dependent upon kindness. And He commanded His people to imitate Him, to invite the stranger in, and to treat the least of these as if they were the very Son of God.
If you saw Jesus crossing that hateful desert, how would you respond? What would you do? Is that what you want us to do as a country for those poor souls who are lost now? And if those two answers are not the same, then I urge you to look within your heart, and your soul, and your convictions, and to vote your virtue. And if that leads you to some wild-haired democratic socialist from Vermont, then so be it. Truth comes from odd places. Jesus and God have used donkeys to communicate. Ironically, maybe They are doing that again. Maybe the Democrats are the donkey [chuckle]. Maybe Bernie Sanders—this wild-haired man, with his hoarse voice and his deep accent—is calling us all to account for the thing that we abandoned long ago: the teachings of Christ, the teachings of the Old Testament, the history of the Jews, and the commands of our King.
I beg of you to reconsider your positions, to pray upon them, to ask God: “What would you have me do?” And to consider becoming again a finder of the lost—rather than a loser of the desperate.