Three years ago, I visited the diocese of Quebec as a foreign journalist writing about the sometimes weird, sometimes wonderful world of anglophone Christians in a place where neither group is the social norm.

During this time, I participated in a Lenten book study of A Canticle for Leibowitz—one of my favourite books. A group of parishioners from a handful of Quebec City’s churches got together to discuss Walter M. Miller’s post-apocalyptic speculations about the future, faith, hubris and humility. Included in Miller’s vision was “the Simplification,” a violent purge of all scientific and academic knowledge following a devastating nuclear holocaust. Leibowitz was published in 1959, and Miller participated in the Allied bombing of the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, so such possibilities must have swirled in his mind.

After we finished reading, our discussion leader raised a question from its pages: Do you think something like the Simplification is possible? Sandra Bender, then-choirmaster and music director at Holy Trinity Cathedral, offered her view: “The Simplification has already begun.” Her rationale? The United States of America had recently elected a reality television celebrity (a bad one) to preside over them and over a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world. This, she argued, suggested that knowledge and reason were already in steep decline in the world. We were already simplifying. In the post-truth world, opinions and fantasies are conflated with facts and knowledge.

Many are fighting to improve circumstances in the United States. Yet it should also be quite clear that many are actively working against the interests of progress, decency and compassion.

I agreed. I’m known to be a bit of a “doomer” (the Anglican Journal’s writers can attest that I was an early adopter of the idea that COVID-19 would radically alter our lives), but I’m also an American. I lived in the United States in 2016, and I cast a ballot in that election. I voted for Hillary Clinton—not because I liked her, but because my spouse and I lived in a mostly Black neighbourhood in Rochester, New York, and we shared our home with Kurdish asylum seekers. Donald Trump’s rhetoric made very clear that the path to America’s re-greatening would be paved by white people, and the Lord commands me to love my neighbours. My neighbours were unhappy with the possibilities raised by a Trump victory; I voted for Clinton out of love for them. On the night after his election, Kate and I joined a local Black congregation for a spontaneous gathering in which people prayed that, somehow, God would soften Trump’s heart and open his eyes to the misery of the unemployed, the disabled, the dejected and the discarded. When I think about it, I still cry.

I have said this to many Canadians and Americans, and I am often met with confusion: Donald Trump can never be un-elected. Yes, in the waning days of his term, he might be impeached (again) and convicted, and thus removed from office. Or the 25th Amendment might be invoked, deeming him unfit to lead (without criminal proceedings). And yes, he lost this election to Joe Biden. And yet, he can never be un-elected. That’s part of history now. Millions and millions of Americans looked at him in 2016 and said, “Yes, that’s our guy.” They decided to entrust the fate of their country to a man who was clearly unsuited to lead a corporation (as multiple bankruptcies attest) or to participate in a marriage (as multiple divorces and affairs attest)—a man who seemed most at home barking orders on semi-scripted television. And not only did millions of people make that decision in 2016, they did again in 2020—in spite of Trump’s Marie Antoinettestyled response to the pandemic. Let them drink Lysol! Trump was very nearly chosen to remain in his position. In Joe Biden’s election we speak not of landslides but of grains of sand.

While some headlines this morning may declare that democracy has prevailed in America, I’m hesitant to make such claims. It has, perhaps, lived to see another day, but barely so. And just as Donald Trump cannot be un-elected, the U.S. Capitol can never be un-sieged. We cannot un-see yesterday’s events, in which a mostly white crowd stormed America’s halls of power with, it seemed, little resistance.

Americans aren’t wanted much of anywhere, especially if they lack resources and refinement.

I offer these thoughts not to speak only to the traumatic nature of the events, but also to illustrate their transformative power. Once America elected Donald Trump, it became the country that elected Donald Trump. Once an angry mob violently seized the U.S. Capitol building, America became the place where said mob can overthrow the government, albeit temporarily, under the watchful eye of police. That can’t be un-lived, un-done or re-told. It just is. These are defining events that will help many Americans forever understand the country they live in.

