Sunday, July 21, 2019
The Stranger that Dwells Among You
Every time I see photos or read the news about the separation, imprisonment, abuse, and death of children at the U.S./Mexico border, these are the words that come to me. While I was raised Lutheran at a time when that meant having a good bit of the scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, pounded into my head through memorization, repetition, and (yes, I'll just say it) fear, no one would consider me exactly a practicing Christian these days. You'd think I'd find other ways to express my moral outrage.
And yet these are the words that are given to me. My brain won't let go of them. They are unbidden by my conscious, more agnostic mind, but I don't think they are appearing out of rote memory or deeply buried piety, either. I think it's way beyond that.
It's deep in the human evolutionary bones, isn't it? The idea that the stranger, the foreigner, the person from beyond, the other, is so unlike us that it is bound up in our DNA to perceive them a potential threat. And the fear that arises from that gets us progressively more comfortable with anything ranging from avoidance to racism to cruelty to outright murder and genocide.
Almost as ancient, though, is the exhortation to be better than our biological wiring. The most ancient of religions on this planet contain some version of the Golden Rule. Somewhere early in the existence of humans, empathy also dawned, and realized that all of us, some how, some way, could be "strangers" in a foreign land, whether that foreign land was the next neighborhood over, or a continent half a world away-- lost, vulnerable, in flight, away from the only place they've ever known as home.
It may seem as though I'm oversimplifying a very complex issue. So I am. Because all I know is that when the human race has been able to live by its better nature--to take care of the stranger as one born among us--all of the beautiful, worthy and just things in history, known and unknown, have happened. Because I am done arguing this through a political lens, a policy lens, an economic lens, or any other lens that puts something between our eyes and the essential fact of what is happening right now.
Once you have decided to forcibly separate children from their parents, put them in cages, and neglect to feed, clothe, and attend to their hygiene and health, I don't care what you think about the politics surrounding that fact.
I don't care what your political affiliations are. I don't care what your stance on immigration is, whether you want more or less. I don't care if they came here legally or illegally, by definition of current U.S. law, your opinion, or some other standard recently invented by anyone. I don't care if they "shouldn't have come."
It is wrong.
The American Civil Liberties Union
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
The Texas Civil Rights Project
The Florence Project