Nidoto Nai Yoni – Let it Not Happen Again
“Let it not happen again that a group of people are singled out, that their loyalty and patriotism be questioned because of their race or ancestry.” – Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial
When our family visited Seattle last year, our daughter Katie was with me in wanting to see the newly completed Japanese Exclusion Memorial on Bainbridge Island – both of us being avid readers and lovers of history. I remember the stillness of the park surrounding the memorial that day, the wall bearing the names of those evacuated a sobering testimony of the powerful impact of fear and hatred.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order in March of 1942, authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, (as well as some German and Italian Americans) all under the guise of a threat to national security. 120,000 Japanese Americans, the majority of them American citizens, were forcibly relocated to internment camps, where they lived behind barbed wire, under the watchful eyes of armed guards for several years. For all the paranoia about what a threat they were, not a single one was found guilty of espionage.
Later we walked through the nearby historical museum, with a permanent exhibit documenting the stories of several of those who were imprisoned. Families who lost everything – their land, their businesses, their reputations – all without the protection guaranteed them by the Constitution of the United States as citizens of this country. It wasn’t until 1988 that President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, granting reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned; and apologized for the wrongs committed against them by our nation’s government.
I remember the sinking feeling in my gut as I read the stories, wondering at how often history repeats itself as I recalled the hateful rhetoric that seemed to be ramping up in the current presidential race. Racial tensions, particularly between African Americans and law enforcement were building, political candidates began calling for a return to America’s “greatness”, and once again the “threat to national security” became a hotly debated topic. I left Bainbridge Island that day with a heaviness that felt rooted in a very real fear: the fear that we have forgotten, the fear that it could very well happen again.
That heaviness has not gone away, and hope feels increasingly elusive, and at the same time, increasingly essential. If you had told me 9 months ago, standing at the Memorial, that our President would turn out to be the candidate whose fear-mongering speeches consistently attacked people’s dignity – attacking their gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, immigration status and sexual orientation – I would not have believed it possible. If you had told me that some Evangelical Christian leaders would be among this President’s greatest supporters, turning a blind eye while he hypocritically quoted the Bible out of one side of his mouth, and out of the other side spewed demeaning words about women, immigrants, and minorities; that these same leaders would dismiss his sexually abusive behavior as “locker room banter”, I would not have believed it possible.
And yet, here we are, one week into Donald Trump’s administration, reeling from an onslaught of executive orders that seem intent on fulfilling his promise to “make America great” by setting up a divisive “us vs. them” dichotomy, and turning our backs on the most vulnerable.
For those Christians who still believe President Trump is one of their own, how do you reconcile his actions and words with Jesus’ command to care for “the least of these”, or Jesus’ teaching that it is the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers who are blessed in God’s upside-down kingdom?
I am struggling to reconcile them, and I am struggling with my own heart’s tendency to begin separating issues and actions and people into good and bad, black and white categories in an effort to make sense of the chaos of the past few months. And yet I also have come to believe that the important work of peacemaking, unifying, and restoring cannot happen while holding a black and white, either/or way of being. Love holds both/and; it is inclusive, not exclusive; it is humble and strong. And so, the question that I am asking in my struggle is what would love do? Not fear, not hatred, not patriotism, not pride, but love. As a follower of Jesus, and, I would argue, as a human being, I am called to bring love to my world -so what does that look like for me?
Last week it looked like joining with others on the streets of Chicago for the Women’s March. I didn’t have to agree with every sign held by every protester in order to still be there for love. In fact, one of the things I was most struck by was the respect, kindness and peacefulness that characterized the gathering of more than 150,000 people.
My favorite moment was watching a pair of black women, standing on the end of a bridge leading into the park where the rally was in full swing; their faces lit up with big smiles as they spoke words of welcome, accompanied by a warm hug. As I watched, I thought at first that they were greeting people who were part of a group they belonged to – surely they wouldn’t be that friendly to everyone! But soon it became apparent that they were there for exactly that purpose – to bring love to as many as they could on a historic Saturday morning in the middle of one of the most diverse crowds of people I have ever seen. And their simple, yet profound actions spoke the truth that we really do all belong.
Those are the moments of hope that I am holding onto, tucking away as a buoy I know I will need to return to when the words and images of fear and violence and despair threaten to pull me under. The heaviness that I felt that day on Bainbridge Island as I pored over pictures displaying the frightened, confused faces of Americans whose only crime was to be of a different race – that heaviness is still here. I have needed time to sit with it, to listen and pay attention to what it is speaking, to wonder what my place is in all of this mess. The unfathomable events of the past week have at least forced me to see that it is time to risk, time for me to gather the courage and love that have been growing in me and join with others in seeking justice and mercy and peace. May we remember that love is always greater than fear, that love is the only force strong enough to drive out hate. May we let it not happen again.