Many are fighting to improve circumstances in the United States. Yet it should also be quite clear that many are actively working against the interests of progress, decency and compassion. The staggering number of Americans lost to COVID-19, long-term failures to reform policing systems and the massive scale of imprisonment in America all suggest, at least to me, that the country is not ripe for societal transformation. We see America’s problems becoming increasingly complex while proposed solutions are evermore simple and reductionist. We need strength! We need healing! We need leadership!

But what do these things mean, and how do they help? As I argued in my November 2020 editorial, the backdrop to this war of talking points is real human suffering. Many Americans live in a kind of sub-refugee status—incapable of escaping the bonds of their caste (racial, ethnic, geographic, gender, etc.) but not quite persecuted enough to warrant special status in any immigration process, anywhere. Contrary to a confusing piece written by the Toronto Star’s Heather Scoffield, Americans aren’t wanted much of anywhere, especially if they lack resources and refinement. And thus, Canadians might rightly consider the plight of Yemenis or Yazidis—and how to help them or bring them here—but they’re less likely to discuss the nearly inescapable problems faced by people in Puerto Rico or on Parsells Avenue, where I lived in Rochester. Or to consider those problems inescapable in the first place. Rather, those are Americans with American problems, and Americans need to solve those American problems with American solutions. And so, we all wait for solutions. Indefinitely and for decades, we wait. The railroad has long been closed.

As an American living permanently in Canada, please let me say: I believe this needs urgent reconsideration. As many Canadians have already said on video calls, phone calls and social media in the past 24 hours, yes, there is a need for Canadians to pray. Please pray. But there’s also a need for action. At present, Canada’s immigration system provides no consideration for Americans of little means who find themselves in unbearable circumstances, in a nation of mass death and attempted coup d’état. America’s most destitute and helpless people have nowhere to go. They have no means to leave. They are wanted nowhere. And many of their own people don’t wish to see their suffering end. What should Canada say to them? What should Canadians do?

What will you do?

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Matthew Townsend
Matthew Townsend has worked in editorial, journalistic, and web development roles with a variety of organizations, including the The Living Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY, and the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. He is a member of Episcopal Communicators and has consulted with a variety of ecumenical organizations, including Atlantic School of Theology, the Presbyterian Endowment Network, and the Associated Church Press.

7 COMMENTS

  1. How about, instead of being political, you try being Christ- like…

    Pray for those who have lost hope
    Pray for those who have put their faith in things other than God
    Pray for those who have forgotten Christ’s Words
    Pray for those who don’t have forgiveness
    Pray for the humble
    Pray for the empty churches
    Pray for those who are tempted by fame
    Pray for those who hate
    Pray for the hypocrites
    Pray for the judgmental
    Pray for the arrogant
    Pray for the leaders of the world
    Pray for the faithful
    Pray for all the everyday person
    Pray for the Lord’s Peace, Love, and Forgiveness.
    And, yes, pray for America and Americans everywhere.

    • Steve:

      Lovely prayers. I must disagree, though, that Christ is disinterested in political matters. From my vantage point, it is Christ-like to call for action in the face of injustice.

      Best,
      MT

      • MT,
        As always, thank you for responding to my remarks. But, as usual, I must disagree with you. I assumed that Christians are supposed to use the Word of God as their foundation for their point of view. I have looked in the Bible and no where do I find that Christ was interested (or dis-interested) in politics in His life, He left that for the government though He did make more than a few comments about how, if one is a leader, he or she must rule humbly and lovingly.
        Christ was more interested in the relationships people had with each other and with God. He attacked the hypocrisy of religious leaders who used religion for political power. Christ outlined how Christians should act in the face of adversity in Matthew 5, Luke 6:27-36, and other verses. God, through the prophets and throughout the New Testament letters, asked that the faithful put their trust in God and to use bad times as an opportunity to show Christ in our actions (Proverbs 3:5, Psalms 28:7, Mark 5:36, Colossians 3:36, Ephesian 4:32). Christ teaches to point out sins of others in private in Matthew 18:15 and not to ‘call out’ others in the public square. The Lord also teaches us that only those without sin should “throw the first stone”, knowing full well that no one on Earth is without sin. Christ did not teach political lessons. He teaches us to be in relationship with others through Him…”To love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. To love others as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38).
        I cannot find anywhere in God’s Word the validation of riots, violence, angry speech against another, self-righteousness, “I am right-you are wrong” mentality, division, or the demand that religious leaders call for and support those things; no matter how justified they think they are. Christian leaders should lead by example not by politics.

        I will close with a verse from 2 Corinthians; “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

        With humble prayers, I will ask God to strengthen Christians around the world, but especially in the US, that He grant them the ability to show how people should not put their trust in politics but, rather, in the Prince of Peace.

        Steve S.

        • Steve,

          I seem to recall that the lesson about “throwing the first stone” was in regards to a woman who was about to be publicly stoned to death for adultery. So, what did it mean that he stopped the crowd? What power did his words have? From this I can see absolutely no reason to refuse to intervene when I witness the suffering or imperilment of others. The fact that said suffering is part of someone’s political agenda is the very, very last reason that I should not speak up in the name of Jesus. Who cares? It is completely irrelevant. Someone’s political reason for harming another person is absolutely none of my concern. The only thing that matters is the harm stops, in the name of Jesus Christ.

          I was an atheist for a long time, for my whole youth and into young adulthood. One of the reasons I felt so distant from God was that I constantly encountered depictions of a Christ who served the powerful—a Jesus of beautiful snippets applied in hateful ways. I spent my entire childhood watching people get stoned by Jesus-shaped rocks. Am I doing the same by pointing out the failings of Donald Trump? Perhaps. I have many failings, too. But in this case, Trump’s failings are highly relevant to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and to an insurrection in Washington, among other crises. And I don’t cite them to attack the man, or to publicly shame him or his followers. I cite them to illustrate that many Americans are waiting for help that isn’t coming.

          That aside, nowhere in my writing have I tried to validate riots, violence, angry speech against another, self-righteousness, “I am right-you are wrong” mentality, or division. I speak of divisions that already exist and are actively harming people. And I’ve asked Canadians to consider ways to see those people and, perhaps, help a few of them. I have made no arguments about what should happen in the Unites States or who should do what there. The single course of action I recommend is that Canadians consider, essentially, opening asylum avenues to Americans who find themselves unable to escape miserable circumstances, which is the same argument I’d make for any place in the world where suffering seems inescapable. I fear you take exception to this because I’m saying that America is home to people who can’t escape their suffering. Guess what? America is home to people who can’t escape their suffering. I know them. Is it un-Christian to speak of such people? Is it un-Christlike to suggest that their leaders care not for them? If so, here I am, failing to be a Christian. I’ll own that.

          Best,
          MT

  2. I have supported the closing of the Canadian-US border in general to reduce spread of covid 19 but was horrified and still am at closing it to asylum seekers. You’re making me ask, should it be open it to everyone, since many other Americans (in addition to the 11 million undocumented residents) need asylum too? Would you have them apply for asylum through our current refugee channels, to see if they qualify as having reasonable fear of persecution due to “race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or being part of a social group, such as women or people of a particular sexual orientation”? Many Black Americans, for a start, would qualify.
    What do you think Canadians should do?

    • Louisa:

      I also support COVID-related closures.

      That aside, this is a great question and, clearly, a can of worms. As we’ve seen, Canada has struggled—is struggling—with the question of whether the United States is a “safe third country” for asylum seekers. I don’t believe it is, though the Canadian government still argues as such. I don’t believe the election has much bearing on this, as I don’t believe the U.S. is a fundamentally safe place for lots of people, regardless of political leadership.

