Would Jesus eat with Sarah Sanders?

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I had been struggling to figure out why I was not satisfied with the debate over whether or not Sarah Sanders being asked to leave a restaurant because of the owner’s disagreement with the Trump administration’s policies violated civility. And then, in a Twitter conversation, someone pointed out that who eats with whom was “literally the paradigmatic ethical enforcement of the New Testament.”

Which led me to ask: Who would Jesus eat with?

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It also led me to imagine an alternate history for the events at the Red Hen in Lexington, Va., in which, rather than asking Ms. Sanders to leave, the restaurant owner asked to sit down with her instead. What kind of conversation would they have had? Maybe Ms. Sanders would have heard about why some of the restaurant staff, who are gay, felt threatened by the administration’s policies, or heard stories about some immigrant families.

The way Jesus used table fellowship in the Gospels was morally transformative—but by inclusion, not by exclusion.

The way Jesus used table fellowship in the Gospels was morally transformative—but by inclusion, not by exclusion. He ate with tax collectors and sinners, whom the Pharisees turned away from their tables, making these meals signs of hope “not only regarding God’s kingdom but also regarding the kinds of persons who might participate in it.” Rather than demanding change as the price of admission to the meal, Jesus used the meal to enact the change that marks the kingdom of God he came to announce.

Of course, the scenes in the Gospel cannot be directly applied to a restaurant in Virginia, and Jesus’ practice at table was not an act of protest in the way the scene I imagined with Ms. Sanders would be. But Jesus’ meals with sinners were socially transgressive prophetic acts. When he ate with tax collectors, Jesus was sharing the table with collaborators of an oppressive occupying regime, who were suspected of being corrupt themselves. He engaged with people who were marginalized because of their complicity with governing evil, and some of them changed greatly.

If civility serves as a kind of guardrail, pushing us to look for better methods of protest and witness, it may be very valuable.

In the aftermath of the events at the Red Hen and several other instances of administration officials leaving restaurants after encounters with protesters, Rep. Maxine Waters has issued a call to “push back” on cabinet officials in public, telling them they are not welcome anywhere. President Trump has responded with characteristic incivility himself, impugning her intelligence and telling her to “be careful” what she wishes for. The Washington Post editorialized with a call for civility, recommending that administration officials should be allowed to eat in peace. Many others argued that some impoliteness is necessary given the extraordinary circumstances in the United States.

If civility is used to call for passivity in the face of injustice, then it becomes part of the problem. But if civility serves as a kind of guardrail, pushing us to look for better methods of protest and witness, it may be very valuable. By initial accounts*, before it hit social media, the encounter between the owner and Ms. Sanders proceeded respectfully on both sides. The restaurant owner asked to speak to Ms. Sanders privately and told her she would like her to leave, which Ms. Sanders agreed to do. What it needed was not more civility, but a more radical and more courageous transgression of social norms—perhaps something along the lines of what Diana Butler Bass imagined.

Imagine how an encounter like this would have played out. It would be much harder to exploit for political outrage or point-scoring, but it would have communicated the owner’s point even more clearly.

Jesus’ willingness to eat with tax collectors was not an endorsement of their profession, any more than his counsel to “render to Caesar” was an endorsement of the Roman Empire. That advice about imperial taxes, remember, ended with “and repay to God what belongs to God.” His radical hospitality proclaimed that God lays claim to all of us, the press secretary and the immigrant child together. If we want to bear witness to Christ who is present in our marginalized and excluded brothers and sisters, we need to go beyond civil disagreement and even beyond denunciation.

We need to look for opportunities for the kind of encounters in which we can call each other to repentance and conversion. We need to help each other recognize who is already being excluded from our community. We need to hope for and work for the moment when we can all sit at table together.

* Update, June 27: Several days after the events at the Red Hen, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ms. Sanders’ father, told a radio host that the owner had followed the Sanders party across the street after they left the restaurant and organized a group that protested them, even though Ms. Sanders and her husband were no longer with the party. Media coverage has repeated Gov. Huckabee’s story, but has not yet verified this version of events from anyone who was personally present.
Update, July 6: Further investigation of Gov. Huckabee's claims suggest that they were significantly exaggerated.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

I understand the restaurant owner followed Ms. Sanders' Party across the street and organized a loud protest at another restaurant. Also by asking if Jesus would eat with Ms Sanders is this not implying that Jesus would consider what she is doing is wrong but that He would eat with a sinner anyway. That is presumptuous because we don't know that Jesus would think Sarah Sanders is in the wrong. Maybe she is a better Christian than most America readers.

