“She understood that God loves us and helps us not because we are good but because God is good.”(1) A few days ago, I read those words about Julian of Norwich, the 15th century writer and mystic and God placed it on my heart to share them with you in relation to the immigration battle being waged in the United States. I believe Julian’s words can guide us when confronted with two of the three main reasons given for blocking immigration from Latin America and to some extent, for blocking or limiting the entry of people of the Islamic faith. One reason, based on the economy, was addressed in an earlier post. The two reasons addressed in today’s post are the risk of criminal or terrorist activity and rewarding people who are breaking our immigration laws.
For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that some of them are criminals or terrorists, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that criminal behavior and terrorism are not limited to any specific racial, ethnic, or religious group. And as Americans let’s be honest with ourselves. If our immigration laws were designed to protect the nation from criminals and terrorists, our history would require limiting immigration from Western Europe as much or more so than any other area in the world. Our history also would require limiting immigration by Christians more than any other faith group. We can site instances as recent as the shooting of journalists in Maryland and the rioting of white supremacists in Charlottesville or as distant as the lynchings of thousands of African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the murder of Native-Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. If we talk about gangs and organized crime, we could talk about the Italian mafia, which many of our organized crime laws were initially crafted to combat, and we could add another area of the great white north and speak of Russian organized crime, which has been a lethal part of American crime for decades. We could add many of the modern day corporate and government criminals to that list, executives who lay off workers, raise prices, close businesses, and slash benefits that feed, shelter, and help heal the most financially impoverished among us, not because they must but for financial gain. So, I ask my fellow Americans and fellow Christians to speak out honestly and forcefully against the portrayal of Latin Americans and Muslims as criminals and terrorists. I ask you to be honest in owning the fact that our immigration policies and laws are not about crime or terror. Our immigration policies and laws, as they always have been, are the rotten fruits of racism and religious discrimination.
For those people who seek to exclude immigrants or certain ethnic groups based on the notion that they are entering the country illegally, I ask you to be mindful of the fact that for the most part, laws are created by human beings with power and they are designed to benefit the people who create them, not the nation as a whole. Legality does not equate with justice. Some of the cruelest and most horrific actions taken by our government and by governments throughout history have been taken under color of law. At this very moment across our land, there are innocent people trapped in jails and prisons who have been legally convicted when justice would demand their freedom.
Even when laws are created with the best intentions, they can never be justly applied to every individual. They simply cannot cover every situation or circumstance. That is why it is vital to have competent, caring, and compassionate individuals as police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and to give them laws that are flexible. This way they can connect with the individuals in front of them, apply the law as fairly as possible, and, at the times when a required application is unfair, seek to find ways to limit or counterbalance that unfairness.
Our focus as human beings must always first be not on law and order, but on justice and grace. Our focus as human beings and as Americans, if we truly value family, community, and freedom, must be on the goodness in every human, not on their faults or potential faults. Relying on the law and punishing people often seem to be great ideas until the laws and punishments are applied to us and to the people we love. Then, we open our mouths and our hearts to cry out for acts of mercy. As people of faith, in particular, we are called to remember that each of us makes mistakes, causes harm to ourselves and to others, and participates and benefits from injustices.
If God sat in judgment over humanity in the way we sit in judgment over each other, the human race would long ago have been extinct. We should give thanks every day for God’s justice, a justice that seeks to empower, connect, and liberate life, a justice that is filled with mercy, love, and grace.
To paraphrase the opening quotation, God is good to us not because of our goodness, our purity, our merit, or our obedience. God is good to us because God is good. May we seek to live as ones created in God’s image. May we love others, help others, and welcome others not by our estimation of their goodness, their purity, their merit, or their obedience, but because we seek to be good as God is good.
(1). Gloria Durka, Praying with Julian of Norwich (Winona, Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press, 1989), p. 42.