Despite the time difference, I set my alarm, so I could watch the first debate of the Republican Presidential candidates. As I no longer live in America, it has been awhile since I have watched one of these. And like everyone else, it’s been four years since I’ve seen any US political debate. I don’t get the daily political soundbites, so I sat down to watch the debate with no prior knowledge of the candidates.
A lot has changed since I last lived in America.
I did not hear clear policies on how to serve the American people, how to improve lives within and outside its borders (yes, American policies affect people outside America as well), or anything remotely on the environment.
What I did hear – loud and clear – was fear. As an immigrant myself, I cringed every time I heard a candidate suggest building a wall. Really? I remember cheering when the Berlin Wall finally fell down, after Republican President Ronald Reagan pleaded “tear down that wall!”
I also heard a disturbing misrepresentation of Islam, with a couple of candidates comparing ISIS and Iran. They are NOT the same thing. ISIS claim to be Sunni (many Muslims would say ISIS are not by the way), whilst Iran is Shia. It would be like saying Catholics and Mormons are the same. Comparing ISIS and Iran is dangerous rhetoric, and shows a huge lack of religious and cultural awareness.
I also heard a distorted idea of strength. America’s strength does NOT come from the military, as some of these candidates suggested. Just as it never came from the atom bomb or nuclear weapons. America’s strength comes from her ingenuity and hospitality.
America, where has your pioneering spirit gone? Why so afraid? We once dared to dream – of new places, of new ways of living, of freedom of religion, of freedom from governments that didn’t fully represent the people. We sailed seas on rickety boats, unsure where we were going, only knowing it was a “new world.” We once climbed mountains and crossed deserts. We even stepped on the moon. There were no boundaries, no “walls”, no limits to the possibilities. And we journeyed together – across the land on horseback yes, but also marching shoulder to shoulder down the Mall to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
A lot has changed in 239 years, but has the world become so small that Americans are now afraid of it?
I urge you to read the full poem “New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus, part of which appears on the statue of Liberty. The poem compares the statue of Colossus on the island of Rhodes, to this new “mighty woman” whose strength lies not in muscles, but in welcoming. The statue of Liberty is no goddess, but merely a statue, this “mother of exiles”.
But there is a God, a God who cares for exiles. The whole Hebrew scriptures from Genesis to Malachi speak of God’s relationship with the Israelite nation with many of the scriptures written during times of exile. God cares passionately about these exiles. He cares about the poor and the needy too. (I’ve just written a paper on that if you are interested in hearing more.) This God cares not just for the “storied pomp” of the Pharaohs or Babylon. He cares for slaves, immigrants, and migrant workers. In fact, one of my colleagues noted that much of the Bible are stories about God telling the “storied pomp” how to love and live in community with the not-quite-so storied or pomped (the not rich and famous).
After the first Republican debate, I’m very concerned about the future of America.
- Please pray for America and for the Presidential elections 2016.
- Pray for the candidates – of all the parties. May they strive to represent America, as an Ambassador would, with the understanding that their words and actions should reflect the values of the people they are striving to represent.
- Pray America remembers her story, warts and all. May America live up to the words written on her “birth certificate”:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, 1776)