An Inconvenient Conversation
Here is a question for Americans as well as for those of us who call ourselves Christian: “What is our response to any categorization of countries largely populated by people of color as being s*---hole countries”? Do we shake our heads in disbelief? Do we secretly agree that we would be better off as a nation if immigrants only came from well-developed countries whose racial makeup mirrored northern European nations? Are we really uncomfortable with this whole discussion?
This is Martin Luther King’s Weekend. It is an inconvenient truth that this press release happens to fall on the third weekend of January. It is much more convenient to look at this federal holiday as the Ski Weekend Getaway.
Because I serve as a Christian pastor, I must view these comments about peoples of other nations in light of the gospel I serve. In Christ we are shown that God’s love extends to all peoples of the world. In Christ we are shown that we are “members one of another”. In Christ we are shown how we are to be a “light to the world.”
I also am American whose ancestors first came to this shore as far back as the 1600s. I am well aware of the living conditions and persecutions that caused them to risk everything to try to build a life on these shores. I am also aware as a white woman, that my ancestors had a choice about venturing to this land. As an American I feel the sense of pride when I see the Statue of Liberty and remember the words of Emma Lazarus that are carved on her. This is a core American value and this is a value consistent to my Christian faith.
“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend let us also remember the words from this American visionary.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
—from ‘Letter from Birmingham, Alabama Jail’, April 16, 1963
Although this particular quote is related to the specifics of life in 1963 the truth of it transcends date and place. We are “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” with people around the world. John Donne wrote a similar idea in the 1600s with “No man is an island, entire in himself.” We are connected to one another as human beings. We have a responsibility for one another. Our work for justice around the world counts. Our acts of compassion around the world make a difference. As we take this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. seriously we are acting out of our national identity and we are responding to our instructions of faith.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
—from Strength to Love, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hate language, exclusionary policies, hubris and arrogance are counterproductive. What is prized as “American Exceptionalism” includes the idea that others around the world can look to this country as an example of freedom and promise. In the Gospel of Matthew we hear that we are “the light of the world.” As this country struggles with issues around race and xenophobia our task is to think about what it means to be God’s light to our world.
What we cannot do when we hear pronouncements that dismiss people as “less than” because of the color of their skin, the nation of their origin, the sexuality of their being, the economic position of their reality is to ignore those statements as if they do not matter. The words matter profoundly because each person matters profoundly. How we respond is a mark of our character. How we respond is a witness to what we believe.
What kind of witness are we going to give about our faith and about the values of American? Who are we willing to be as a people? This is a good weekend to reflect on the “Inconvenient Conversation”. It is a good weekend to begin the longer conversation about race and xenophobia.
God in your mercy, forgive us and open our hearts and minds to one another.
Grace and Peace