Owning Up to Our Mistakes: Peace and Honesty Can help Solve Our Immigration Problem

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

For the Bible tells me So (Well, at least those parts that support my politics)

In the midst of the horrible tragedy occurring at our borders, and in light of the Trump Administration’s decision to separate Immigrant children from their families, a Biblical debate has emerged in popular media. From the New York Times down to the New York Post, editorial pages and blogs have been filled with arguments over the theological, moral, and Scriptural ethics of the Administrations policies. Usually, when the bible is used as a lens to critique public policy I get scared that the media will find the most uninformed, close minded, and hostile representative from the Evangelical community to speak on “God’s behalf.” I was pleasantly surprised to see a mix of views presented.

This all started when Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a news conference regarding the Administrations “zero tolerance policy” on illegal immigration. When questioned about the Trump Administrations “Child Separation” policy, the Attorney General brought up Romans 13. For those unfamiliar with Romans 13 it’s a Chapter in the Bible where the Apostle Paul encourages the Christian community to ““Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” In essence the scripture is calling on Christians to recognize that God has a hand in establishing the rulers, leaders, and regimes of this world. This Chapter has often been referred to as a  “bludgeon” by scholars because it can be used selectively to grant moral support to awful political, social, and economic abuse.

Anyone that has ever read one of my blogs will know that I’m not a big fan of those called by the mainstream media to speak on behalf of Evangelical Christianity, however, I was pleasantly surprised that most mainstream evangelical leaders were quick to deplore the Attorney Generals misuse of scripture. The Reverend Franklin Graham, who I previously criticized for zealously supporting the Trump Administration in the past, publicly denounced Mr. Sessions invocation of scripture and referred to the Trump Administrations policy of separating children from their families as “disgraceful.” I believe it’s extremely important to recognize, even when it’s coming from someone I vehemently have disagreed with in the past, when someneone speaks truth and advocates for justice.

Conservative Evangelical leader Bob Vandeer Plaats is another “mainstream representative” of Evangelical Christianity that went against an administration he enthusiastically supported in the past. New York Magazine even reported that Mr. Vandeer Plaats has a creepy photo of Trump, the Bible, and a Cross adorning his office wall. These “enhanced support techniques” (this my attempt at political humor considering Vandeer Plaats support of Sen. Ted Cruz and his ‘torture loving’ rhetoric in the Republican primary) have not blinded him to the moral realities of the Trump Administrations policies. Writing in the New York Times Vandeer Plaats says “As a Christian, I find that the Bible’s Book of Micah offers a guiding principle of doing right: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (emphasis added). This is biblical. That means we should execute justice, yes. But not with the kind of cruelty we’re reading about from the border with Mexico.”

It’s refreshing to see people put the Scriptures ahead of their political ideology. My Friend has a saying that he often invokes when we applaud people for doing what they are supposed to do. My friend will say “you don’t get points for breathing.” While I know I shouldn’t be singing the praises of someone like Mr. Vandeer Plaats who has supported some of the most immoral anti LGBT laws in the past and who openly uses derogatory terms to describe Gay men, however, I think as a Christian who believes in redemption and will forever believe that we all fall short of God’s desires and need grace, I would like to pray for him to continue progressing and opening his heart to the troubles facing God’s children.

So often mainstream Evangelical Christians, when it comes to Conservative political leaders, are more like the Jewish masses written about in John 7:49 “The foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them.” I pray that more people awake to the call for peace and social justice that scream to us from scripture. I believe that the evangelical community has a real opportunity to make “justice roll down like waters” and drench our country in a spirit of love and peace. Lets continue praying that this is only the beginning of a new movement to link Evangelical belief with the cause of people suffering both at home and abroad.