George Pyle: Don’t tell me this is a Christian nation. It clearly is not. – Salt Lake Tribune

“I know my humor is outrageous when it makes the Unitarians so mad they burn a question mark on my front lawn.” 

—Lenny Bruce

Yes, that’s a Unitarian joke. I know because I found it on a webpage of Unitarian jokes maintained by a Unitarian church. A Canadian Unitarian church, no less, which probably makes it doubly self-effacing.

It’s a collection of remarks and quips and shaggy dog stories about how those who might be found on a Sunday morning waiting for the coffee to brew at the local Unitarian Universalist chuch are perhaps just a bit squishy in their fundamental faith.

Cracks like, “What’s a Unitarian prayer? ‘Dear God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.’” “UUs are basically good people, who, for the most part, try to live by the 10 suggestions.” “Visitors on a tour of Heaven noticed a group of Unitarian Universalists, who were arguing about whether or not they were really there.”

So, because the image that UUs have of themselves is one that values discussion and debate over dogma and certainty, it might be time to excommunicate the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. If Unitarians were organized enough to excommunicate anybody. Which they aren’t.

But it seems that the church on 1300 East went right to the Bible and, instead of arguing and interpreting and giving new meaning to anything, took quite literally Matthew 25:35. The bit about, “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” And they took in Vicky Chavez and her two young daughters, giving her a place of sanctuary when she could not bring herself to return to her native Honduras even though her plea for asylum had been denied by the United States government.

The family has been in the church for six months now and, just the other day, Chavez’s most recent plea for asylum was denied. The church is still home to the three of them. They daren’t go outside for fear that the modern brownshirts, the agency known as ICE, might swoop in.

The pastor, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith, said six months ago that the church membership had voted unanimously some months before that to offer such sanctuary to anyone who sought it. Unanimously. Another thing that’s supposedly not so Unitarian. But very biblical.

Of course, the fact that this case is such big news shows just how unusual this act of Christian kindness is and, frankly, how much pure bunk it is to hear, as we do every day, that this is a Christian nation.

It is nothing of the kind.

If it were really a Christian nation, there’d be a Vicky Chavez in every church in town. In the state. In the country. If we had a Christian government, as Mike Pence and others argue we should, it would be a government based on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, all that Jesusish stuff.

Do the math. The controversy over illegal immigration, fueled not just by racism but by genuine — if overblown — fears of people overwhelming the health care, welfare and educational systems, would quickly fade away if every family took in one refugee, and every church hosted a family of refugees. The burden for each would be pretty light and the taxpayer would be spared much of the cost.

There are enough of us to also handle the problem of the home-grown homeless as well. Again, a single homeless person in every home. A homeless family in every church. Room to spare.

So why don’t I go first?

For the same reason you don’t. It’s too scary. We don’t like strangers. We fear them and worry that they might go nuts from drug withdrawal or steal from us or get violent.

Many of them need more than a roof and a bed. They need catch-up education, mental health or drug treatment, other kinds of rehab, protection from abusive ex-boyfriends. And they might smell funny and talk funny and eat weird stuff and might never go away.

That’s why, like everything else in the 21st century, we want to farm out the care and rehabilitation of the homeless and the migrant to professionals. To people we pay because they know what they are doing. Who have backup. Who don’t make us look, too much, at what’s going on with the poor and the stateless.

That means, of course, government action. Fighting over allotments of taxpayer money and over the size and location of refugee centers and homeless shelters.

Not because there is anything wrong with the strangers, but because we won’t take them in.

George Pyle, The Salt Lake Tribune editorial page editor, may need to be taken in himself someday. Along with his cat.

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