I teach citizenship classes.
One of those classes focuses entirely on rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.
In my class, I especially emphasize responsibilities. I point out that the responsibility to use our rights for such things as free speech, voting and supporting freedom of worship for all was inherent in the DNA of this country when it began.
To fail to accept that responsibility leads to the failure of our democracy.
I, like many, am guilty of not taking that responsibility. I, like many, fail to exercise my freedom of speech when it is uncomfortable until it becomes personal.
Now it has become personal.
There has been endless arguing over the language used by the president of the United States regarding Haiti and African countries.
It matters little. What matters is that at best he identified a huge block of people who by his standard are not welcome in this country. At worst, he denigrated those people in a vile way.
It was personal because the targeted people included my daughter-in-law.
Many years ago, while living in the Dominican Republic, our son proposed to a wonderful woman who became our daughter-in-law.
She responded, “I can’t marry you because I’m black, poor and of Haitian descent, and your family will never accept me.”
We had never met her, but when he asked us to write her a letter saying none of that mattered, it was easy. We knew if he was attracted to her, then being black, poor and Haitian was only the outside of what must be a special woman.
The more than 20 intervening years have only solidified our love and respect for this woman.
I take the president’s words (regardless of the specifics) personally and now, almost a week later, to say I’m angry does not begin to describe how I feel.
What he said is absolutely inexcusable and there’s no place for that from the leader of the free world.
For President Trump to at best disregard or at worst denigrate a whole group of people because they are black, because they are poor or because they are Haitian (or African) is absolutely unacceptable.
Paul tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
John Stott suggests that Paul is saying there is no distinction of race (Jew nor Greek) nor distinction of rank (slave nor free).
He goes on to say, “Circumstances of birth, wealth, privilege and education have divided men and women from one another. But in Christ, snobbery is prohibited and class distinctions are rendered void.”
The poem on the Statue of Liberty reflects well the nature of the overwhelming masses who have come to our shores from the beginning.
It says, “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-tost to me.”
We deny our history when we deny these are the people who have helped build and strengthen the U.S.
Some have said the president was only saying what others are thinking but can’t say because it’s not politically correct.
Political correctness isn’t the issue. It’s a matter of respect for all humans born in the image of Christ.
Yes, there are those who are thinking what President Trump said, but we need a leader who lifts us above those thoughts that dehumanize others rather than drag us down to that level.
Until we get beyond condemning or even denigrating a whole group of people, we can never see them as the human beings that God created.
Richard Schweissing, a retired high school social studies teacher, is the former president of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains and previously served on the board of American Baptist International Ministries. He teaches U.S. citizenship to immigrants at Crossroads Baptist Church in Northglenn, Colorado, where he also chairs the local missions committee.