On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 7


In 1911 a Senator Dillingham reported to congress that “certain kinds of criminality are inherent in the Italian race” and that “the high rate of illiteracy among the new immigrants was due to inherent racial tendencies.”

Once the railroad was finished, so was our country finished with the Chinese they’d conscripted and enslaved to finish it. For instance, Californian legislators began passing ordinances designated to drive out the Chinese. They passed bills making it illegal for Chinese to get a business license, to fish, or marry a white person. In Santa Cruz (where I lived for 20 years) there was an ordinance that stated, “No person shall carry baskets or bags attached to poles carried upon backs or shoulders on public sidewalks.” In 1876 a congressional report in order to halt Chinese immigration to the US stated: “There is not sufficient brain capacity in the Chinese race to furnish motive power for self-government,” and, “There is no Aryan or European race which is not far superior to the Chinese.”

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

I obviously miscalculated how many words it would take me to unburden my soul on this topic. Even though I have not nearly said all that’s on my mind about neighborliness, I really must bring this provocative essay to a close – to no one’s disappointment, I’m sure. My principle hope is that I’ve offered what I consider to be a biblical perspective, yet one that some might not have considered before. I trust that we’ll be able to parse out the humanitarian from the partisan and just let the Spirit speak to us through his Word.

I wanted to scream bad words when I read about a certain church (not a hypothetical one), which, in order to look its best during its televised services, selected well-dressed and good looking individuals to sit in the front where the cameras would pan them instead of their less desirable-appearing worshipping counterparts!

Did you know that prior to 1941 California had on the books a so-called “Anti-Okie Law” which prohibited the bringing of a non-resident “indigent person” into the state? “Every person, firm or corporation, or officer or agent thereof that brings or assists in bringing into the State any indigent person who is not a resident of the State, knowing him to be an indigent person, is guilty of a misdemeanor.” 

Last year at Christmastime my homeless friend Gene and I went to San Francisco’s Union Square together to enjoy the downtown city lights, the decoration-laden tree, and drink hot chocolate. Gene seemed a little nervous about it at first and told me that the year before, when he’d sat in the same place we’d parked ourselves just to take in the yuletide scene, a security guard sternly, if not rudely, ordered him to vacate the premises. He wasn’t lying on the ground passed out across the front door of I. Magnin. He was just sitting on a bench trying to enjoy the holiday ambience.

Gene dons clothes pulled from various dumpsters. He doesn’t have money to launder them, so he just replaces them with “new” ones when the old ones shred with wear. His beard is unshaven and his hair matted. He’s not quite right, as they say, psychologically or socially, but while he may look menacing, when you get to know him he’s the gentlest soul of a person you’d ever want to meet. His mother was a college president and he’s a 1970s UCLA grad. He reads six newspapers a day, can talk circles around me about most topics, and poses no threat to anyone except to offend the senses of money-spending Christmas shoppers. With me by his side I assured him he’d have no such problem, though, I did prepare a speech in my mind to give anyone who might try to shoo us away. Since I got more irritated the longer I thought about it, thank God I didn’t have to give it.

Even more nauseating to me are, what some U.S. cities called “Ugly Laws,” which made it illegal for persons with repulsive disabilities to appear in public. “No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”

Who are the “Okies” or “Uglies” being detained at our church doors or borders today?

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:1-8

Let’s be clear, James has no beef with the guy with the expensive jewelry and Armani shoes per se. It’s the ushers and preachers who want some of that gold in the offering plate that he wants to punch in the face. Oops, I might’ve projected that onto him from my own mind. It’s not necessarily the rich guy’s fault, who’s probably just minding his own business coming to worship, when he received preferential treatment. James’ objection was to the utilitarian church leader who hoped for some economic or social benefit from the wealthy visitor, while refusing the same consideration to the poor man with allegedly nothing good to offer. In our soulless world, this sort of money-grubbing discrimination might be almost predictable, but in the Church? Never!

I wonder what James would think about the American Church today. What would a missive from the Jerusalem pastor sound like?

“He may come from the good side or the bad side of the tracks. He might even have spent the night sleeping under the tracks, but he’s our neighbor! Maybe he got here illegally, but he’s your neighbor. He might have come from a country whose leaders demonize us as “infidels,” but according to their Maker – and ours – he’s our neighbor!”

Whether at the entrance to our gated communities, at our national borders, or the front door of the church, some feel it their duty to stand guard to keep undesirables from entering the neighborhood. They’ve proven that they don’t know God’s definition of “neighbor,” which includes people from all four corners of the earth, or understand his command to love our neighbors who come from the other corners.

immigration3Some people just don’t realize how large the neighborhood is when self-appointed “Neighborhood Watch Groups” stand guard at the border with signs that say, “This is my neighborhood, not yours. You’re not welcome here. Go home!” How does their inhospitable rant differ from the suburban complaint, “There goes the neighborhood!”? Since “the neighborhood” belongs to God, who are we to judge it going anywhere?

If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend both Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario and Welcoming the Stranger, by Soerens and Hwang.

In the meantime, let’s love our neighbors as ourselves!

As provocative as this entire piece has been, if you feel a friend or network of yours would be challenged to think about this topic, please feel free to forward it on to them.

2 Replies to “On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 7”

  1. So, not to start anything (seriously!) I wondering… what do you do with Paul’s statement that all Cretans are liars…? I am honestly curious.


  2. This passage has always puzzled me, but the best I can do is…

    The quote from a Greek poet from 600BC:
    “… the reason that Cretans are always liars was that they claimed to possess a tomb of Zeus, who, of course, as a god, cannot have died!” Gordon Fee

    Which begs the question, Why would he quote a pagan poet?
    “But what did Paul mean by calling Epimenides one of their own prophets? Possibly he intended something similar to John 11:49–51, where Caiaphas spoke prophetically without necessarily intending to do so.” Fee

    To me, the biggest problem is how Paul seems to agree with the poet and gives a blanket statement about all Cretans being liars… Maybe the Message Bible helps:
    One of their own prophets said it best:
    The Cretans are liars from the womb,
    barking dogs, lazy bellies.
    He certainly spoke the truth. Get on them right away. Stop that diseased talk of Jewish make-believe and made-up rules so they can recover a robust faith.

    In other words, he probably didn’t mean this as a blanket indictment of all Cretans at all times…

    And then the use of “always”…
    It wasn’t Paul’s “always” but the 600BC poet’s. That Paul said, “This is true” might be… not that he agreed that all of them were always liars (which is poetic license), but that as a culture the Cretans have always been this way… It could also be in the same sense in which I used the word “always” in my opening sentence, that this passage has “always” bothered me. It hasn’t really always bothered me, not every day since I was born… That would be taking my language too literally. I didn’t intend for it to mean such and such but so and so… You know?

    Why wasn’t Paul more specific than this? We might’ve said something more like: “Well, the poet said such and such, and he had a point, though not all Cretans are so and so, many of them, especially these false teachers, fit into that category…” but I assume he knew Titus would know what he meant and didn’t need all that extra verbiage.

    Anyway, like I said, I’ve always been puzzled about it, so take it for what it’s worth…


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