Slights, Slurs & Stereotypes |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The words are etched in stone on the Statue of Liberty, which stands in New York harbor welcoming, if not beckoning, immigrants from around the world. A monument to the hopes and aspirations of millions who have made America a true land of immigrants and New York City a veritable melting pot, the iconic Statue of Liberty is infinitely more than an American tourist attraction. It is a symbol of values like opportunity and inclusion, principles that formed and shaped the United States of America.
Yet, is it true that the words “the wretched refuse” are among those inscribed on the Statue? Those two words are perilously close to a phrase purportedly uttered by the President of the United States recently. In case you missed it, during a meeting to discuss immigration reform policy at the White House, Donald Trump allegedly called a few nations with predominantly black populations an expletive I will not repeat. The term the controversial president used is beyond colorful or salty. Having to do with excrement, the president’s vulgar, vile metaphor provoked a firestorm and furor near and far, with many condemning the president as a racist unfit to occupy the White House.
Where are you from? Is the place of your origin looked down on, and are people from your country stereotyped as undesirables? If so, be encouraged, because Jesus hailed from Nazareth, a place so despicable that when Philip informed Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah and that the Messiah was from Nazareth, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Undoubtedly, the practice of stereotyping everybody from a particular place as the same is not a recent one.
Scripture makes it plain that Jesus was from a deplorable place. To begin with, Jesus was born in a stable because, ostensibly, there was no room for Him in the inns of Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). Animals were the first living creatures to behold Jesus, and among the things He first inhaled was the stench of the stable. Shortly after His birth, the parents of Jesus fled with Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of the government, making Jesus and His family refugees (Matt. 2:13-14). Later, the family of Jesus returned to Nazareth of Galilee, a region with a mixed population of lowlifes and a reputation that was anything but stellar (Matt. 2:22-23).
Throughout His life and ministry on earth, Jesus was identified as being from Nazareth (Mark 1:23-24; Mark 10:47), and the inscription on His cross identified Him as such (John 19:19). He was crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem on a dung heap, where all kinds of salacious and sordid activities took place. Without a doubt, Christ understands the plight of those who hail from over the proverbial tracks, the slums and ghettos of the world.
In coming to this earth, Jesus lived on the one dark, benighted spot in the entire universe (Desire of Ages, 26). Planet earth, not just one country or region, is a dark blot in God’s otherwise glorious creation. Thus, every human being is from a terrible place, period.
Scripture is clear as to how foreigners ought to be treated. Israel was encouraged to be kind to foreigners and aliens (Ex. 22:21; Zech. 7:9-10). For the Christian, “I was a stranger and you took me in” is more than inspiring language (Matt. 25:35). The implicit admonition of Jesus amounts to a litmus test for those claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ.
During Black History Month, let us not forget that it was people from Africa who built this country, and that immigrants from the countries disparaged by President Donald Trump are achieving the proverbial American dream in disproportionately higher numbers than those from other places. Better still, during Black History Month let us resolve to treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of where they come from.
R. Clifford Jones