A black woman preached in the church I’m attending. Her message stirred me to thinking, as it did many others. It wasn’t that her message was that different from a hundred others I’ve heard over my lifetime – We don’t have to live in hatred or fear, bowing to the whims of this culture because Jesus is who he says he is. The wrong shall fail and the right prevail.
It’s just hearing that message from a woman, a black woman no less, at this time in history, when our nation is being governed by a unrepentant racist of a president, made Donna Barber’s words even more profound. If Donna can believe that right will prevail, then surely so should all the rest of us, heh?
Donna and I had a long talk after her sermon. I was blunt with her about my struggles with Trump. Is it okay to hate the racist? Or am I supposed to love him anyway? I’ve been having lots of discussions with folks ever since about what it means to hate.
Is it hateful to write “God Bless America” on a drone or a bomb and drop it on innocent people simply because your country disagrees with the policies of their country?
Is it hateful to say to a group of people who have been raised up as Americans, even though they weren’t born here, you don’t belong here, you aren’t one of us, you aren’t as worthy as us?
Shortly before Donna spoke that morning, a young Hispanic man, a college student, shared his own story about growing up a Dreamer. He spoke about the fears that had gripped him throughout much of his teen years. He spoke about his friends, many of them also Dreamers, and their fears of being deported, separated from their families, sent to a country that they have never really known other than in stories, the way most of us know other countries.
As this young man spoke, I scanned the congregation, wondering if an ICE worker was in attendance. And if not, was the family member of an ICE worker listening? If so, would they be compelled to report this young man? I wondered about the people I was sitting among, people I don’t know by name or by values yet. Would they think this young man courageous for telling his story? Or would they feel that he had robbed them of something they had a right to but he did not?
Prior to his speaking, Pastor Ken Wytsma has spoken eloquently about the drawn out legal battles that Dreamers and those like them endure in an effort to obtain legal status. Those of us who have a natural birthright often assume that obtaining legal status is as easy as getting a driver’s license. You fill out some paperwork. You take a test. You get your photo made. It’s as easy as A.B. C. 1. 2. 3. to quote a certain someone.
Most of those who pound and rant about “illegals” don’t have a clue about the immigration process in the United States. A pregnant Russian woman with means can rent a condo at Trump Towers and ensure her baby American citizenship and then take that baby back to Russia to be raised and schooled. And 30 some years from now that same child then grown can actually run for president of the United States.
But a child brought into the US as an infant, as a toddler and raised up in US schools, taught US values, attending US churches, running track, playing basketball, earning the highest of marks, running the canned food drives, or running for Student Body president, can be deported in a blink of an eye because his or her parents were too poor to buy American citizenship the way the Russians or the Chinese can and are doing daily.
This has happened to students Tim and I know. Students we have taught. I told that to Pastor Ken after church, after I finished my discussion with Donna Barber. I told Ken how courageous it was of that young man to take to that stage and tell all who were listening his story of being a Dreamer. I told him of the students we’ve known who have been deported, of their family members deported. I told him of how I worried for that young man and those like him.
I think of the white nationalism that ran amuck in Germany. How it was a Dutch neighbor who knew that Corrie Ten Boom and her family were hiding Jews in their home that snitched on them, that got them arrested and sent off to Concentration Camps. And how Corrie’s sister died in that camp, as did the rest of her family. Corrie struggled with hating the Nazis and her neighbor, the snitch. I heard her speak about all that one Easter that first year I moved to Oregon.
I’m no Corrie Ten Boom.
What I am, though, is Trump’s idea of the perfect American woman. I am blond. I am blue-eyed. I’ve worked hard. Pulled myself up out of that trailer park that I was raised up in and made something of myself. I have been significantly successful. I live in a lovely home in a beautiful part of the country to which I wasn’t born. I wasn’t even born in the United States. I was born in Germany but to a military father and mother. So, ironically, I have the birthright that eludes so many Dreamers.
According to the Constitution, I am worthy of American citizenship. And according to Trump, I’m the model citizen. I have never been arrested (albeit not for a lack of trying). I go to church. I pay my taxes (which is more than he’s done). I try to live a life that brings no dishonor on my people or my community or my country or my God. I have never even ingested pot in any form.
So what compels you to fight Trump? a friend inquired.
Good question, I replied. You’d think given all that I am, all of who I am that I would freaking love Trump. His slash and burn economic approach of deregulation is making us and many like us bank. What’s not to love about that?
There was a long pause while I considered my girlfriend’s question: What compels me to decry Trump? I am not in any group of people that he oppresses other than being a woman and I’m not attractive enough for him to wanna grab my … … so no worries there.
It’s not about me, I said, finally sorting it through. It’s not about me at all.
Right, she said. It’s not about you. You have nothing to gain from this fight.
My status as an American citizen isn’t at stake. Why should I care what happens to those who weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the US? I won’t be around when all the ice caps melt. Why should I care if drilling destroys the pristine waters of Bristol Bay or the Bay of the Holy Spirit? Why should I care if Betsy DeVos guts the education system? We have no children enrolled in any schools. I have my degree intact. So do my children. Why do I care if this administration does away with Medicaid? I am not disabled. None of my children are disabled. There’s no age limit for writers. I can work as a writer as long as my fingers can type and my mind can engage. Besides I’m in good health, for now at least. Why do I care if this administration makes all things easier for white people and harder for people of color? My entire family is lily white. Despite my efforts to diversify it, so far it’s all Irish and German, all Scots and English. DNA that any Trump could be proud of.
So why risk my reputation as a writer, as a thoughtful person, as a woman of faith, as an educator, as a good girl grown up? Why take on Trump and this administration’s policies on a near daily basis? What in the world could compel me to risk all that I am and all that I have worked for when there is absolutely no gain in it for me?
Decrying Trump has brought me nothing but trouble. It has cost me life-long friendships. It has cost me jobs. It has cost me book sales. It has cost me respect. It has cost me sleep. It has caused people to question my sanity, my faith, and my heart. People, who at one time counted me as a friend, now just count me as a “flaming liberal.” (They seem to have forgotten that the founding fathers of this country were liberals. The Brits were the conservatives in that fight. Liberals is derived from the fight for Liberty).
I have nothing to gain from this. So what compels me?
Nothing but the love of Christ.
To be a Christ-follower, I am compelled to care about others more than myself.
I am compelled to speak up because Trump’s behavior and that of this administration are wrong.
I cannot be silent while Dreamers are deported.
I cannot be silent while women are abused.
I cannot be silent while the disabled are cut down.
I cannot be silent while children are exploited.
I cannot be silent while the poor are made poorer.
I cannot be silent while people of color are degraded and subjugated.
I cannot be silent while the rich steal from future generations.
I cannot be silent while the environment and our Constitution are blown up.
I cannot be silent while Trump repeats racist rhetoric and unceasing lies from the Oval Office.
Well, I could be silent if all I wanted was an easy life. It would be easier to be silent. But the love of Christ compels me to fight against injustices.
Never, anywhere in Scriptures, does the love of Christ compel me to seek an easy life. When I was in college there was a poster popular among my Christian friends. It read: Don’t pray for an easy life. Pray instead to be a strong person.
The one verse that has been a constant with me since hearing Donna Barber preach is this: We mourn but not as a people without hope.
I have been in deep mourning for my country, for our people, for the people watching all over the world.
But I am not mourning as someone without hope.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).