By Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom
Unitarian Universalist minister and author
A friend of mine recently wrote on her Facebook page, “As an immigrant, I can’t even pretend to be nuetral about what is going on in Arizona.” I responded, “Simply as an American citizen, my friend, who believes in what America is supposed to stand for, I can’t be neutral either.”
While I can understand and even empathize with those who are frustrated and outraged at what they see as the blatant and pervasive violation of our immigration laws, these recent responses go way beyond anything that actually addresses those issues. Whole populations of people are being targeted, dehumanized, and terrorized simply because of what they look like and where they came from. This is not the America I was brought up to believe in.
The people who support the recent legislation in Arizon frequently make use of religious languge to justify their actions – or, at least their anger. I realize that I have religious language to support me, as well. As a Unitarian Universalist my faith tradition recognizes that it draws on many sources, and enumerates seven. Here is how those seven sources focus my thinking on recent events in Arizona:
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Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life: When one has had such a “direct experience” of what some people call God (yet which no name can fully describe), how can you see any woman or man as anything other than your sister or brother? And how could you treat your sisters and brothers so shamefully?
Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love: There is violence in these laws, and even if the intent is to respond to the problems of illegal immigration, where is the compassion? Where is the love? For that matter, where is the justice?
Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life: The Christian Apostle Paul says that the “fruit” of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – do any of these seem to be increasing in Arizona?
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves: The Hebrew Scriptures are forever telling the Israelites to do justice by the alien, the stranger and the sojourner among them, even going so far as to say that the one who withholds justice from the alien will be cursed (see Ex 23:8; Lev 19:33-34; Deut 24:17; and Deut 27:19), and, of course, Jesus tell his disciples that one should love their neighbor as themselves.
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit. A rational examination of these laws reveals this flaw – the law is supposed to be enforced impartially, yet these laws are by their nature partial toward certain groups and, therefore, cannot be impartially enforced. They are unreasonable.
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature: We are bound together in an interconnected web of being. As much as some might like to think so, there is no “us” and “them” – there is only “us.” And all of us are biologically connected to one another, and chemically connected to the earth, and atomically connected to the cosmos. When will we begin to live like it?
In these days one cannot be neutral. And yet it is also important that our response be informed by the very values we find missing in the legislation we’re opposing. Let there be compassion, justice, and love in our responses. Let us remember that we’re engaging our sisters and our brothers, with whom we are all connected. There is no other way. That is the America I was brought up to believe in, and that’s what my faith tradition demands of me.
Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom is a Unitarian Universalist minister and author. His books include, “Teacher, Guide, Companion: rediscovering Jesus in a secular world”; “Simply Pray: a modern spiritual practice to deepen your life,” and the recent, “Serving With Grace: lay leadership as a spiritual practice.” (Skinner House Books)