Mary Therese LEMANEK
4 months 2 weeks ago

Maybe he would have written on a napkin and invited those without flaws to throw a roll at her?? It is not implying that Jesus would consider what she is doing wrong so much as it suggests that shunning and shaming are wrong regardless of what someone has done. Without judging their behavior, Jesus always made room at the table.

Danny Collins
4 months 2 weeks ago

Exactly, J. Cosgrove.

It appears that America magazine cares little for journalistic integrity and is willing to spin the facts in order to push their preferred narrative, which is that the Little Hen owners were enlightened people who simply chose a wrong tactic, instead of just admitting that they are barbarians with no use for democracy and civil discourse.

Jay Zamberlin
4 months 2 weeks ago

You nailed it.

Sam Sawyer, S.J.
4 months 2 weeks ago

I had not seen the accounts claiming that the owner of the Red Hen had followed Ms. Sanders across the street and continued protesting there. From what I can tell, Ms. Sanders Father, Gov. Huckabee, is the source for all of the accounts about the continuation of this incident beyond the Red Hen. Neither Ms. Sanders nor Ms. Wilkinson (the owner) seems to have confirmed or denied that account. Given that both of them (Ms. Sanders in her tweet and Ms. Wilkinson to the Washington Post) described an encounter that ended when Ms. Sanders left the Red Hen, I'm not sure what to make of that. 

J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

It will be interesting to see what happens with the immediate aftermath story. I'm sure Ms. Sanders will be asked about it. If her father is wrong, that will lead to even more incessant stories. So far nothing. There have also been stories on her leaving her job so this is far from a dead issue.

Toby Gillis
4 months 2 weeks ago

You should pay closer attention Sam. Ms Sanders did confirm the incident, The Red Hen's Empty Nest owners did follow them to the next restaurant.

Robin Smith
4 months 2 weeks ago

Prove that claim, please. No news on it, no Tweet on it, no pics....didn't happen.

J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

Robin,

So far it is the dog barking in the night. Maybe that will change.

Ellen B
4 months 2 weeks ago

The story that the owner followed Ms Sanders came from someone who was not there. And has not been confirmed by anyone who was there. So you might be quoting some "FAKE NEWS" as gospel.

But yes, lying for a living & endorsing a policy of separating children from their parents... I can see where one might wonder if she is the more "Christian" than most America readers. SMH.

J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

The story came from Mike Huckabee who obviously knows some of the others there. The press hates Huckabee and Sanders. It would be a great story for them to prove Mike Huckabee wrong. So far there has been nothing. We will have to wait and see. But based on the chances that they would have investigated it and nothing has been reported, we will have to accept Huckabee's claim for now. Do you think otherwise? ---- The policy implemented by the current administration is the same as that implemented by Obama and recommended by Hillary Clinton. It was based on the current law. So how is implementing the law not Christian?

Ellen B
4 months 2 weeks ago

Was Mr Huckabee there? No. Has his daughter - who spread the story originally confirmed his story? No. The story Ms Sanders shared matched that of the restaurant owner... the owner spoke to her separately, asked her to leave & she left.

Second... there is NO LAW that said that children had to be separated from their parents. You can look that up easily (a blatant lie like that, I believe is called "Fake News"). The current administration chose to implement a policy to separate children from their parents. The president signed the order that implemented this policy. And yes, some actions taken by governments are not Christian. How could any Christian claim that separating children from their parents as a policy is a Christian act? This country IS better than that.

J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

If Mike Huckabee's story is false then he has indeed provided Fake News. But it is hard to imagine it won't be exposed soon. The press hates him and his daughter. So we will have to wait. The longer there is no contradiction the more likely there was a basis for it.

