On Caring for the Poor and the Stranger

28 11 2008


But there was something that Julian couldn’t shake about the Christians. Something he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that was the Christians’ virtue. Their charity. And especially their hospitality to those they didn’t even know. In fact, Julian once issued an order to try to get pagan believers to start imitating the Christians in what he called their “benevolence toward strangers.”

Here’s a quote from a letter he wrote, and you can tell he’s not very happy. He complains that Christians’ care for strangers and their holiness is contributing to the spread of “atheism.” (He called Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods.)

Here’s what Julian wrote: “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers … and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism. … It is disgraceful that when … the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men should see how our people lack aid from us.”

-Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, via this blog

I am starting to think that any sort of political calculation among people who consider themselves Christians is toxic to their Christianity. I have read arguments of people saying that we have a Christian duty to take care of those in our own country before we can help the “stranger” in our midst. I have heard the rhetoric of the right-wing pundits who say that the Church is more concerned with immigration and the death penalty than with the pro-life cause. In the end, however, such “[white] America-first” bigotry only underminds the Gospel, just as the last gasp of paganism was delivered a death-blow by those Christians who loved without calculating the cost. Maybe it’s not viable, or maybe we have to “prioritize”, but such actions can at best only maintain what we have, they cannot grow the seed of the Church. The American cultural right, no matter how convinced it is of its own Christianity, is far less convincing to those outside of it regarding the virtues it claims to hold most sacred.