La Amistad and President Trump

In July of 1839, Mende captives from Sierra Leone staged an uprising on the schooner “La Amistad” to try to return to the African continent from which they had been taken.

Deceived by the crew, they were boarded in the waters off Long Island and put on trial. Their case wound its way to the Supreme Court of the United States before they were finally declared to have been kidnapped and victims of the illegal African Slave Trade.

What allowed thirty-five of the original 53 Mende captives to return to their homeland, beside the help of the United Missionary Society and its founder, African-American Congregational Minister James W. C. Pennington, a former slave himself, was the fact of the captives having had due process extended to them, though they were not at that time citizens of the United States.

As one of the foundational principles of American Jurisprudence, the suggestion by a sitting President of the United States that anyone found crossing the boarder would be summarily captured and immediately returned without a hearing is contrary to our ideals and does violence to the American system of justice.

Additionally, it is contrary to the message of the Bible contained in the writings of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The Law and the Prophets in numerous sections give voice to the idea of being gracious to the “Stranger and Alien in your land.”

One of the most famous and favorite parables of Jesus was that of the so-called, “Good Samaritan”. Understood in historical context, it would be more akin to telling the story of the “Good North Korean” or the “Good Terrorist”.

What we don’t understand today is that to a First Century Jewish person living in Judea, the idea that a Samaritan would do anything of worth was mind-blowing. They could not wrap their heads around it. But that was the point of the parable.

We are called to care for those who we are least likely to want to care for, because that is what grace is about; showing unmerited favor to those who don’t deserve it.

The Book of James likewise gives advice that should be taken seriously today in the current climate of animosity and discord. James writes, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in a word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so. (James 3:2,5-6,8-10 NKJV)

We should all take the advice of the Apostle, and do what we can to season our words with grace, particularly those of the household of faith.