WRITING ON RELIGION: The Gospel vs. hysteria


One important consideration gets lost in the entire issue of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the United States-Mexico border.

From El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, these people are coming from nations where the U.S. in the past frequently meddled in their internal affairs, often with quite negative effects.

The reasons for U.S. intervention ranged from supporting the interests of U.S. firms such as United Fruit in the first half of the 20th century to anti-communism in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In Guatemala, the U.S. backed a coup in 1954 that overthrew a democratically elected government intent on economic reform.

Decades later, in 2013, former dictator Rios Montt was found guilty of the genocide of more than 1,700 indigenous natives during his rule in 1982-83.

Being a rightist, as well as an evangelical Christian, Montt was a favorite of the Reagan administration, which saw Central American as a possible communist stepping stone.

The human rights record of Guatemala was so bad during this time that American aid to the Guatemalan government was officially cut off. However, according to an article by CNN, it turns out that the CIA continued to "provide money to Guatemalan military intelligence sources for years during the civil war."

The Guatemalan civil war ran from 1960 to 1996, with an estimated 200,000-plus people killed and 1 million refugees.

U.S. funding for rightist governments in El Salvador during the 1980s is even more notorious. The Reagan administration also saw this nation as a bulwark against communist expansion. This meant that U.S. taxpayers funded a repressive government, with funds filtering down to paramilitary death squads that targeted anyone who spoke out.

At least 70,000 people were killed in the Salvadoran civil war. Many of those killed were priests and nuns, even Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot while saying Mass. A U.S. Congressional investigation linked the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989 to very high levels of the Salvadoran military.

Another negative influence from the North is the massive market for illegal drugs the U.S. provides and that violent gangs in Central and South America are all too eager to feed. For both good and ill, we live in a truly globalized era.

This is not to say that anyone should be able to cross into the U.S. illegally and unimpeded, but just to point out that reacting to these unfortunate children as if they have absolutely no human connection to our country is just plain wrong.

Are they really refugees who face certain death if they go home? Possibly in some cases, and that's why keeping them here temporarily -- I repeat, temporarily -- to determine this makes sense. I think in lots of cases they come from violent and economically depressed places where life is rather miserable, and they can return to that environment without being targeted.

The best of America

I have been proud of those people around the country who have reached out and spoken out to remind all of us that these children are human beings and fellow children of God and should be treated as such.

Are there legitimate concerns and room for honest disagreements about what to do? Certainly. But whether a particular child is allowed to stay here or will be returned to his or her country of origin, each of them should be treated with respect, compassion and kindness.

Why not send them back as friends, rather than people who will both envy and hate us? And as I have seen suggested elsewhere, why not support international efforts to improve their lots in their native lands?

Hysteria and the Gospel

In interviews and talks after he left office, President Harry Truman said the U.S. periodically goes through periods of hysteria, such as the Salem witch trials, the time of the Alien and Sedition Act, and of course the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

Since the ascent of the tea party movement in 2010, we have been in such a period. Part of this hysteria is virulent anti-immigrant sentiment. Where conservative Republican President George W. Bush in the mid-2000s could actually support and try to get passed sensible immigration reform, it is now GOP orthodoxy to militantly oppose such reform.

In certain quarters, the more militantly and obnoxiously one can behave on this issue, the more one proves one's tea party bona fides. This attitude led to the absurd spectacle of a tea party candidate for legislature and other protesters mistakenly besieging a bus of YMCA campers in Arizona. Hysteria. Fear and resentment run wild.

Faith leaders have been increasingly speaking out against scapegoating these children.

Sometimes doing the right thing hurts a little bit. It's easy to give a local charity your extra pocket change; it might be a lot harder, and more necessary, to welcome a stranger who arrives uninvited, speaks a different language and requires some community resources.

Mark E. Rondeau is the Banner's religion editor. Email: mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com. Twitter: @banner_religion


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