Girls living in the Sinai region of Egypt. (Photo: Ryland Rainsford)
Like many, the result of our presidential election Nov. 8 has left me with a profound sense of disillusionment.
It’s not just our president-elect’s profane personality, though that is, and should be, profoundly disturbing to many. What’s left me shaken is the repudiation of my belief in what it means to be an American.
So many of the policies he’s proposed, like creating a registry for Muslims, are fundamentally at odds with rights that I’ve long believed were considered inalienable by the overwhelming majority of Americans, even if we choose different ideological paths to get there.
What makes us Americans is not our geography, our skin color, the language we speak or the number of generations our family has been embraced by these borders. We are Americans because we believe in a shared set of truths that we hold as self-evident.
Truths we at times forget but to which we return. Ideals that call us to be better than we can ever hope to realistically be, yet we continue to strive toward them, knowing that it’s in the struggle that we realize “the better angels of our nature.”
One, in particular, has occupied my thoughts. It’s not in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence. It’s written on our front door:
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Speaking to The New York Times about the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy toward assisting refugees, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “It’s not unusual that we have politicians timid in the face of fear. But the task of the church is a different one.”
In a recent interview, Jemar Tisby, co-founder of the Reformed African American Network, talked to me about American Christians’ tendency to conflate politics with faith, saying, “We baptize our political preferences as biblical principles.”
The moral leadership of Moore, Tisby and others is critically important and will become even more so if our president-elect makes good on his promise to criminalize individuals and families who are simply trying to make better lives for themselves.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”-Martin Luther King Jr. believed this to be true, but he also knew that it does so only if we bend it. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” you can hear King’s passionate response to white pastors, whom he described as “men of genuine goodwill,” who yet failed to understand the urgency for justice.
King said: “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively … Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
It is at this moment, when the specter of registration and deportation has put the basic human dignity of so many under threat, that citizens can ensure the marginalized in our society feel welcome and loved, regardless of official policies put forth by politicians.
Since the election, my desire to be involved in the community has increased. My faith calls me to concern myself with the dispossessed instead of rulers and institutions. To ensure that the religious freedoms I value are enjoyed by people of all faiths. To work so that the country that allowed my ancestors to flourish does the same for today’s immigrants and refugees. To create what author D.L. Mayfield, who works with refugees in Portland, Oregon, calls “radical spaces of welcome.”
I’ve started homework clubs for kids who were desperately behind, art classes to fill up the long school breaks, English classes at apartment complexes for busy adults. I have friends who match up tutors with kids who are hungry to learn, people who start female-only gyms for Muslim women, churches who turn parking lots into gardens that feed hundreds of families. The ways to get involved are endless and impossibly filled with creativity.
I recognize my motives aren’t as pure as they should be. My heart should be in this not because of our current political climate but because my faith calls me to love my neighbor. My hope is that this moment is a catalyst calling me to greater action.
So let that be the legacy of this election. A great awakening to the truth that the shape of our community depends less on rulers or government decrees and more on the effort each of us, as neighbors, puts into it.
I first became familiar with Mayfield’s work through her contribution to the “Depolarize” podcast, hosted by Dan Koch. The Nov. 6 episode featuring Mayfield and her work with refugees is worth every minute.
The Nov. 10 episode of the “Pass the Mic” podcast with Tisby focuses on the impact of the election on evangelicalism and racial reconciliation in America.
John Graeber is a writer in Chattanooga who has also contributed to Glide Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jbgraeber. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.