Monday, November 24, 2014

We Were All Strangers.

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

Of all the things that President Obama said in his speech last week, I found this application of Exodus 23:9 to be one of the most poignant aspects of the entire presentation. I thought it was perfect.

In the last several years, I’ve been appalled by many responses of the Conservative Christian Evangelical machine towards the issue of immigration. With all of the ways in which the religious right tries to impose their particular brand of Biblical living within the confines of the Constitution, they seem to want to pretend that the sections of the Bible that give explicit instructions on how we treat immigrants do not exist. It is westernized American Christian hypocrisy at its best.

Why do so many believe that immigrants are only here in this country for a free ride or to have some sort of easy life of no accountability? Because I feel like that is what the argument comes down to...this sense that we don’t want to share the rewards of living in this country if we deem that someone has come here to take advantage of the system (especially if their skin is brown)? Let’s be honest here…when we talk about immigration, internally many people don’t immediately picture a college aged kid from the Ukraine or Lithuania, or Australia. We don’t seem to have a problem with those folks coming here to study, get a degree, or contribute to our economy. But we seem to have a problem with the people south of our border who want to come here to provide a better life for their family, sometimes working two or three jobs only to send that money back to their families in another country…by the way, doing jobs that most of us would never be willing to do, or to seek refuge from dangerous and complex situations in which they are powerless. After all, isn’t this the exact same manner in which many of our ancestors came to this country?

How can people claim to be followers of Christ and yet feel that children sent here to escape horrific violence in their own country should be sent back to those awful situations? How is it that people can be so intolerant towards immigrants but say they believe in the Bible, when it has so many examples of mercy shown to people seeking a safe place to live?

I recently experienced this kind of hypocrisy from a friend who claims to be a Christian. On one hand, she proclaims to be a follower of Christ, but insists that the immigrant children who have entered our country need to be returned to their countries of origin. I do not understand her reasoning on this…how can she claim herself as a follower of a teacher who did not send the marginalized or oppressed away from Him, who said that the world will know His followers by the love they show to others? How can she not see that her attitude is the exact antithesis of a person who follows Christ?

I’ve concluded that she is able to take this position, as others easily do, because they do not personally know someone who has faced that struggle. Their lack of empathy is the direct result of insulating themselves from the issue.

Years ago, I went to Nicaragua with a group from my church. It was the summer of 2001, and Nicaragua was smack in the middle of election season, not to mention that some hundreds of thousands of coffee workers were protesting the loss of their livelihoods. Meanwhile, there was still vast corruption and economic hardship that the country had been struggling to climb out of. Gangs were running rampant, drug use everywhere, child exploitation far and wide. While in that country, my eyes were opened up to some of the complex problems of Central and South America. It is not an easy place to live. Not a day went by when myself and most of the other ladies on this trip were not approached by a young mother, who would plead with us to find a way to take their babies and children with us back to the United States. There were mothers, literally trying to hand us their infants, because they knew that their child would have a better chance to live…the kind of living that you and I take for granted, the kind of living where we don’t fear for our lives every day and with every breath. Their babies and young children actually had a better chance of living past the age of 17 if they could just find a way to get them to the United States. I will never forget that and the desperation I saw in the eyes of those mothers, who were willing to find any way to save their children.

We desperately need immigration reform in our country, for the sake of all of us. And yes, the politics behind the President’s speech last night are multifaceted, but they are only distractions from the actual work that needs to be done. And we need leaders who are willing to do the hard work, regardless of what that means for their future political careers. So, it is incredibly frustrating to already hear demands to sue the President, impeach him, do everything possible just to score political points for the next election and please the base. I hear people on the right say that the President lacks leadership…well, he just took the reins and did something that Congress wouldn’t do. And they can throw their arms in the air and throw a fit for as long as they would like, but at least the President did something, which actually is super similar to policies put in place by both Republican and Democrat Presidential predecessors. So, this isn’t a new thing at all. Stop trying to pretend it is. And maybe there is a better way for us to have comprehensive immigration reform…so let’s explore that, but stop pandering and just sweeping the issue under the rug. That’s not governing, and it certainly isn’t serving the American people, which is what our elected officials are supposed to do.

Here’s your chance, Republicans, to show just how devoted to the pro-life, pro-family, Biblical ideals you claim as the foundation of your political principles. Here’s your chance to ante up and not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

So, to our Republican lawmakers, I’ll simply repeat the best advice you’ve ever been given by the President: “Pass a bill.”

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