Fear stalked the border and our schools in recent weeks. How do Episcopalians respond? With faith, hope, love, and the level heads our God in Christ gave us.
First to St. Philip’s in Lemon Grove in the Diocese of San Diego. Before Holy Eucharist at our Called to the Wall service Feb. 17, worshipers had a chance to denounce unreasoning fear by tearing the wall down, or at least a symbolic version — small pieces of brick and fencing wire that organizers had put on a table in front of the altar. They built their own wall because federal restrictions on U.S. citizens’ movements in Friendship Park, adjacent to the border wall, had ruled out our usual practice of sharing the service with bishops, deacons, laypeople, and priests gathered on the Mexican side.
The photo above shows Salvador and Benedito, children of the Rev. Jennifer Hughes, an associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. They’re holding pieces of fence they’d just taken from the table. Eight years ago, Dr. Hughes inspired our annual witness for immigration reform. She helps organize it each year along with Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce and their partners in San Diego.
If we left it to children, who so often express the soul of welcome, they’d make short work of the real wall, too. Cynics might reply that children don’t get how complicated and dangerous the world is. Christians retort that we’re all safe in the Resurrection, safe to take risks of hospitality and sharing what we have for the good of all God’s children, since all our blessings come from God.
Impractical, fools-for-Christ stuff? After all, nations do need borders. But for generations, we have spoken to immigrant workers with two voices. One voice has invited them to come to the U.S. by the tens of millions to work in factories and fields, hotels and homes. The other scapegoats them for accepting the invitation. Our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being calls us to the wall and to speak up for sensible, humane immigration reform.
Those who seek political advantage by promoting fear of the immigrant don’t just encourage racism while ignoring the immutable realities of the labor market. They also promote the fake news that immigrants are more dangerous than the population at large. One result is that while planning to militarize the border, our leaders have scandalously left our schoolchildren, teachers, and administrators vulnerable.
In Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14 a troubled homegrown killer with a legally acquired military-style weapon murdered 17 high school students and faculty members. Prior school massacres weren’t enough to persuade the federal government to adopt tougher, good-sense gun laws. We pray that change will come at last, thanks to the young people demonstrating around the country against gun violence.
Nor has our society faced up to the correlation of rage, isolation, and violence against women that so often typifies the narratives of the young men who commit these acts of savagery. If this isn’t the realm of the Church, nothing is. Our specialty is creating communities of care, connection, communication, and accountability. We model relationships rooted in equity and mutuality. We notice when a friend’s temperament turns sullen or a young person suddenly stops attending youth group and begins to self-isolate. When someone’s at risk or posing a risk, we do what all families do for one another. We don’t recoil in fear. We don’t point fingers at scapegoats. We act boldly and in love.