“When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God. ” (Leviticus 19: 33-34)
I have used the above quote from Leviticus in a previous quote, but unfortunately, it remains relevant to current events. And I am speaking about comments made by Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, on prohibiting persons of the Muslim faith from entering this country. And he does not seem to distinguishing between Muslims from a specific geographic location, and all Muslims. His statement has set off a firestorm of comments, both in the media, and blogosphere! Many comments were highly critical of Mr. Trump’s opinion, accusing him of violating America’s high ideals.
The sad truth is that since America’s earliest beginning’s, there has been an undercurrent of religious intolerance in the country’s history. As far back as Puritan Boston, when Quakers were persecuted; even hung, like Mary Dyer, for their beliefs. Baptists and Evangelicals were discriminated against in the state of Virginia, in the newly born United States. Mormons were, attacked, murdered, and were driven out to the frontiers of the Republic. There has always been a subtle discrimination against persons of the Jewish faith. And Catholics should remember the fierce opposition to believers of our faith existed in this nation. Some of the early state constitutions had amendments that prohibited persons who “swore allegiance to a foreign ruler (i.e.; the Pope,)” from holding public office. Catholic schools, orphanages, and convents were attacked at times during urban riots. When the great waves of Catholic immigrants started coming to our shores, the fear mongering grew to fever pitch. A nativist party, founded in the 1800’s, and known popularly as the “Know Nothings”; with the aim of preventing immigration of German and Irish Catholics, and limiting the access to the political system only to Protestants. We have grown as country, and religious liberty is enshrined in both our Constitution, and the body politic. There have been and always will be tensions as we continue to explore what the ideal of religious liberty and tolerance means in a modern society that has both religious and secular segments to it.
Persons, such as Mr. Trump, are threatening that ideal, by playing to the fears of terrorism that is afflicting our country right now. Michael Sean Winters, of the National Catholic Reporter, in an interesting recent post on this issue. In the last few paragraphs, he speaks about the real threat of terror. The real threat is not the death and destruction terrorists can inflict, but the changes they can cause in a society. When out of fear, they cause a society, like the U.S., to abandon its ideals of personal freedom, of openness to all faiths, for severe, hard-handed security practices, and make us an armed camp. When it causes a nation to demonize a whole religion; a whole people, and discriminates against them; then the terrorist wins.
To stand up to terrorism, means to have the courage to remain faithful to those social and political ideals that make us a unique people on the world stage. As a community of believers, we American Catholics need to remember our own immigrant roots, and not give into fear. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are called to extend mercy; which we experience ourselves, to others. We trust that God’s grace will help us overcome fear and anxiety, and we will welcome the stranger.