April 17, 2018
For your prayer and reflection this week:
Religion and Immigration: Which Direction Are We Moving In?
I want to share with you more about the February trip I took with 10 Brandeis students to learn about social justice at the US/Mexico border.
The Bible tells the Whole story of the people of God. It tells how God spoke to people, and how people have sought to listen. It tells the ways that God’s people have tried to follow the direction of love, and the ways we have fallen short.
I’m always shocked that the Bible tells the whole story- stories of inclusion and stories of exclusion; stories of violence and stories of healing. The Bible is the record of it all- good and bad. The Bible, as I see it, is divinely inspired, yet colored by our human limitations, perspectives, and biases.
Thus, to quote any particular verse from the Bible to assert “God wills this…” is problematic. To truly look at what the Divine wills, we have to look at overarching biblical themes, and not just single verses, which can easily be taken out of context.
What are some major social themes of the Bible? Liberation from slavery, as with Moses and the Israelites escaping Egypt. Care for the most vulnerable among us. Serve humanity for a more equitable planet. Treat others with kindness, care, and compassion. Be hospitable. Welcome the stranger. Care for the widow and the orphan, and for anyone who has been marginalized by society.
These are just a few of the overarching social themes in the Bible. They point to religion when it is at its best. They point to religion when it is used in the service of love.
Most of us are keenly aware how often religion has not been used in the service of love, both in the Bible and in religious communities across time and culture. The Israelites who are freed from bondage in Egypt wage holy wars to enter the promised land. God is seen as the Commander in Chief using violence towards this end.
The New Testament, like the Hebrew Bible, has passages rooted in exclusion, violence, and fear. Slave owners in the 19th century cited verses from the Pauline letters to justify slavery. To this day, pastors and denominations cite New Testament scriptures as justification for women not taking positions of ordained church leadership.
All of this weighs heavily on my mind having recently returned from the US/Mexico border witnessing the realities of migrants and our current government immigration policies. What I witnessed firsthand is a country held in the grip of fear-based policies related to immigration and migrants.
First, let’s be honest with our history. The U.S. history of immigration has been rooted in white privilege and supremacy. For hundreds of years, our country legalized the slavery of African-Americans, all the while committing genocide on the Native American population. Since the abolition of slavery, white privilege has continued to dominate our country with Jim Crow laws and the new Jim Crow of the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs.
Our country passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and legally held Japanese people in internment camps during the Second World War. While our borders have gotten stricter and tighter, historically we have loosened these reigns only when it benefitted us economically, such as during the labor shortage of World War Two.
I pray that if you are white-skinned like me, you haven’t already tuned out. Being white in America means learning to live with the discomfort of what our ancestors did and supported, whether actively or passively. It does no good to say, “Well, it wasn’t my grandparents or great-grandparents that wronged the Japanese or held slaves.” Our ancestors can no longer apologize or make amends to those they’ve wronged. Today, if you have white skin as I do, you are the beneficiary of centuries of oppression and violence towards all non-white populations. This is the uncomfortable truth that we must face as we look squarely in the eye to the reality of race and immigration in our country.
Peggy McIntosh calls white privilege an “invisible knapsack” that white people wear. We generally don’t realize we wear it, because it has been freely passed down from generation to generation, without questioning who has been left out, and upon whose backs we were standing in order to be so tall.
All of us have privilege and power, to varying degrees. The question is not whether we have power, but how we use that power.
In my own faith tradition, Jesus modeled a life that was lived in solidarity with those on the margins. Jesus healed the sick, and touched those who were considered unclean. Jesus forgave sinners- such as tax collectors, who benefitted from an oppressive system- and invited them to repent. Jesus got so fed up from the religious system that benefitted financially on the backs of the poor that he turned over the money tables in the Temple, saying “Why have you turned the house of God into a den of thieves?”
For these and other reasons, Jesus was a threat to the religious, political, and economic establishment that benefitted those with privilege, power, and status in society. Ultimately because of this, Jesus was crucified by the authorities.
In many ways, this is why the message of Jesus is so subversive, and why it resonates so deeply with those in Central and South America. People see that in Jesus, God became human, dwelt among us, and shared our suffering. Jesus did not grasp onto power, fame, or societal status, but instead used what power he had to serve and to walk with the marginalized and oppressed. Whenever someone is crucified today; whenever violence is perpetrated on a human body, Jesus is crucified- again and again.
As a white, straight, Protestant, male clergy with power and privilege in our society, I know that my call is to walk like Jesus did with ALL God’s children, but particularly those who have been excluded or oppressed because of their skin color, country of origin, sexual orientation, or the like. My task is to repent of the ways I have been sleepwalking in privilege and complicit in systems and structures that benefit people who look like me. Repentance, if it is sincere, leads to compassionate and inspired action with and for others.
As someone inspired to follow the example of Jesus, I remember that Jesus was well-verses in scripture and aware of the holy verses that talked of God’s vengeance, jealousy, and wrath. It is interesting that Jesus never refers to those particular Hebrew Bible scriptures. Time and again, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is love- of God, neighbor, and ourselves. When challenged as to “Who is my neighbor?”, Jesus invited us to move away from contractive, narrow circles, and to continually expand our spheres of welcome, care, and belonging.
As a white male, my privilege affects every relationship I have. Our current immigration system privileges whiteness, and is rooted in a fear that non-whites will become the majority in our country. We are so fearful of immigrants and terrorists, we have forgotten that they are our brothers and sisters. We have forgotten that our policies- like NAFTA in Central America- have decimated economies and farmers, and left little opportunity in Central American countries. I weep that our country only continues to dive deeper into an “America first” mentality, where we do not realize or live out that we are interconnected and interdependent with all other peoples, and all other nations.
I don’t have all the answers. We live in a complex system. What I do know for sure is that we are moving in the wrong direction. My faith always tells me that moving in the direction of fear and narrow self-interest never works. If we truly want to begin to heal the hurts that are still fresh wounds in our nation’s history, then we must move in the direction of love, unity, and Oneness. That is my prayer for our country, and for the world.
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