Friday, December 11, 2015

Open Doors and Closed Borders

This week marked the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy in the Church. With that, Holy Doors around the world have been opened. Until last week, my only knowledge of Holy Doors came from the movie Dogma. Holy Doors, opened only during jubilees, symbolize Jesus, the gate. Entering a Holy Door is entering into mercy itself. It is transition; it is passage. One can receive an indulgence for entering a Holy Door (after going to confession and entering with that intent). One takes on a pilgrimage to visit a Holy Door, making the process more than a small step through a threshold. A Holy Door is a very blatant symbol that says, “Come in and be saved.”

This week has also been inundated with refugee talk. While the refugee crisis in the Middle East has been going on for years now, it only erupted in Europe this summer, and it’s starting to hit the U.S. After the massacre in San Bernardino by a radicalized Muslim and his wife (who was on a K1 visa), the push to reject Syrian refugees only intensified. Demagogue Donald Trump then suggested banning all Muslims from entering the country. This would include any nationality and immigrant status (no Muslim British doctors or Muslim Indonesian students or Muslim Australian tourists). And while he’s received lots of backlash, he’s also received lots of support.

1938 poster from Episcopal Church
The U.S. has a tricky history with immigration. The nation was settled by Europeans immigrating and pushing the native population out. And then it was shaped by waves of other immigrants, including African slaves forced here. Each new wave of immigration brought fear that the immigrants would overrun the status quo and ruin the nation. It’s quite true that immigrants do not shuck their cultures. There is the uncomfortable period of adjustment on both sides. While the late nineteenth century promised an immigrant-welcome country, asking for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” there was massive outcry against foreigners. In the 1850s, the Know Nothing Party arose on the platform on severely curtailing Catholic immigration. (And today, another party’s leading candidate is also running on the single platform of stopping Hispanic and Muslim immigration.) The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882. Various quota systems favored Protestant Europeans throughout the first half of the twentieth century. There were the fears that Chinese workers lowered wages in the west, that Catholic hierarchy was incompatible to democracy, that Slavs brought diseases.

These fears had elements of truth: each claim could find evidence to support it in some way. Large groups of people do change a place. And I think there are legitimate concerns about whether those changes will inflict political, social, or religious unrest. The truth is, I am uneasy about allowing large groups of Syrian refugees in the country. I look to Europe and doubt their screening processes (look at the radicalized terrorists in Paris, Brussels, and Geneva). I wonder what the culture of Germany will look like in 20 years. I look at a Western world that is either secularizing or Islamizing and frankly don’t like either. Part of me does want to shut down the wave of immigration and hold on to a culture I know.

But at the same time, I look back on how that’s played out in the past. German-Americans were interred during WWI, and the German language (at the time, the second most-spoken language in the U.S.) practically eliminated from the country. Japanese-Americans were interred during WWII, even third and fourth generation Americans, even Asian children adopted by white parents. Boats of Jewish refugees were sent back to Nazi Germany. Anytime swathes of people have been grouped and excluded, it doesn’t look good on the U.S. And of course, it’s not about looking good, but doing good.

It is dehumanizing to group people based on one factor, be it ethnicity or nationality or religion. People are complex. Trying to simplify who someone is strips them of an element of human dignity. It’s scary and uncomfortable and hard work to accept refugees. But the doors have to remain open. Radicalized terrorists might get in. Poverty might increase. The culture might shift to reflect more Islamic values. But we have to keep the doors open anyway. Because it is moral to do so. Because it is merciful to do so. Because Christ commands us to love our neighbors, the ones in need and the ones who mean us harm. If we go down, we go down loving, not fighting.

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