“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
We are a nation of immigrants. You are either an immigrant, the child of immigrants or a Native American. There are no other options. That said, in our contemporary anti-immigrant stance, it occurs to me we should give the Statue of Liberty back to France.
Before 1965 there were four major waves of immigration to the United States. From 1790-1820 a wave of English, Scots, Irish, Germans, French and Spanish came to the US. From 1820-1860 more Germans, Scots and Irish arrived. From 1880-1914 the Chinese, Japanese and Asians comprised the largest group of immigrants. A significant number of Jews fleeing religious persecution also came here the later part of this third wave. From then until now the largest group of immigrants is Hispanics and Asians from multiple countries. I find it interesting that none of the sites I visited in my research for this blog included the millions of slaves brought here from West Africa against their will.
What these waves of immigrants have in common is that they faced discrimination and exclusion. As the “other,” the “different,” the primarily Anglo-Saxon white population marginalized those who spoke different languages and looked different than they.
We are seeing a repeat of history as waves of anti-immigrant sentiment grow stronger and more vocal.
Tarrant County in Texas is voting on whether Shaid Shafi, who was appointed vice chair of the county GOP in July, should be dismissed because he is a practicing Muslim. The argument is that he could not accurately represent the GOP because his beliefs are different from the majority. See last week’s blog for all the reasons this is so off base.
A group of white evangelicals called the Liberty Counsel, which opposes gay rights, wants gays removed from the anti-lynching bill passed unanimously by the Senate last month. A few things about this are notable. First, it took until 2019 to pass a federal law making lynching illegal. This is mind boggling. Second, if these folks get their way it would be okay to lynch gays. Seems some folks just aren’t happy unless they have someone to lynch. Finally, that anything passed the Senate unanimously these days is nothing short of a miracle. Good to know they have some standards even though they don’t, for the most part, have a moral backbone.
Of course all this comes in the midst of the hoo-ha about building a wall along the Mexico US border. I’m all for appropriate border security but this just isn’t it. I’m all for people coming to this country legally, and escaping persecution and fearing for their lives are legal reasons. If we took the bazillion dollars the Occupant wants to spend on this damn wall, we could process every single person who is trying to come into this country and set them up in legal channels and actually HELP them. There would be money to spare.
This isn’t just a social issue, it is a faith issue. Jesus was all about knocking down the walls that separated people. He touched the woman with an issue of blood and restored her to community. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, touched lepers and those possessed by “demons.” Today we would probably say they have a mental disorder, and this is a whole other group of people who face big time discrimination. But I digress. There was no person Jesus walked away from as not worthy. There was no person Jesus excluded because of their profession, their social standing or their marital status. Jesus was the Great Includer.
A theology that builds walls instead of bridges is one that escapes the essential messiness of life. It divides the world into “us” and “them.” But the world is far more complicated than that. Political regimes make pawns out of groups THEY want to exclude; sometimes religious groups become targets for persecution; ethnic minorities become targets for “ethnic “cleansing;” and people who speak out against oppressive regimes often become targets for execution. Some people fear for their lives because of gang violence. Others flee persecution because of their position on unpopular social issues, i.e. women’s rights, reproductive health care or LGBTQ rights. Corrupt leaders hoard resources for their own gain, creating widespread poverty and privation. I hope people trying to get into our country don’t expect THAT to be any different here.
Immigration, like life, is messy. A one size fits all wall is both idolatrous and immoral. Sadly, we repeat history, rather than learn from it. We ignore an essential gospel teaching when we build walls instead of bridges.