Asking fore forgiveness can be one of the hardest things to do. I grew up in a household where my parents and siblings were all believing and practicing Christians. Asking for forgiveness was a very natural thing to do. So as I became a Social Worker and ventured out into the troubled waters of peoples emotional and personal problems I noticed quickly that some people were dying, both emotionally and spiritualty, because they could not own up to their mistakes and seek out forgiveness from others.
One young client that I worked with for a few months had been arrested at 15, sent to a Juvenile facility for a year and a half, and when I met him at 17 was trying to “get his life back together.” This young man had substance abuse issues, anger management trouble, and was showing signs of deep depression.
As I got to know this client more we began to talk a lot about the guilt he felt in putting his mom through traumatic episodes. He would often tell me that he knew “I will never get over all the bad things I’ve done in my life if I don’t just tell my Mom I messed up. I need to tell her I’m sorry for causing her pain. But I’m from a place where we don’t say sorry for nothing. Saying sorry isn’t something I do.”
It was hard to see this young man struggle with his inability to forgive himself. This inability to accept his mistakes and take action to move forward was impeding him from making some of the personal choices he needed to get his life “back on track.” I could tell that if he didn’t forgive he may lose his life to the forces of violence and personal destruction that defined so much of his early life.
Forgiveness, which is hard for a person, can be even harder for a country and its political representatives. With the issues occurring at the border, however, I think asking forgiveness and owning up to the mistakes of our past, will save us from becoming a spiritually and emotionally dead country. Asking for forgiveness isn’t easy and requires bravery but I believe that as a people we can take the steps necessary.
When we see families and children being separated at the border I think we all, regardless of your political ideology, feel some sense of sorrow for those people. Even if you believe that these people committed a crime and should be forced to face the consequences of their actions, I believe that in your heart of hearts you feel empathy for the children. I think as American’s, and Christians in particular, we must focus on this empathy and think critically about the role our country has played in fomenting this crisis.
On Long Island I witnessed first hand the evil barbarity that the MS-13 gang can wage against innocent victims. Much has been written about the two young high school girls brutally murdered at the hands of MS-13 gang members in Brentwood during the fall of 2016. At the time I was working for a politician in that area, even driving my car down the street where the murders took place to pick up canvassers who were working for our campaign, the night of the murders. Those murders shook our office and the community.
I never hide the fact that I’m a “progressive” who is way far to the left of many members in the Democratic Party today. However, after witnessing the brutality of MS-13 I agreed with President Trump’s call to do more to crack down on this vicious gang.
My general curiosity (And overall nerdiness) lead me to look into the historical origins of the gang to get a better sense of their past. I read a very insightful article by Harvard Writer in Residence Daniel Denvir who explained “MS-13 was born in Los Angeles amidst the refugees fleeing President Reagan’s dirty wars in El Salvador, and became a transnational gang that ultimately did so much to destabilize El Salvador.” I learned that many young people were fleeing El Salvador in the 1980’s because the United States government was backing a repressive Right-Wing government that oppressed its people. In the 1980’s we saw thousands of people coming to America to escape these well documented “death squads” that would kill and pillage poor towns that they deemed “communist coconspirators.” And these young kids who fled the violence in El Salvador were prone to the protection and sense of family being offered by the newly created MS-13 gang.
As the Administration of George W. Bush and Barack Obama began to focus on deporting illegal immigrants that committed crimes back to their country of origin, I learned that El Salvador was having increasing troubles dealing with members of MS-13. Locals were referring to these transplants to their country as the “American Menace.” In a nutshell, the people of El Salvador were forced to deal with a problem that America helped start and then exported.
America in the 1980’s was in a “Cold War” with Soviet Russia. Any country that appeared to be embracing “communist practices” would immediately receive attention from the CIA. El Salvador was of particular interest to the American government because the U.S did not want a left-wing government taking over and aligning with our Soviet enemies. So in the name of “national security” we helped lay the foundation for the chaos that occurred on the streets of Brentwood, Long Island.
This has come to a head as the President; Republicans in Congress, and the American people demand action to be taken on the Mexican border. What we miss when we say blankly that these “immigrants are illegal and committed a crime” can be found in the research of Stephanie Leutert of the Brookings Institution. She writes, after years of field research in Central American countries, “For Central American residents, control of these gangs over their neighborhood likely means a weekly or monthly extortion payment simply for the right to operate a business or live in their territory. The price for failing to provide this money is death. All it takes is a neighbor or nearby shopkeeper to be gunned down for failing to pay the adequate fees, and it becomes clear that the only options are pay or flee.”
This reality should force all Americans of good conscious to grapple with the reality of the immigrant experience and the need to address these issues with empathy, love, and justice. Martin Luther King Jr in a sermon once said that people who are “hard hearted” can hear facts and figures, moral arguments, and persuasive reasoning but still remain cold to human suffering. I believe that the start of turning our country away from a “hard hearted” response to the peril immigrants face is by asking for forgiveness and being honest.
In Ephesians 5:11 Paul tells Christians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” In facing the reality of our countries past in helping create and export violent gangs like MS-13 we can begin a process that helps us renew our collective spirit.
We must also face the reality that when it comes to foreign policy our country has not had a very “Christ-centered” approach to dealing with our brothers and sisters across the globe. As author Madeline Rose in the recent issue of the Nation Magazine explains, “Ten years ago, 80 percent of international humanitarian assistance went to the survivors of natural disasters-floods, droughts, and hurricanes. Today, violent conflict is the primary driver of humanitarian need, with more than 90 percent of all global assistance going to crises fueled by this cause.”
As the country, which spends and exports more lethal weapons than 7 of the world’s largest industrial nations combined, we have not been sowers of peace. We have sown chaos, violence, and pain. We must admit to this and ask forgiveness from God, our neighbors, and from each other. This is not easy but it can be done. We must ask Christ to lead us as we seek to make things right and help the world heal from the pain we have caused.