By Lauren R. Stanley
For the past several weeks, I’ve been watching the debate and the reactions over the new immigration law in Arizona that basically makes it illegal to be a stranger in a strange land.
I know well what it is like for immigrants in that state, and I know the fears they face, because for nigh on five years, I have been a stranger in strange lands. I know what it is like to not fully belong, to stand out, to be easily tagged as “other.”
I know what is it like to be viewed with suspicion.
I know the fear of having police stop me and demand my papers, and the terrors that descended upon me when those same police told me that my papers were no good, despite the fact that they were.
I know what it means to be somewhere illegally, even though it was the right thing to do.
The Arizona laws touch me personally because I was supposed to go to there in September for a clergy conference. I wanted to go to Arizona, I really did, but then the immigration law was signed, and I thought to myself, “I just can’t go there.”
How could I – how can I – go to an eight-day clergy conference for my own respite, focusing on myself and my needs, my desires, when so many of my sisters and brothers are living in the same fear that I experienced for so long as a stranger in a strange land?
Once I made the decision, I notified the conference sponsor and was gratified to find out that I could move my conference to another time, another place, no questions asked. That made me feel better, but then I began to wonder: Had I done the right thing? The House of Bishops has decided to go ahead with its meeting in September in Arizona, in part to be a witness to what is happening there. Perhaps going to Arizona would have been the better thing to do, I thought.
And then I heard a preacher who opened the Scriptures for me in a new way, and I knew I had made the right decision. This preacher explained the significance of Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “A new commandment I give you, that you love on another as I have loved you.” This new commandment further refined the Double Commandment, the preacher said. The latter, to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” is hard to obey, she said, because we don’t always love ourselves. But this new commandment – to love one another as Jesus loved (and loves) us – well, that’s a whole new ballgame.
Listening to this preacher, I was struck to the core. I can’t go to Arizona, I thought. If I do, I’m not loving one another as Jesus loves me. Jesus’ command calls us to work toward bringing God’s kingdom – a kingdom of love – into being in this world, at this time.
I will not participate in a law that forces some of God’s beloved children to live in fear, that punishes people because of how God created them.
Basically, what it comes down to for me is this: There are no “us’s” and “thems” is God’s very good creation. Going to Arizona while this immigration law is in effect would make me an accomplice to the idea that indeed we can divide out the people, and declare some to be lesser human beings.
And I simply cannot do that.
My protest is very small, I know, and in the greater scheme of things will not affect a single thing in Arizona, except to deny the state some money. I know that Arizona is not going to change its draconian law based on what I do or not do.
But that’s not the important thing.
What is important is that I listen – very hard – and work – even harder – to love my neighbors as Jesus loves me. Not going to Arizona is the best way I know to live out that love.
The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary serving in the Diocese of Haiti.