This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
It has been beautiful, absolutely beautiful, to see the worldwide outpouring of support for the Ukrainian people, particularly those who are fleeing Putin’s war into other Eastern European countries.
Over the past few weeks, though, I’ve also seen a handful of posts on social media noting that welcoming those fleeing violence is not really something our world has done a great job at recently. Indeed, our country has gotten really bad at it, truth be told. As I asked in my sermon this past Sunday, when are Americans wanting to welcome the Ukrainians fleeing violence going to start having that same embrace to refugees who might have a different skin color?
One of the founding ideals of our country was the inalienable right to life, liberty, and happiness. What many people don’t realize, though, is that this is not a uniquely American ideal. It actually has a basis in Scripture. So, this week I’d like to break the myth of what each human being should have as a right, on the sole basis of their humanity.
In the book of the eighth-century prophet Micah, there is a powerful depiction of what the final healing of the world will look like when God finally sets all things right. This is Micah’s vision of what the world should look like and what, by God’s grace, it will look like in the end.
All the nations will come together, Micah believes, and God will finally be the God of all people. In this vision, Micah says that nations will finally beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks—no more weapons, just instruments for growth. He promises that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. And then, in verse four, the prophet writes, “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”
This same image was taken up in revolutionary times in the writings of George Washington, with Washington using this phrase in correspondence throughout his life, “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.” The dream of the prophet Micah exemplified, for Washington, the dream of the peasant farmer freed from military oppression and tyranny.
It was a part of Washington’s farewell address, his wish for the citizens of the country to find freedom in their own patch of land, not to need to fight any longer for the freedom that should be theirs by right. The phrase was even picked up by Lin Manuel-Miranda in his musical, Hamilton, where Washington sings, “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I'm gone. Like the scripture says, ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.’ They'll be safe in the nation we've made. I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree. A moment alone in the shade. At home in this nation we've made, one last time.”
This ideal is what you see reflected in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents of our country. The founders of our country had an idea that every human being should have a right to an unmolested life on their own piece of land.
Now, they clearly didn’t actually mean every human being back then, given the other laws surrounding slavery and women and out treatment of native people… but the ideal has persisted, and each generation has sought to put to that ideal a little more into reality, to make our country more reflective of that hope.
And make no mistake, there are so many people in our world today who still long to see the dream of the prophet Micah realized. Not just Ukrainians who are fighting with all they have against a war they didn’t invite, Ukrainians who would love to sit once more in their homes undisturbed, but so many more than that.
I think of African Americans, whose bodies and whose slavery and oppression built the wealth so many of us enjoy, people who would very much like to enjoy the fruit of the labor of their ancestors, fruit that is still kept from them through systems racism and injustice in our country.
I think of the Palestinian people, many of them Muslim but many Christians as well, who were forced from their homes and who long to return to vines and fig trees their ancestors planted, which were stolen from them by Zionism and an Israeli government that increasingly thrives on fear and eschews justice.
I think of immigrants in our own country who are unable to get any documents because our system is broken and immoral, because it asks them to spend decades waiting while they watch their children suffer from war and violence, simply because of the country they happen to be born in—because people in other countries can get those documents much more quickly in this current system.
Could you imagine… Could you imagine if the church used the force of Christianity to argue that it is the inalienable right for every person to live a life free from poverty and violence, that every human has the right to sit in the shade of their own tree and enjoy the fruits of their work? I can imagine it… and the prophet Micah could imagine it. I hope you can imagine it, too.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.