“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.”
Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
No, I’m terrified.
I’m terrified of how we, as a country, are choosing to handle our fear. Of what we are allowing ourselves to become, to be.
The world is a scary place right now. Fear is justified. Caution is necessary. But neither can be justification for turning away human beings in desperate need. Human beings who are running from the very same things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer exists.
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
In May of 1939, an ocean liner set sail from Hamburg to Cuba. The vessel, the MS St Louis, was carrying over 937 German Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis. Despite having purchased legal visas, only 29 of them were awarded entry. The rest were turned away.
The ship’s captain turned toward Florida in hopes that America would offer them asylum. It is said that when they were denied, he considered running the ship aground off the coast to give them a chance to escape.
A group of activists in Canada attempted to convince their government to offer refuge there. At the urging of his cabinet, the Prime Minister refused.
A mother and daughter peer out of a porthole in the St Louis
Ultimately, the St Louis returned to Europe. It is estimated that over 250 of her 908 remaining passengers perished in the Nazi death camps.
Seventy six years later, we look back in horror at the callousness of those who sent those people back to die.
But in the moment,they were afraid. It was four months before World War II. Their fear was justified. Their caution was necessary. But neither were justification for refusal to help human beings in desperate need. Human beings who were running from the very things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer existed. Human beings whom we could have saved.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued an executive order creating at-will ‘military zones’ from which any or all persons could be excluded. General John Dewitt directed the forced removal of men, women and children of Japanese ancestry to federal internment camps. 110,000 Japanese men, women and children were incarcerated. 62% of them were American-born citizens.
Seventy three years later, we look back in horror at the cruelty of imprisoning our own citizens for the ‘crime’ of looking like those who had attacked us. We see in hindsight that they were “us.” That WE we attacked together. That they were never the enemy. We see how inhumane our actions were.
But in the moment, we were afraid. “I don’t want any of them here,” General Dewitt had said. “They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty.” Pearl Harbor had just been attacked out of nowhere. Our fear, though misdirected, was justified. Caution was necessary. But neither was justification for losing our humanity.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.
In 2015, the world is a bloody mess. We are reeling after horrific attacks in Iraq, Beirut, Paris, Africa. Over 4 million Syrians search desperately for refuge. 4 million human beings are running from the very same things we fear. Human beings whose homeland, such as it was, no longer exists.
There is a large, amorphous group out there in the shadows that wants nothing more than our destruction, its members so alienated, so angry, so broken that they are eager to give their lives to end ours.
We are afraid.
Our fear is justified.
Caution is necessary.
But neither can be justification for losing our compassion, our identity, our humanity.
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!
Yes, we must be cautious.
But we cannot close our doors.
Photos from HERE.
National Association of Evangelicals Statement HERE.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement HERE.
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism statement HERE.
Elizabeth Warren’s speech HERE.
Further reading HERE.