I groaned. "Not that same worn-out old line again!" I thought. Man! Can't he come up with something original?
But it wouldn't go away. One thing led to another, and I very quickly started having such thoughts as, "What does he mean by 'Christian'?" There are so many varieties, you know. There are those who try sincerely to follow the teachings about Jesus, like forgiving your enemies, being a good neighbor, actually loving one another the way God loves us. Then there are those who see Christianity as an exclusive club, keeping "undesirables" out, and then condemning them because they aren't "in". Some of those "clubs" are so exclusive that they even keep out members of other Christian "clubs" because of how they dress, how they worship, or even the color of their skin.
If I could actually be tried and convicted of being a Christian, which variety would be listed on the indictment? (Would Jesus recognize any of them?
As my mind played games with me along these lines, I started thinking of other uses for the priest's question. What if you were accused of being Jewish? Islamic? Buddhist? Atheist? Would there be enough evidence for a conviction? What would be the nature of the so-called evidence?
It was just a short jump to being accused of being an American. If you were accused of being an American, would there be enough evidence to convict you? That brings with it the follow-up question, "What is an American?"
If being an American means simply having been born here, or having been properly naturalized, proof would be easy. Just show your birth certificate or your naturalization papers.
But, just as being a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim generally has more to it than having the correct starting point in terms of parentage or ceremony, being an American should mean more than the luck of the draw or a none-time choice. Papers, after all, can be forged.
I believe that to be an American in the true sense of the word means holding on to and living up to the basic tenets of our heritage: tenets contained in the beliefs of our Founders as expressed in the founding documents, and strongly-held beliefs that have developed as our nation developed
Our Declaration of Independence states that "...all men are created equal...." (Let's not get sidetracked by the term "men". That's a whole other discussion.) Does the accused truly hold to this statement, in word and in deed? Does the accused truly believe that every man, woman, and child shares a basic equality? Or are there in the mind of the accused varying gradations of "equality"; i.e., are some more equal than others? This might be brought out by exhibits regarding attitudes toward areas such as education, health care, job opportunity, and wages.
The Constitution was set up "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It outlines government that is of, by, and for the good of the people-all the people. Has the defendant lived by this outline in its totality, as completely as possible? Or has the accused cut corners and advocated or even worked for justice, defense, welfare, and liberty for only select portions of the citizenry?
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." is inscribed on our Statue of Liberty. How does the defendant interpret these words? Are they "ancient history" or are they real and living even today? Would the defendant shut the door in the face of all who will do not already have the wherewithal to serve the "national interest"? Or does the accused believe that the door still stands open to welcome "the homeless, tempest-tost" to our shores?
Obviously, I am not a lawyer. A qualified prosecutor would surely be able to line up a more probing interrogation which would lead, in turn, to more telling responses. But I'm sure you get the picture: how many "Americans" would be convicted of being truly American?
How do you plead? What would the jury say?