As for separation of children, I recommend anyone interested to read the Rich Lowry column about it, "The Truth about Separating Kids." It is at National Review. The separation is mandated by law.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months 2 weeks ago

Ellen
Your point second is just plain wrong in every respect: Take your own challenge and look it up.
Flores vs Lynch (9th Cir , July 2016) stated unequivocally that: 1) if a parent illegally crosses the border to enter with a child and 2) that parent is arrested and put in detention, then 3) the minor child may not be held in detention but must be released without delay. "Released" means taken out of detention/separated from the parent in detention . Further the 9th Circuit specifically reversed the lower Court and held that the compelled release of the minor did not also require the release of a parent from detention..
Do your self a favor and just Google "Flores vs Lynch" 9th Circuit and the case will magically appear for you to read.
Just read the case and stop making claims about the state of the law which are untrue.
The Trump Policy is to enforce the law: If the law criminalizing illegal border crossing is enforced, the the 9th Circuit has declared that theGovernment Consent Decree from back in 1997 requires that any accompanying minor be released....i.e. Separated from his arrested parent!!!
The President signed no new law.....The Obama Administration ran squarely into this problem ( hence the name in the case of Loretta Lynch- Atty General). Google Jeh Johnson's comments on various news shows and you will discover that he set up the FAMILY DETENTION CENTERS which "Flores vs Lynch" neutered by not permitting families to stay there.
There is now in front of the 9th Circuit the only order President Trump has ever signed and it requires Families to be kept together. But it was submitted to the Court with a request that its decision in Flores Vs Lynch be modified. You will find that the Court previously denied the Obama Administration request to modify the operative Flores Consent Decree to allow its Family Detention Centers to keep parents and children together.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

No lying would be true of those who characterize her as such. Supporting existing laws that separate sex slaves from their traffickers and children from parents who abuse them to forge a criminal border invasion is a noble thing to do.

Toby Gillis
4 months 2 weeks ago

Yes Jesus would sit down with Sarah and hold her up as an shining example to the people at America.

Martin Stillion
4 months 2 weeks ago

Dine with her? Absolutely. Hold her up as an example? Of cruelty, corruption and deceit, perhaps.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

No that would be true of those who characterize her as such. Supporting existing laws that separate sex slaves from their traffickers and children from parents who abuse them to forge a criminal border invasion is a noble thing to do.

Michael Macauley
4 months 2 weeks ago

I find it ironic Fr. Sawyer that we have so many examples in the New Testament of Jesus purposely and graciously "communing" with sinners yet our own church has, over the past two millenia, erected so many barriers to prevent "sinful" people from the communion that Jesus so purposely sought out. Those walls, those rules, they shout deafeningly the same message of the Pharisees of old, "You are not welcome!", "You are not worthy!", "You are unclean!" I no longer go to "communion" during mass because I honestly believe that Jesus, were he here today, would castigate the RCC leaders saying, "until you let the worst sinners come forward to eat with me first, I'll not participate in this mockery of my ministry." The Eucharist is lauded by church officials as the "source and summit" of the faith. But, until it is open to all seeking simple, humble "communion" with God, regardless of any church official deeming him or her worthy, it simply remains the source and summit not of faith, but rather of exclusion.

Will Niermeyer
4 months 2 weeks ago

Spot on. Congrats

Mary Therese LEMANEK
4 months 2 weeks ago

Each person is beloved by God. Inherently"worthy". Sadly the Church does not get it.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

You need not pat yourself on the back for false prophesy. The Church has taught inherent worth for two thousand years.

Will Niermeyer
4 months 2 weeks ago

This is the new America. If we do not like someone or what someone or group stands for we do not want to be around them are thus refuse them service and who knows what else will occur. This was challenged and upheld with the cake maker who refused to back a cake for a gay wedding siting religious beliefs. It's a new America. Now lets wait for segregation or better yer separate but equal facilities for groups of people who offend us I guess for any good reason. Perfect. Nationalism.

Jay Zamberlin
4 months 2 weeks ago

Bake (really decorate per the occasion) a cake is not the same as feed a paying customer. You are not being invited to participate, or lend your artistry, to an event dedicated to something you might have real moral problems with. (And the same baker never would refuse to sell "off the shelf items to that same gay customer, and do note that some of these "cases" included the idea that one such couple traveled one hundred some miles and puposely passed on several Muslim ownned bakeries, oh, just BTW) Offering the worst sinner use of your bathroom does not make you a participant in their sin, but going to their party might. Can we please stop with the false dichotomies. Is the black baker now not allowed, apparently, by this way of thinking you seem to espouse, to opt out of baking a cake for the KKK? Can the PETA supporting videographer not graciously decline to record the deer hunter's convention, and so forth. Goodness, when did Catholics themselves become so susceptible to illogic as long as it comes in a left wing package?

