On Saturday, I went to see Arena Stage’s production of “Hold These Truths.” Based on the true story of Gordon Hirbayashi, the play exposes how his idealistic belief in the Constitution’s protections for American citizens was buffeted and tested by our treatment of persons of Japanese descent during World War II. Even though we were also at war with Germany and Italy, America did not send persons from those countries to internment camps or subject them to curfews. As the drama unfolded, my sense of injustice grew. Hirabayashi disobeyed the curfew and internment orders; and served in prison. But he also appealed his case—all the way to the Supreme Court. He was shocked when the Court ruled against him in 1943… unanimously. Yet, four decades later, redemption came. A political science researcher called up Hirabayashi, telling him that the prosecution had withheld key evidence in the case—that the government had no military reason for their actions. The case went to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in 1987, and this time Hirabayashi’s conviction was overturned.
In this season of Lent, I have been reflecting on the suffering Jesus willingly undertook—not for his own sake, but for ours. Against the advice of his closest disciples, Jesus set his course for Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him there. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed fervently that he might avoid this suffering, this death. But…he willingly offered himself up if God willed it. Because of what Jesus endured, we have the hope that all of our trials, all of our suffering is not in vail. We have the hope that death and evil will not prevail.
Hirabayashi was raised a Christian and was deeply affected by his Quaker faith. Almost all persons of Japanese descent complied with the internment policies, believing that compliance would assure the US Government and populace of their loyalty. But Gordon Hirabayashi—and two others—chose to disobey, believing that the policies were simply inconsistent with the US Constitution. Interviewed in 2000, Hirabayashi said:
“There was a time when I felt that the Constitution failed me … But with the reversal in the courts and in public statements from the government, I feel that our country has proven that the Constitution is worth upholding. The U.S. government admitted it made a mistake. A country that can do that is a strong country. I have more faith and allegiance to the Constitution than I ever had before.”
(“45 Years Later, an Apology from the U.S. Government” Newsletter of the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, Winter 2000).
In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Hirabayashi a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In most of the churches I visit, I do not see suffering as a Christian virtue lifted up very often. But reading the Gospel of Mark this Lent, I am struck by how clearly we, as disciples, are invited to take up a cross, and follow Jesus….wherever that leads. Amen