      I think as soon as we acknowledge that the United States isn’t safe for a certain group of people, i.e. asylum seekers, we let loose those worms. I think at that point, it is logical to wonder whether certain groups of Americans would qualify for asylum status in Canada based upon their circumstances. To assess that, Canadians will need to look beyond their impressions of American circumstances—often based on positive university and travel experiences in the U.S. (and negative Twitter experiences)—and consider the broader picture of American life. I’d say Puerto Rico is an interesting case study, as a place that (1) has struggled terribly, economically, (2) is linguistically isolated, (3) was the victim of great incompetence (and animosity) in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, killing thousands, and (4) it lacks appropriate representation in federal government. The difficulties faced by Black people in the United States are increasingly understood, I think—but Canadians might view those difficulties as repairable by addressing certain issues—”we need police reform”—instead of symptoms of a system that has evolved to oppress people because of their ancestry, their looks, their language or their culture. And, of course, their economic class.

      One hurdle in all of this, and thus perhaps a place to start, is that it is very difficult for Canadians to easily connect with poor Americans. In my experience, most Canadians encounter two kinds of Americans: (1) university-educated travelers and urbanites who seem more or less Canadian but might say, “Y’all”, and (2) loud, self-important people who find significant public platforms on which to espouse American exceptionalism and dominance. Obviously, there are millions of Americans who do no fit into those categories. There are many millions of Americans who love their country and who, regardless of their political persuasion, are decent, quiet people who go about their business, though may sometimes vote for policies that harm their neighbours or themselves. So, as a Canadian, I think I would be wondering: how are those people who find themselves consistently voted against? Where do they find hope? Would they be interested in coming to Canada and starting a new life? And what might Canadians learn from them and what they’ve endured, should they come?

      My wife and I are economic immigrants; we spent our life savings to come to Canada (life savings that would likely have been spent on health costs, eventually, but instead bought us an education and opportunities here), but we had it to spend. So, I don’t look like those poor people, but I’ve known them. I was the first in my family to go to university, and I grew up in a place with significant rural-poverty problems. I have known many Americans who work tirelessly but for whom quality education, basic healthcare, reasonable workplace protections, access to reliable transportation, and so on seem permanently out of reach—and neither political party in the States seems very interested in addressing that, with a few exceptions.

      I know Canada is not immune to such issues. I believe Canadians—and I include myself in this—have much to do in how we view and live with Indigenous people here. Our failures abound. But I also see far more thirst here for change and for justice, even if it isn’t universally shared. This is, after all, the country I’ve chosen to live in.

      Finally, I’ll add this as an important clarification: I am not asking Canada to uproot millions of downtrodden Americans and settle them here. I’m asking for Canada to present the opportunity to those who might both desire and need it, within the limits our system can handle. If tired, poor Americans want to make the journey to Canada and seek resettlement—and if Canadians (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) agree that Canada has space to take some in, then I think there are humanitarian reasons to create such an opportunity. Fundamentally, I believe there are Americans who are in hopeless situations who would, if given that opportunity, come and contribute positively to life in Canada. I recognize that this is a very hard claim to make—it is not one we hear every day, though it is one I have believed for years. Given last week’s events, and the massive COVID-19 death toll in the States, I hope it seems something less than outlandish.

      MT

  3. Well said. At our best, Canadians can provide adequately for thousands of families, not millions. But we should do what we can .
    Back in the 80’s the church of which I was a part sponsored three families of “boat people”. We rented 3 apartments, furnished them (largely from our own homes), stocked their refrigerators and welcomed them at the airport. Members of the church helped those who were able to get jobs. We took them to the doctor, dentist, bank, helped their children get established in schools. We offered English classes to every member of each family. Whatever help was needed. After about a year all three families were managing nicely. What we did for them was important, but what we did for ourselves was more important.

    Mr Townsend is right. This is an opportunity for Canada and Canadians to meet some desperate needs. And I know from experience that our churches have an opportunity to be enriched spiritually.

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