Combating Prejudice with Scriptures
My husband and I moved home to Arizona after living on the East Coast for 6 years. Maybe we were really obtuse when we were growing up here, or maybe we got too used to the liberal political climate in Massachusetts, but since returning, we’ve been a little shocked at the attitude of our fellow Arizonans towards illegal immigrants, and consequently, towards Hispanics in general. I’ve heard Caucasians make disparaging remarks about Hispanics so nonchalantly that I often don’t think I’ve heard someone correctly when I first hear them.
I was at Wal-Mart a few months ago. My toddler was being really helpful, canceling the sale the cashier had just rung up. I apologized, and she said, rather cheerfully, “Oh, he’s fine, at least he’s not like those messy babies.”
I laughed, wondering who the “messy babies” are—mine wasn’t super clean to begin with; we’d had to break out the Oreos to make it through this grocery trip. Then, she went to talk about how the “messy babies” moms are always yelling at them in Spanish and making a raucous. With a sinking feeling, I realized she was actually saying, “Mexican babies,” not “messy babies,” and I had laughed along.
When I first moved here, I was invited to a Mormon mom playgroup, and a discussion launched into how unfair it was that illegal immigrants were getting access to free healthcare. The moms all agreed that those “illegals” shouldn’t get healthcare because they do not “pay into the system” since they don’t pay taxes. One proceeded to tell the story of going to the Emergency Room and having to wait while the doctors attended to “illegals” who had arrived after her (How did she know they were illegal? And, if they were more critical than she, of course, the doctors would see them first!). Again, I didn’t say anything.
On the way home from this playgroup, as is often the case, I thought of what I could have said…“Wouldn’t Jesus want us to give less fortunate people access to healthcare if they needed it?” Now, my husband says that I often use Jesus as my passive-aggressive trump card (Would Jesus complain about helping clean the house?), but here, I think it really applies. Of course Jesus wants us to help others, even if they’ve broken the law. Remember who he hung out with?
So, I find it surprising that the majority of people who exhibit this prejudice towards illegal immigrants most are Mormon or members of other Christian denominations.
As the months have passed, I’ve become increasingly worried about this pervasive attitude. Some of the comments I get most angry about come from ward members in Sunday School or Relief Society. I’m still scratching my head over a seminary lesson my husband gave a few weeks ago. In a nutshell, the theme was, “Jesus wants us to love everyone, even illegal immigrants.” About half of his class was up in arms; parents talked to him at Church about how disappointed they were with such a lesson.
Now, I’m not a girl who loves conflict, but I am feeling like I need to speak up at least in my church congregation. Ever since the “messy babies” incident, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that.
I was convinced that there must be some scriptures to support what I was thinking. I was talking to my mom about this, and she paraphrased some scriptures in the Book of Mormon about how we must help everyone. Neither of us could remember where it was, but after some searching on lds.org, we found it in Mosiah 4:17-24. I cried the first time I read this passage; it seems to fit so perfectly with this situation. I really like having these scriptures in my head when I hear some of the more prominent anti-immigrant rhetoric that seems to be recycled every week on the local news, by my neighbors, by other Mormons.
The moms from that playgroup reasoned that these immigrants have committed a sin by crossing the border illegally and thus are not entitled to our help. But, Mosiah 4:17-19 would suggest otherwise:
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
I’ve heard comments in Sunday School about how we don’t need to help these people because they should have stayed in their own country to earn money. If they hadn’t left Mexico (or wherever), they wouldn’t be poor. Mosiah 4 continues by talking about judging others and not sharing our wealth:
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
This passage also made me feel guilty. I wonder if by staying quiet or withholding my substance, I am one of those who judge.
Our ward is an interesting blend of retirees and college students, not many of us fall in-between. Understandably, some have talked about how hard it is for them to make ends meet. Why should it be easier for those who aren’t US citizens? Mosiah 4:24 has an answer here, too:
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
So, is there a way for me to gently bring these scriptures up the next time a Gospel Doctrine lesson turns into a discussion about how great it is that a proposition passed in the last election, which prevents illegal immigrants attending college from receiving financial aid and makes them pay more tuition? Is Mormon culture turning away from the teachings of Christ in its treatment of immigrants? What can we do to reinstall Christ’s teachings into the immigrant
debate in a way to encourage productive debate?