Division among people has plagued the United States since its inception. European settlers wiped out Native Americans in massive numbers. Mexicans found themselves going to sleep in Mexico and waking up in the U.S. the next day. African people became the victims of cattle slavery, a type of servitude never seen before.
What we experience today is nothing new and is rooted in the historical errors of those that came before us. For instance, colonizers saw land and took it, and if there were people in the way, they found ways to eliminate them. In order to build their societies, they enslaved ethnically different people for centuries by eliminating their culture, humanity, and oh yeah, doing all they could to destroy whatever chances such people had of restoring their freedom.
In addition to scripture and social interactions, politicizing of different people groups is used to create division among humans. There is a prevalent narrative in North America that labels immigrants as “criminals.” And these “criminals” that should not be allowed into the country. ..Take a moment and think about that…
To label someone a criminal because he or she is an immigrant ignores the person’s humanity, but this has long been a political strategy to use propaganda to dehumanize the “other.”
Hitler and Nazi Germany used this tactic against the Jewish community. The political purpose of this was to normalize violence against Jews.
If one is constantly presented with a negative image of a community and that image is fed with hateful rhetoric, it eventually normalizes any violence done to that community.
For example, negative imagery that portrays African American males as violent, ignorant, and thuggish creates a negative image of and belief about Black men which feeds the propaganda against Black men and makes it easy to assert that Trayvon Martin should not have been looking suspicious; that Mike Brown was a thug who stole from that convenience store and he should have never resisted the law. These are all political strategies used to create divisions among people.
Divisions influence our beliefs in ways that deeply affect our morals.
Jesus taught a parable to illustrate how divisiveness affects ethical behavior. In this parable, thieves attacked a man making his way to Jericho from Jerusalem. After the robbers left the man for dead, a priest and a Levite passed by him. We would expect a priest to have helped the man who was obviously in need. We would expect the Levite, a descendant of the priestly tribe, to have helped… However, the only individual that helped the man was the Samaritan, a man from a politico-racially apposed community to the Jews. Contextually, Jesus spoke this parable to the religious leaders of his era. These religious leaders did not know who their neighbors were. And although, these leaders claimed to be faithful to Torah, Jesus showed them their hearts were far from God.
Jesus’ parable disputes the notion of division by teaching us we all are each other’s neighbor.
Let’s reconsider the narratives surrounding immigrants. These narratives neglect the teaching of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves. If Jesus’ teaching is accepted as true and universal, we would admit no one would like to be labeled a criminal and told, “there is no room for you.”
I do not suggest that society eradicate law and government policies. I am only positing that we analyze how we treat each other.
People must take time to think about what they say and do. People who live in affluent neighborhoods may not take a liking to living in an over-policed area. If it is not good for you, then it is not good for your neighbor…
One bright and sunny day at the gas station, I walked towards the cashier to pay to pump gas, but had to walk back to my car when I realized I forgot my wallet in my car. As I walked towards my car, I noticed a woman sitting on the passenger side of her vehicle with the door open. She gazed directly at me and as I gazed back at her, she quickly closed her door and “click!” came the locking of her doors. I completed my transaction but could not resist the urge to say out loud, “We are still doing this in 2018???” While some may argue that I am over-reacting to the lady locking her door, the inescapable truth is that she saw a black man walk towards her and her “fight or flight” impulse was triggered.
Stereotypes ignore people’s humanity and in this moment, my humanity was ignored. She did not see Stephen the youth pastor, educator, and advocate.
We can only overcome divisions in our social interactions when we overcome our negative beliefs and we can overcome negative beliefs by seeking truth and facts rather than subscribing to stereotype and propaganda.
We can achieve the true unity that overcomes divisions only when we become good neighbors.
Good neighbors take the time to consider the experiences of others and although, I am willing to concede that the lady’s behavior in my story may have been the result of a traumatic experience in her past, I must also argue that we resist exacting the punishment for the sins of others from innocent people.
Good neighbors understand that humanity is diverse as well as unique.
What one person does is not a reflection of an entire ethnic group. As a society, we tend to assume the worst of people more than we assume the good, but it is time to push the movement towards honoring each other’s humanity and resist becoming players in the game of hatred, war, and divisiveness.
God in Christ is calling us to unity.
Unity for the faith community is the hope and great expectation of Christ the King’s return. However, we are also called to make heaven on earth by making concrete efforts that improve unity one day, one person, and one policy at a time. Thus, change will come, because God will raise up generations to be pillars of change, because Scripture reveals that the Triune God who is deeply in love with His creation always prevails despite human ignorance and error. Yet, like the Samaritan, we must not forsake our part to effect justice and equity, because regardless of the context or instrument of division, the divine mandate remains the same urgent call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Lk.6:32-36)
Today and in the power of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, in which nothing is impossible, let us choose to love others as we love ourselves and by so doing, by faith, store up treasures for ourselves where moth, rust, and thieves cannot destroy what God eternally places in us!
-Stephen Lamar Robertson
Stephen Lamar Robertson first responded to God’s call on his life with a passion for ministry as a Youth Pastor at Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church, Los Angeles, but now works as a Children, Youth and Family Director at Lutheran Church in the Foothills in La Canada Flintridge Ca.. He graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary, CA., with a Masters in Divinity. On February 11th, 2017, Stephen joined in marriage with Shantell Darby Robertson who is a faithful Deacon, Cosmetologist, and Kindergarten Teacher. In addition to serving in ministry, Stephen served as an educator to visually-impaired and differently-abled youth at the Junior Blind of America and Braille Institute of America. He believes “It is important to not only educate youth in the Christian Faith, but to also ensure they are enriched to achieve their fullest potential.”