Danny Collins
4 months 2 weeks ago

Wil, There is a difference between refusing to serve a person and refusing to serve an event. One can refuse to cater to the White Supremacist convention, but it would be illegal to refuse to serve white people. The Colorado baker never refused to serve gay people. He even offered the couple an off-the-shelf cake for their wedding. He just wasn't going to use his artistic talents to decorate a custom cake for an event that he viewed as sinful.

Until you can make that basic distinction, you probably shouldn't be commenting on cases like this.

Ellen B
4 months 2 weeks ago

The "new" America has been around a while. Remember when Redford Bakery refused to serve Joe Biden? The difference? The right-wingers applauded Redford Bakery & Joe Biden left & didn't make a big deal out of it.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months 2 weeks ago

Ellen
This Sanders event became public because one of the Red Hen employees posted on Facebook bragging about it!
I believe Ms Sanders' response was quite a low key confirmation. The press was responsible for the uproar. Judging by your series of comments, you seem to be enjoying it.

Ellen B
4 months 2 weeks ago

Enjoying it? No. Pointing out that the lack of civility is hardly new? Yes. Refusing to paint Ms Sanders as a martyr of some sort? Yes.

Ellen B
4 months 2 weeks ago

Enjoying it? No. Pointing out that the lack of civility is hardly new? Yes. Refusing to paint Ms Sanders as a martyr of some sort? Yes.

dnkittredge@gmail.com
4 months 2 weeks ago

I always read the Gospels to mean that Jesus only ate with those sinners and tax collectors who were repentant. On the other hand, there are various occasions where he was quite willing to speak truth to power in ways that might be deemed less than civil: "You brood of vipers!", turning over tables, and such.

Mary Therese LEMANEK
4 months 2 weeks ago

Jesus invited people to the table, invited them to repentance. He did not and does not demand repentance first. That would be humans who do that.

Steve Magnotta
4 months 2 weeks ago

Amen, Mary Therese.

Mike Fitzpatrick
4 months 2 weeks ago

So Father Sawyer judges Sarah Sanders as a sinner. Jesus' dining with tax collectors was not because he judged them to be sinners but to remind them to collect only what the law called for, being a tax collector was not a sin in itself. Self rightious people like the Red Hen owner and Fr Sawyer continue to promote the lie that Republicans are hateful, evil and even sinful people. This lie is polarizing the country. We may not always agree on policy but we all want what is best for our country, our citizens and those that want to be citizens (legally).

Steve Magnotta
4 months 2 weeks ago

Amen, Father.
Thank you.

Andrew Strada
4 months 2 weeks ago

Exactly what this country needs is more divisiveness. Let's carry our political differences into every aspect of our daily lives, seven by twenty-four. And let us always remember the words of the ninth beatitude, "Blessed are the self-righteous for they shall feel good about themselves."

J Cosgrove
4 months 2 weeks ago

I like your ninth beatitude. It is often appropriate on this site.

Jay Zamberlin
4 months 2 weeks ago

Touché. Like I said elsewhere, the very question posed is infused with a presumption of mal-intent, malfeasance, material cooperation with evil, etc. on the part of Ms. Sanders, a person hired to do a job. My gawd, have we come to this now? IOW, begging the question. America is getting worse by the year. Forget it's leftward leanings, it is just an amateurish rag now.

William Halpin
4 months 2 weeks ago

Not an easy question, "Would Jesus eat with Sarah Sanders?" Given time difference, current atmosphere of politics, and theological questions of corporeality. But I'll bite.

1. The question, I suspect, has more cogency if reversed -- would she eat with him?
2. As a Middle-Eastern Jewish man (then) from a Muslim locale (now), with no official papers verifying legitimacy or physical father's name, given todays Supreme Court's upholding of immigration ban, I doubt Jesus would make it into the U.S. past a detention center.
I suppose Ms. Sanders, hypothetically, might find herself in Damascus or Ramallah at an outdoor cafe for the imagined encounter.
3. I have difficulty imagining Secret Service allowing an avowed inclusionist whose name is on many lists as subversive and antithetical to her and her superiors' exclusionist views, to step anywhere near her -- even if she might consider such a sit-down.

Yes, Jesus is the accepting, forgiving, and compassionate protagonist in your thesis, but he is also no fool. I think he'd buy bread for everyone walking by, hand out bottled water, and proclaim in a voice measured and dignified, that all who are worthy should eat and drink in fellowship and dialogue.

