This Friday, we celebrate two great saints: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.
John Fisher was a bishop who refused to recognize the king of England, Henry VIII, as the supreme head of the church in England. He was executed on orders of the king, who could not stand being embarrassed by those whose reputations as a theologian and scholar were greater than his own reputation as ruler.
We celebrate Bishop Fisher that same day we celebrate my favorite saint, Thomas More. Also executed for his refusal to recognize the king over the pope as head of the church, More was the Lord Chancellor of England, whose final days are recounted in Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons. I read that play every summer and taught it when I was a junior high teacher and, again, more recently, in a class I taught at a local university. At the end of the play, More stands on the dais, about to lose his head for following his conscience and says, (at least this is how it is in the play), “I have been commanded by the king to be brief, so brief I will be. I die here the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
More and Fisher served the king well. When the king didn’t get what he wanted, he simply made himself the head of the church, granted himself the divorce, and thus was free to marry the woman who would become one of many in a succession of wives. It was a declaration that he wrote with his advisors that made him able to do these things and it turns out it was a declaration that went against his own coronation oath.
When the leader of this country takes the oath of office he or she promises to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But now, we are faced with a situation at our southern border that is an adaptation of a law that violates the very constitution the president swore to protect.
The Supreme Court held in 2000’s Zadvydas v. Davis that due process rights apply to undocumented immigrants. The government may not separate asylum-seekers from their children indefinitely and without cause. Still, to date, more than 2,000 parents and children have been separated, often with no follow-up, no way of tracking kids or parents, and no path to reunification. It’s a policy rooted in fear and guided (or misguided) by those who believe that might makes right and people who are in danger of starving to death or getting shot on their neighborhood streets will somehow stop coming if the gate is locked.
Our current policy defies logic and basic human decency. In some cases, the parents are arrested at the border, not once they have crossed it. Whether the parents are fleeing persecution at home, violence in their streets, or are simply hoping to gain entry to a better life does not seem to matter. No amount of Bible quotes will get the president and his advisors out of this one.
We need an immigration policy in this country that both keeps us safe and treats others fairly. We need people who are willing to stand firm in the face of tyranny and demand change – even at the risk of losing their proverbial heads.
In short, we need people who are willing to be “God’s first” – not Republicans first, not Democrats first, not liberals or conservatives, or ultra-anything (except, perhaps, Christian), not watchers of news from one side or the other, but true, honest to goodness Americans who are willing to stand up and say, “Enough.”
Simple steps, like writing your representatives, is a beginning. I was challenged to do that last week by a late-night talk show host of all people. His argument was compelling, and I wrote my letters immediately. Signing petitions is another step. Posting on social media is another. Talking to your friends. Reading the paper. Inform yourself.
Because if we are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, I cannot imagine the one will judge us all is happy about any of this.
This week, how will you be “God’s first”?