Tuesday, December 18, 2007


"You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." --Exodus 23:9
It seems as though every election cycle has a scapegoat now. In the last election, it was the failed war in Iraq. Candidates defined themselves as for it or against it, and the minority and majority parties switched places. (Though, sadly, you can hardly tell, a year later.)
Usually, though, the scapegoat has a face. In the 2002 and 2004 elections, it was gay and lesbian people, especially the ones demanding recognition of their relationships. Candidates stood up for "traditional marriage," constitutional amendments to prevent something that was already illegal were added to the ballot, and more Republicans were elected, vowing to return America to some glorious heyday that never existed.
This year the scapegoat is The Immigrant. Now all of the ills of our society can be blamed on the strangers who come into this land of opportunity seeking a better life. Especially the ones who do so without benefit of legal papers which declare that they have a "right" to be here.
I use the word "scapegoat" quite intentionally. Here are the two definitions of "scapegoat" at Merriam-Webster online:
1: a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2 a: one that bears the blame for others b: one that is the object of irrational hostility.
Webster's says the goat wearing the people's sins was sent "into the wilderness." Other sources claim the goat was thrown over a cliff. Either way, things didn't go well for the goat.
Things aren't going very well for undocumented workers these days, either. They are "bearing the blame" for a whole lot of stuff happening in this country. The talking heads on television and AM radio claim that "illegal immigrants" have driven down wages, escalated the drug problem and (this is my favorite) brought thousands of cases of leprosy into the US.
Okay, so the leprosy thing is something Lou Dobbs got from a virulently anti-immigration source, and it has been disproved, though Dobbs stands by his figures. He actually said, "If we reported it, then it must be a fact."
Today's phrase, class, is "circular logic." Who can use circular logic in a sentence? Lou?
If you'd like to read a Wall Street Journal blog on this, click here.
Friends, what's wrong with our country is not the fault of undocumented workers. Though the reverse of that sentence is less true. The truth is that we have exploited undocumented workers for many years, and this election-time scapegoating is just another example of it. We've allowed undocumented workers to provide a wage buffer for industries like farming, construction, and the service sector.
And yes, that has kept wages low. But blaming the workers for their own low wages is just more circular logic. I'm guessing that they would take more money if you tried to give it to them. The truth is, this little "look the other way" system of hiring undocumented workers has worked to the advantage of American companies and consumers for a long while now. A lot longer than this issue has been on the political radar.
I'm not saying that it is right. It's wrong--deeply wrong. I'm just pointing out the naked emperor. If he gets dressed, lettuce is going to cost $3 a head. So all of this posturing is just that, since the pro-business, pro-industry, pro-capitalism candidates who are blustering about "illegal immigration" have no intention of biting the hand that feeds this nation.
People of faith should be outraged by all of this. Hospitality to strangers is a fundamental tenet of pretty much every major religion. It is certainly a foundation of the Abrahamic traditions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
God destroyed the city of Sodom because of the people's inhospitality to strangers among them. Funny, we've gotten a new millenium's worth of scapegoating from dramatically misreading that story...
Some of our churches have been standing up for the immigrant. I'm hoping that mine will be one of them, but that is, of course, up to the people of Abiding Peace.
The thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews starts this way: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." These verses are a reference to Genesis 18, in which Abraham warmly greets visitors. Those visitors are representatives of God, though Abraham is at first unaware of this fact. They're also the same visitors who are received so poorly by the people of Sodom.
There's not much gray space here. There's no getting around God's demand that we show hospitality to the stranger. There's no nuance here. It's just what we are called to do.
God has entreated us to throw open our doors and our arms to those who are strangers among us. And isn't that more fun than drumming up irrational hostility, anyway?

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