He'd be arrested, of course. She'd tweet about the dangerous rhetoric she overheard. Her boss would additionally tweet that nobody -- Christian, Jew, or Muslim, will be allowed to travel to America -- and that any child approaching the border (or airport) will be confiscated.

Other than that, the lead question does have academic interest, but scant relevance to our current situation. If Jesus, in your question, was relevant and real in those whose Christian bona-fides are unquestionably assumed, there would be such an outcry and tumult that the writers of Isaiah and Jeremiah would leave their libraries to take notes on a new prophetic utterance.

Larry Motuz
4 months 2 weeks ago

Well done!

bill carson
4 months 2 weeks ago

The basis of this piece seems to be that Sanders is a sinner. From everything I can tell, it was the restaurant owner who was clearly the sinner. My gosh, following Sanders down the street to harass her?

Steve Magnotta
4 months 2 weeks ago

The restaurant owner was wrong. But the question is certainly pertinent, as Ms. Sanders is working in the service of evil.

Mike Fitzpatrick
4 months 2 weeks ago

Steve, you be the judge and keep the demonization going. You are so morally superior to everyone else and have earned the right to judge people's sins.

Anthony Noble
4 months 2 weeks ago

Wow. What about the civility of these comments! I would ask to the majority of the commentators, have you read the words of Jesus in the Gospels and are these words reflected in your comments? I believe Jesus would eat with Ms Sanders as well as with all of us. I also believe Jesus, at the table, would talk with us and teach us how to be loving, honest, and compassionate with each other and with all the people who are affected by our words and actions, especially the most needy and disenfranchised, such as those escaping persecution, coercion into gang violence and sex trafficking, and murder. As Catholics, are we not aspiring to be united with Christ and all others at the table during Eucharist?

David Bevan
4 months 2 weeks ago

Another “alternate” history:
Rather than asking Ms. Sanders to leave, the owner accepted an invitation from Ms. Sanders to sit down to a meal with her family (ie radical hospitality) .
Maybe Ms. Sanders could have had the opportunity to teach the owner and staff that real Love does not come from accepting our sinfulness, but comes from the care of the soul of all children of God, and directs us all to Jesus. A true “moral transformation” leading to repentance and conversion.
Ms. Sanders could have addressed the staff’s fears with the Christ’s truth. The truth they likely have never been exposed to. She could have shed light on the agenda used to perpetuate an ungodly, or liberal, strategy and storyline. A dangerous agenda that seeks to turn from Truth and instead relies on moral relativism and a sinful self.
After being told to leave, it would have been great if Ms. Sanders informed the owner and staff that the money she would have spent would be donated (two fold) to Project Rachel.

arthur mccaffrey
4 months 2 weeks ago

the Roman concept of 'hospes' from which our "hospitality" comes required all Romans to honor the obligation to accept the travelling stranger into their homes and to give them food and shelter. No politics , only human kindness and generosity.

Lucie Johnson
4 months 2 weeks ago

I can't see any reason why Jesus would NOT eat with Sarah Sanders... Jesus ate with Judas, with the uppity Pharisee, with the rich and with the poor, with zealots and tax collectors. It is his unconditional love that touches our hearts... He would expect us to love Sarah as he has loved us.

Rosa Manriquez
4 months 2 weeks ago

And what would Jesus’ mother say?

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Mary was witnessing for those who had no privilege, not even the privilege to be recognized as equal to those benefitting from the dominant culture.

As uncomfortable as the scenario is for the privileged of this country, it is time to listen to the cry of the most marginalized, even when we are tempted to turn away protesting a lack of “civility,”

Andrew Wolfe
4 months 1 week ago

This restaurant owner was not voicing the cry of the "most marginalized," and is part and parcel of the "dominant culture." Unfortunately the most marginalized are not helped by the personal animus of the Left, nor have any progressive programs really benefitted the poor or marginalized. The uncivilized progressives talk a lot but depend on keeping the marginalized dependent in order to gain political leverage.

Susan Elaine
4 months 2 weeks ago

No heros here. Todays climate of hypersensitivity and judgemental comments without knowlege abounds. The media has always and will always manipulate reality to sell themselves for ratings. People live to hate. People put themselves above all others. And most comments are done out of arrogance. We have no effective direction. No HEROS

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