Borders Part 2: Wiggle Room

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Kneeling_Prayer_SilhouetteI often find myself asking people how the teachings of Christ can be reconciled with some of the attitudes of more vocal members of our society about immigrants (among other groups). One classic answer I received was: “Well, Jesus said to ‘render unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s’ and these people aren’t rendering.” The unquoted part of Christ’s statement, of course, is “and render unto God what is God’s.”

This raises a question: What do we owe government and what do we owe God?

If Christ and Bahá’u’lláh’s words are to inform our opinion, we owe both obedience, and I suppose the question is: How is that obedience to be demonstrated? Is the argument that in order to show obedience to Caesar, we must shower those whom we deem disobedient with vitriol? That we should, as a people, ignore their wounds, their hunger, their thirst, their calamities?

As I noted before, Christ calls upon us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. He makes that law one on which all others depend. Moreover, He is crystal clear that by our neighbor, He does not mean folks we consider to be part of our community.

I submit that there is no wiggle room in the teachings of Christ by which we—as individuals and as a nation made up of individuals—can treat other human beings as if they really were what Emma Lazarus, in her world-famous poem, termed “wretched refuse”. we could either throw out or just allow to accumulate at the border.

Christ is not the only Teacher who has spoken of these things. I use His words because Christianity is the dominant belief system of most of the people engaged over this issue.

Gautama Buddha said:

“Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love. This is an eternal commandment.” (Dhammapada 1:5)

screaming from the pulpitMuhammad framed maltreatment of the needy as making a lie of faith:

“Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, and urgeth not the feeding of the needy. Ah, woe unto worshippers who are heedless of their prayer; who would be seen (at worship) yet refuse small kindnesses!” — (Qur’an, Surih 107:1-7)

Bahá’u’lláh also set a high bar for how we treat each other. In context with the central teaching of His faith that mankind is one family, He wrote that His followers should

“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXX)

140717074651-newday-dnt-kosinski-border-crisis-politics-00014206-story-topDo you wonder why the world is in such a pathetic state? Why our potentially great nation is riddled with prejudice, anger, hatred, fear that someone will take what we have? Why we fret over who is deserving of our love, our regard, our time, our resources, our attention? Why a group of people with such high ideals can strive so hard to find morally and spiritually valid reasons to treat children fleeing conditions we can barely imagine as alien invaders worthy of our fear and anger?

After expounding His teachings on the oneness of humankind, Bahá’u’lláh says bluntly that “It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action…” (Gleanings CXVII)  In another context, He remarks:

“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.” (Gleanings CXXXI)

Look at the passages I quoted above. Imagine a world in which those teachings were put into action in the lives of most people. Isn’t it clear that when it comes to the way the world and our individual pieces of it works, the buck stops here?

Here’s the bottom line: The world is the way it is because we allow it to be that way.

article-0-1F772E7000000578-402_634x472Some of us want it to be that way because we gain some material advantage from it. The men the refugees from South America are fleeing are a case in point. The protestors at the border, the politicians and others who seek political or material gain from their anger and fear, derive a wide range of benefits from the status remaining “quo”. Some are material; some are ephemeral. Some guard resources they fear the undocumented immigrants and refugees will compromise. Some guard a sense of personal, national or ethnic identity that they fear these placeless souls will steal. And for those reasons, they propagate the idea that the people who cross our southern borders are criminals first and foremost.

It would be easy for me to dislike those folks. Even hate them, because that’s the way hatred works—it’s self-replicating. Fortunately, so is love. So is kindness. So is compassion, justice, and mercy. It wasn’t long before a broad faith-based initiative arose to focus on our southern border—an initiative aimed at doing just what Bahá’u’lláh mandates: putting the unifying teachings of divine Teachers into reality and action. Their efforts inspire me and remind me that “A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks p 29)

So, given that hating the hateful is not an option, how does one proceed? The Teachers I’ve quoted in this piece all encourage us to see in the faces of our fellow human beings, the Face of God. To make treating them with love and respect tantamount to treating the Messenger of God that way.

Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me. … Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25: 40 & 45)

If any differences arise amongst you,” Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause.” (Gleanings CXLVI)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis son, Abdu’l-Bahá, refined upon this point during his travels in Europe and the United States in the early 1900s, repeatedly giving guidelines about how to treat even those whom we may feel we have reason to dislike.

“We must be loving to all the people of the world. We must not consider any people the people of Satan, but know and recognize all as the servants of the one God. At most it is this: Some do not know; they must be guided and trained. They must be taught to love their fellow creatures and be encouraged in the acquisition of virtues. Some are ignorant; they must be informed. Some are as children, undeveloped; they must be helped to reach maturity. Some are ailing, their moral condition is unhealthy; they must be treated until their morals are purified. But the sick man is not to be hated because he is sick, the child must not be shunned because he is a child, the ignorant one is not to be despised because he lacks knowledge. They must all be treated, educated, trained and assisted in love.” (Promulgation of Universal Peace, from a talk given 17 August 1912 at Green Acre, Eliot, Maine)

Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

“That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith:  Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.  In another passage He hath proclaimed:  It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.  The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” (Gleanings CXVII)

Hands touching a globeThis last passage serves to remind me that the reality of our planet is in the view of it that the first cosmonauts and astronauts were privileged to see. There are no lines drawn between countries. Those lines are literally in our imaginations. This means that we are free to change how we see them (or whether, in some contexts, we see them at all). We are free to work across them, to bend them to our will (or to the will of God), to change them or to change the way we honor them.

If all of the above fails to make a case for compassion toward the tired, poor, huddled masses of other lands, perhaps something from our own Declaration of Independence might be more meaningful:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Thomas Jefferson, the US Declaration of Independence)

Is anyone in doubt that these unalienable rights with which all of us are endowed, stop at the manmade border between this country and that? I am happy and grateful to report that our immigration and refugee “crises” have birthed a broad coalition of faith groups who have taken their teachings to heart and determined to put them “into reality and action”.

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