Vail Daily column: Fight against a fearful future
January 6, 2017
Fear corrodes positive attitudes like century-old water pipes spewing lead poisoning. As 2017 begins, the U.S. is on edge. Some college students fear being expelled because they're not citizens. Immigrant parents shiver at threats of federal marshals' raids to export them. U.S.-born children are alarmed at being separated from parents, who are illegal aliens.
Farmers lose sleep worrying that crops will rot at harvest because migrant workers can't enter the U.S. Many Americans are bothered by threats against Mexicans, African-Americans, women and the LGBT communities.
Like today, seething tensions hounded the first Christmas. Don't sentimentalize Christ's birth. We imagine lowing cattle pressing against Jesus' manger to warm him. Smiling shepherds and adoring Magi add charm to this narrative. We picture a cheerful Holy Family at the manger. This Christmassy scene is imaginary.
As refugees hiding from King Herod, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt. Such oppressive cycles against immigrants are repeated in U.S. history.
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The Holy Family was displaced from safe Nazareth because Emperor Caesar Augustus wanted to destroy Jewish nationalism. He decreed everyone had to sign enrollment cards that helped the Empire track down dissidents.
After Jesus' birth, Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. The Holy Family was forced to migrate twice: once to register in Bethlehem; then to flee after King Herold slaughtered Jewish male babies in hopes of killing Jesus.
Roman Catholic historian Garry Wills captures tensions that erupted around the Holy Family: "[Jesus] comes from a despised city and region. Yet he cannot be allowed a peaceful birth in that backwater. His parents are displaced by decree of an occupying power that rules his people. For the imperial census to be taken, Joseph his father must return to the place of his birth."
"Joseph does not even have relatives left in his native town, people with whom he can stay," writes Wills. "He seeks shelter in an inn, already crowded with people taken away from their own homes and lives. Because of this influx of strangers, he is turned away. There is no bed left, even for a woman far-advanced in pregnancy. She must deliver her child in a barn, where he's laid in a hay trough."
As refugees hiding from King Herod, Jesus' family fled to Egypt. Such oppressive cycles against immigrants are repeated in U.S. history. President-elect Trump won the white vote that felt threatened by illegal border-crossing Mexicans. Trump initially promised to round up 11 million people illegally in the U.S. For them to earn legal status, these immigrants must return to Mexico and "will have to enter under the immigration caps or limits that will be established."
Trump's bureaucratic lingo softens real threats. The cost for exporting 11 million people is huge. An underground network of hideouts for on-the-run immigrants will spring up in a murky underworld. Immigrants lucky to return to the U.S. will be forced to wait five or 10 years, depending on quotas. Families will be broken up.
A slashed immigrant workforce reduces laborers who do home construction, harvest crops, wash dishes in restaurants, clean hotels and perform heavy labor white blue-color workers shun. Such restrictions put brakes on economic recovery.
Trump played on fears that Syrian and Mexican refugees act like predatory gangs roaming our nation. He exploited a rising tide of anti-immigrant bias swamping our nation and swam with this current.
Replace fear with faith
What can level-headed, compassionate Americans do in this new year to fight such panic? Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt serves as a model of Christian compassion, exposing bigotry hiding under jingoistic flag-waving.
In 1939, Hitler closed German borders to Jews desperate to escape concentration camps. Because of virulent anti-Semitic backlash, only a few gained U.S. visas. Eleanor Roosevelt fought such anti-Jew phobia, writing "Conquer Fear and You Will Enjoy Living" in the May 23rd issue of Look magazine (1939). She urged Americans to conquer their fears of non-whites, thereby preserving civility.
Many Republican conservatives and southern Democrats didn't want European Jewry polluting U.S. white society. These Nativists formed patriotic societies. Meeting behind closed doors, white Americans intensified a crusading spirit against everything "foreign."
Eleanor Roosevelt fought against fear that fed patriotism for whites-dominated U.S. Using hate language and waving Old Glory, the white race's guardians caused "antagonism to foreign groups in our midst under the guise of proclaiming their allegiance to age-old principles of Americanism," protested Roosevelt.
"Americanism must be flexible to meet the changes of civilization, and we should remember our past and not allow ourselves to be carried away by our fears to the point of hysterical so-called patriotism," she declared.
In 2017, make America great by condemning anti-immigrant bias. Fight deportation hysteria. Model Eleanor Roosevelt's protests against bigotry aimed at refugees. Pledge this new year to help immigrants instead of hindering them. Replace fear with faith in ancestors who left the Old World to forge a new nation conceived in liberty that welcomed their sacrifice and talent.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive.