Tuesday, February 02, 2010

suffer the little children to come unto me...legally

Asked what he thought about the Americans’ claims to be doing God’s work, Mr. Denis shrugged. “What is God’s I leave to God,” he said. “What’s the state’s is ours.”

Ah. God and state.  What is Caesar's and what is not.

The story of the Baptist missionaries playing Pied Piper to a bunch of Haitian kids gives me a Sunday School flashback rash. In Sunday School I learned all about the miraculous things that faith could do: it could roll away a stone from a tomb; it could raise the dead; it could be as small as a mustard seed yet grow into a mighty oak; it could allow you to walk on water, feed hundreds with just a few loaves, it could make you lay down your nets and follow some guy (nevermind about providing a living for your family depending on the revenue of what you caught.)

Basically, if you had the faith of a child you could be a superhero. You could do Anything!!

Or it could land you in jail.
Right now those 10 well-intentioned Baptists are sitting in jail, and quoting Phillipians. The significance of Phillipians? It's the letter Paul wrote while in jail awaiting trial in Rome to the church in Phillipi. He's writing to friends, reassuring them, encouraging them and sharing how his faith (slightly bigger than a mustard seed) in Christ has carried him through this period of darkness.  It's a beautiful letter, I've always thought. 

But Paul is also the go-to apostle when it comes to invoking martyrdom and going 'balls out' for the Lord.
'Limits be damned! I'm on fire for Christ! I am His Chief Sinner! Arrrgh!'

But the Phillipians letter also shows the limits of faith; for all his faith, Paul is still going to trial.  He will be executed in Rome. He will eventually bow his knee to Caesar. His faith is great, but his faith can't stop the workings of the state.

I don't think faith exists to embolden magical, fantastical thinking.  And it was fantastical for those people to think they could 'rescue' Haitian children and then ...what? Just scoot them over the border and keep them indefinitely?  Seems so.  My religious training has always taught that you have faith *in* Christ -- but don't get all crazy with it.  In other words, being faithful is great but that doesn't mean the State can't exert its own will on your ass when you break their laws.  (That's what landed Paul in prison in the first place.)

I also don't think God communicates to us in mysterious, ill-thought directives, despite what someone's father might say: “They were acting in faith. That may sound trivial, but they were acting not only in faith but God’s faith.” God wanted them to ignore procedure and just snatch children across the border? Really? God works like that? I'd like to see that demonstrated, somewhere.

This is also the uncomfortable tension between how we practice our evangelical faith (I say 'we/our' because I can't really get rid of it, no matter how many presbyterian cocktail parties I attend) and the rules of the world we live in.  Faith doesn't exist in a completely rule-free zone.  On one side you have John Brown; on the other, Scott Roeder.  On one side you have the many missionaries who have been in Haiti for years, delivering critical services. But on the other, you have the nagging, troublesome tendency of faith groups to enthusiastically 'fix' things without thinking if they really ought, to the detriment of the very people they're trying to help.  Unintended consequences are a bitch.

One's faith may say 'Save teh poor fetus babehs!' So you shoot Dr. Tiller.  Well, suck it up.  The state has a rule for that. 
One's faith may even say 'Rescue the poor little black babehs!' So you load up a bunch and take them without permission. Their country has a rule for that.
One's faith dictates gays are an 'abomination.' So you strip them of civil rights.  Well, our constitution has a rule for that.

I understand what walking in faith means to an evangelical. You walk by faith, not by sight. You believe there is a purpose, a meaning ahead of you and you walk toward it, even if the path is scary. But where does faith and common sense take leave of one another? Does walking in faith mean to put aside critical thinking skills? Does it mean to ignore the rules of a sovereign country?

To quote a blog friend of mine: You may believe those babies are better off in Idaho, but that doesn't make them 'orphans'.


thenutfantastic said...

I was just discussing with a coworker last week the idea of Haiti and our odd fetishist desire to save them from themselves. He thought they lived wrong because they've always been poor, we continue to give them $1million annually, have dirt floors and concrete walls.

My response: So? How does that make their way of living wrong? Just because an entire civilization doesn't live like we do doesn't make them *wrong*.

Colonization, and the idea surrounding missionary work, strike a strong nerve with me and these Baptist peeps trying to take these children just irritated it further.

Joy said...

This was not the key theme of your essay, but I am totally going to adapt and steal your line. "I can't really get rid of my Lutheran faith, no matter how many atheist cocktail parties I attend."

