Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?
The U.S. presidential primary campaign is in full swing, and the candidates are pulling out all stops in their attempts to attract voters. Stopping at nothing in appeals to special interests, such as veterans, gender affiliations, and of course, religious groups, they’ve directed their strategists and speechwriters to find ways to connect them with particular socio/economic segments. The main goal is to demonstrate an affinity or understanding of these demographic and psychographic groups, so that they’ll be more likely to vote for the candidates in upcoming primaries or caucuses.
Unfortunately, in their headlong rush to contrive artificial connections, the candidates’ campaigns often show the exact opposite — a failure to connect simply by not comprehending the complexity of their message. In other words, when they make speeches to one particular group, complete with promises and postures that supposedly play to that group, they’re usually not aware of the big picture, and how it translates not only to other values or beliefs of that group, but to voters who belong to different groups who may not necessarily share the same views.
Take candidate Donald Trump, for example. Or, for that matter, any of the other presidential wanna-be’s who have come out strongly on the issue of dealing with Middle East refugees. It’s one thing to say that all Muslim refugees should be summarily banned, restricted, or even deported — and another thing to relate that to centuries-old religious principles that may be in direct contradiction to the candidate’s stand.
How does banning or deporting refugees square with the teaching that we should care for one another? To treat each other (and love each other!) as we would like to be treated? Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, or aren’t we?
Jesus gave us numerous teachings that clearly showed which policy he advocated: one of them, the Good Samaritan story, told of a person from another ethnic group (which, incidentally, was hated and discriminated against by Jews of that time) who came to the aid of a traveler who had been beaten, robbed, and left at the side of the road to die. The ethnic differences that Jesus intentionally made part of this story showed us that there should be no artificial language, ethnic, or religious differences that keep us from helping our neighbors. Taking this lesson one step further, it would be easy to make the jump to the current refugee situation, and conclude that even though there are major religious differences between the majority of western countries and the fleeing refugees, many of whom come from Islamic nations, we shouldn’t ignore their plight on the basis of race, culture, or religion. So, Mr. Trump, are you saying we ought to ban Muslims…or to help them, modeling ourselves on the Good Samaritan, as the Bible taught?
The Old Testament story of Cain and Abel contained the memorable line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This was Cain’s attempt to duck responsibility for murdering his brother Abel. In some ways, western nations bear some of the responsibility for the current instability in the Middle East. Through our support of governments that ultimately turned out to be murderous, radical, inhumane regimes that were anything but democratic, we helped create the wars raging throughout that region. So, essentially, we played a part in the murder of thousands — and are now trying to avoid our responsibility of helping the innocent refugees from those conflicts, mainly because of our fear of religious differences.
So, the big picture for the candidates’ campaign staffs attempting to attract religiously-affiliated voters: be careful what you promise. In your haste to appeal to baser instincts, you may actually be cutting off your nose to spite your face, by ignoring the more positive moral precepts that are the true heart of most mainstream religions.