This was the first paragraph of a story in The Washington Post on Saturday regarding Vice President Mike Pence's tour of a Texas immigrant detention facility:
"MCALLEN, Tex. — When Vice President Pence visited a migrant detention center here Friday, he saw nearly 400 men crammed behind caged fences with not enough room for them all to lie down on the concrete ground. There were no mats or pillows for those who found the space to rest. A stench from body odor hung stale in the air."
And this is a quote from the Bible, Matthew 25:40:
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
We feel that these two paragraphs, more than what we could write, offer a powerful commentary on the paradox facing America, a nation that often touts its Christian heritage.
It's particularly poignant because Pence has taken Christianity as his calling card, and should be judged by those same values which he so fervently espouses.
After seeing some men shirtless, cramped, unable to sleep, in sweltering conditions where they had to ask guards even for a drink of water, Pence said, "This is tough stuff."
And it's tough stuff because the Trump administration has ordered these camps, which we believe history will not remember kindly nor as necessary.
Pence tried to shift the blame to Congress and believed that by touring the wretched conditions that somehow the American public would believe there's a crisis.
Well, there's at least one thing we agree on: There is a crisis. But, it's a manufactured one that has been created by rounding up folks, many of whom only wanted a better life for their families or an escape from violence. In other words, their families have the same stories as so many other American families.
For a moment, let's suppose that there was some urgent necessity to round up these folks. Even if that were so, we would expect America to have the resources and the know-how to equip facilities so that people are not hungry, thirsty and half-naked, ironically the same things Jesus spoke about just a few verses earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, 23:35-36:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
Comparing Christ's words and Pence's actions, Pence has failed.
And he's failed in the worst way.
He has become like the Pharisee in another famous image that Christ touted, in Luke 18:10-13.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’"
Pence has used his religion to appeal to a base of devoutly religious voters. He repeatedly references his faith and works, but seems to use not in the service of others, but as a way to enhance his image.
Don't get us wrong: We believe communities of faith are the backbone of this country and give it strong guidance, conviction and compassion.
However, we also believe that if leaders want the benefit of touting their religious bonafides, they need to live up to the words of their faith.
Taking care of those who are hungry, impoverished or the strangers are among the most basic pillars of the Christian religion.
Surveying a camp of refugees who are thirsty and half-naked isn't tough stuff, to use Pence's words, it's an abomination. We are better than this.
Instead, what's tough stuff are the words of Jesus.
If Pence truly believes those words so passionately, he should realize his highest calling isn't to a political administration, it's to a crucified king.