The metaphor about the skittles recently tweeted by Donald Trump Jr. is wrong. Given a choice, I wouldn’t eat from a bowl if there were three poisoned skittles. But the tension in that metaphor is between pleasure and risk, whereas the tension with regard to Syrian refugees is between compassion and risk. A better metaphor is: if you were a doctor and there were a thousand injured children coming to your hospital, would you treat them if there was a chance one might grow up to hurt you? Even though this degree of risk is a thousand times greater than the risk posed by Syrian refugees, there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t immediately go to work.
Racism works because it fails to see the other person as a person, and a racist agenda is able to gain credibility only to the extent that it can persuade us in our fear to see the other as something other than a person. The Japanese that were interred during World War II were not seen as friends and neighbors, but as enemies and strangers. Their commitment to this country was judged untrustworthy despite their long history as Americans. African-Americans were property and, even after slavery, they were something other. It gave us the ability to create separate fountains and bathrooms and schools that were, in fact, far, far from equal.
We wouldn’t have been able to exterminate and sequester Native Americans if the first nations weren’t seen as less than. South Africa wouldn’t have been able to create the Bantustans. Hutu’s wouldn’t have taken up machetes against Tutsis or Turks marched Armenians into the desert. The National Socialists in Germany had to first identify the Jews as “Jews”. Laying at their feet the responsibility for all the problems of the Weimar Republic and the worldwide economic depression, they prohibited them from positions in finance, business, education, medicine and ultimately to ghettos and camps.
Nothing is more important for Christians than a vigorous defense of Jesus’ teaching that the other is in fact not other, but one to whom I am and must be neighbor. I cannot let them become candies in a bowl. I cannot allow them to be lumped into categories as rapists or terrorists. The n-word has power because it removes my neighbor from the category of person and makes him or her a thing. It is true of bankers, lawyers and politicians and well as priests, soldiers and cops. Peter’s vision that none are unclean is told twice in the book of Acts – and Paul’s commission to go the to other, the gentiles, is told three times. Samaritans are baptized with the Holy Spirit to make clear that all are welcome in the sight of God. And the Pentecost story has the Holy Spirit empowering the 120 believers gathered there to speak in all the languages of the world.
Anti-racist language and teaching is not a liberal agenda; it is a fundamental element of Biblical faith that cannot be denied. It falls into the category of dogma: that which is essential. To deny it is to deny Christ.
We are by nature tribal creatures. I thoroughly enjoy rooting for Stanford and against USC – but these are also my brothers and sisters. Literally. My brother and sister-in-law and all their kids are alums or attendees at SC. Ah well, there are burdens we must each bear if we are going to be students of Jesus and members of the human race.
There is no such thing as a Christian racism or a Christian bigotry whether against any tribe or religious community. And though the sin plagues us all, we have not the privilege of entertaining it, nor ignoring it, nor voting for it.
Jesus chose compassion over risk. That costly choice was faithful to him who is the God and Father of us all. He summons us to go and do likewise.