Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is "us vs. them" the only way?

For some time now, I’ve been concerned that for every problem people can only see two possible answers: "mine" and "wrong". At least since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we’ve been led to believe that everyone is either "for us" or "against us". No middle ground, no third option is available. "Kill them over there before they kill us over here" has become our national story. "Us vs. them" is the lens through which we view every issue.

Of course, no one denies that there are those persons in the world who seek to commit crimes of one kind or another in the United States. My concern, however, is that one problem with an "us vs. them" mentality is that it eventually begins to filter down into all aspects of our living. With our "us vs. them" lenses on, we lose the ability to see that issues might be more complex than we currently imagine. We lose the ability to think and act creatively to solve some very real problems in our communities. And in all the shouting at one another, we lose the ability to listen to one another as individuals made in the image of God.

Recently, the state of Arizona passed a very strong anti-immigration law. As I understand it, the law would require police officers to consider a persons immigration status as part of a traffic stop. Again, as I understand it, the law would make it illegal for churches to give financial assistance to persons who are in the US illegally. It’s another case of "are you one of us, or are you one of them?" Without realizing it, we are being conditioned to look upon everyone with suspicion before we attempt to see them as persons made in the image of God.

But is there another lens we can use? I believe there is. It's the "face to face" lens that is the way of Jesus. With the "face to face" lens on, we see persons as the New Testament sees them: as either a "brother or sister in Christ," a "neighbor," or possibly even as an "enemy." But in each case, our "face to face" lens helps us see that this is a person with whom relationship is possible, if we trust the Jesus way.

For the case of (documented or undocumented) immigrants, what might our "face to face" lens help us see?
  • Might we see someone who came to the United States because they couldn’t find a way to feed their families in their home country?
  • Might we see someone who is willing to come to the United States to do a job that many Americans won’t do?
  • Might we see someone who came to the United States as a very young child with their parents? Someone who has lived their entire life in the US, gotten an education and are now holding down a job? (And while we're here, where exactly would we "send this person back" to, anyway?)
  • And might Christians remember that forgiveness and mercy are appropriate responses to the offense of illegal immigration? Can we imagine ourselves saying, "do the hard work of becoming a citizen. Learn our history, contribute to our society, pay your taxes, go to church, obey the law. We forgive you, and welcome you."
Rather than an "us vs. them" narrative, the church needs to lead the way in living out a "face to face" narrative. My prayer is that the church can learn to look into another person's eyes, and listen to their story first, before we assume we know all the answers to everyone else's problems. "Face to face" not "us vs. them."


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