And I will now forever think of Paul as the balls-out apostle. Thanks for that.

Songbird said...

Amen, sister. I'm a recovering Southern Baptist, and it hurts me when people wearing that label do such things.

Delia Christina said...

Unfortunately, missionary work and colonialism/imperialism often go hand in hand.

The Church was instrumental in the Spaniards' conquering of the New World (Guns, Germs and Steel has a really great chapter on this.) With few exceptions, where there is an expedition to an 'undiscovered' place, there is either a priest or a minister, ready to convert the savage in order to smooth the path of the conqueror.

It's a legacy of complicity that missionaries need to grapple with and struggle against.

Delia Christina said...

Another thing that bothered me when I read the NYTimes piece was the stuff about their plans for the children.

So they'd 'rescue' them, drive them across the border, build an orphanage for them, and....keep them there?? They said they had no plans to place those kids with other families, but why else would you take them?

There's a presumption that those children wouldn't already have someone to love and care for them at home. That we can care for your children better than you can, so we have this right to do this for you (instead of to you.)

The air of entitlement is stunning. After all, there are Haitian Christians who would, I'm sure, be glad to take care of these children and see to their safety, even if they have limited means.

But it's as if our money and our comfort gives us a right to take other people's children...it's upsetting. (And don't get me started on the racial dynamics of this.)

Delia Christina said...

@Joy -
I'm almost positive that Paul is the favorite apostle for really conservative, manly Christian dudes. His conversion story is awesome, he was the most educated of the apostles, he was totally a hardliner and hard core with his faith. (He rebuked Peter! Whoa!)

I mean, basically, he trumped every local trial he had so he could have a chance to speak his piece straight to Caesar in Rome. And then he gets his head chopped off. W00t!

Christian dudes love that: he's a martyr, he leaves his wife, he believes in a woman's 'place', he's all Grrrr for God. And he tells all these other people what to do, too?


*eye roll*

Joy said...

Oh, Paul is totally social-conservative GOLD, no doubt about it. And now thanks to your adept phrasing, I have this ridiculous mental picture now of him throwing off his robe, grabbing a rope and swinging commando out over a crowd. I realize that's probably not what you had in mind, but it's what popped into my head, and now I can't get rid of it.

I know you said not to get you started on the racial dynamics, but I think that's HUGE here, much bigger than just money and comfort entitling Americans to take children. As you rightly pointed out, many of these kids do still have relatives, and there are certainly other Haitians who could care for them. The screaming subtext to this case is that black people are not and cannot be fit parents and caregivers.

Joy said...

The last sentence should read "The screaming subtext to this case is THE MYTH that black people are not and cannot be fit parents and caregivers."

I hope that was obvious, but upon rereading, I freaked out.

Delia Christina said...

The most recent story that came out yesterday in the times said the children were given away by their families because they had no way to care for them during this crisis and that they were reassured they could visit them at any time and even take them back.

Be that as it may, this story still makes me hinky.

It's pretty clear from the group's online documents that they meant to place children with American families back in Idaho. I don't know how that jibes with these families offering their kids to these strangers. But then, on the other hand, this Silsby woman says they intended to be with these children their entire lives, if necessary.

What the hell does that mean?

I think it's becoming clearer that something either was sadly wrong with Silsby or with that mission on the whole.

Joy said...

Yes, Silsby and the whole scheme are very, very wrong. Let's assume, just from Christian generosity of spirit, that the missionaries truly intended to let parents visit children and take them back if feasible, care for the kids in the DR rather than Idaho, and not facilitate any adoptions of any kids who still had living relatives. Even IF all that was true, a sane organization would not attempt to do something like that on the fly. You just don't move people across international borders willy nilly without paperwork. You don't remove children from relatives without paperwork. You don't make an announcement on a soccer field and then drive away with kids in a bus. You don't make a "plan" for Americans to care for Haitian kids in the Dominican Republic. Passports? Visas? Registration of the organization? It's like they don't believe there are any rules outside of the United States (and even U.S. rules are optional if they conflict with God's wishes as interpreted by Silsby).

The whole thing is just nuts. Racism, colonialism, religious fervor, delusions.

And what's happening with the kids now?

Delia Christina said...

i think they are being taken care of at a real orphanage run by the austrians or swiss or something.

Racism, colonialism, religious fervor, delusions.

you just described western civ.