One of the reasons Jesus was killed was because he broke the law. Jesus had a prophetic attitude toward the law, and it got him into arguments and into trouble.
When a lawyer asked Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is greatest?" Jesus answered, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." It's one of the few questions Jesus answered directly.
There are five stories of Jesus violating the sabbath law and provoking the authorities. Repeatedly Jesus healed on the sabbath. The authorities saw that as working on the sabbath, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. When they challenged him, Jesus went back to the law of love. "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"
I thought of Jesus and his problems with legalists when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to DACA, a compassionate policy from the executive branch of government to allow certain young adults brought to the US as minors without visas to remain in this country where they have lived for at least a decade. In classic legalistic rhetoric, Mr Sessions declared these young people to be "lawbreakers."
The U.S. immigration laws Mr. Sessions intends to enforce are dysfunctional and immoral. They have been a source of misery for decades. Our national economy has easily absorbed some 11 million undocumented immigrants who found it impossible to immigrate legally. Numerous studies show that these immigrants add to the economy and are more law abiding than native-born Americans. They work hard, they believe in the American dream, and they add wonderful flavor to our restaurants, music and culture. They are our neighbors. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It is our fault that it takes 20 years to get a legal visa for a U.S. citizen to sponsor her adult child from Mexico. It is our fault that there is no immigration line, that it is literally impossible for a Central American worker to come here legally without special connections. Our immigration law is bad law.
It's not too hard to spot bad laws. Over and over in our nation's history, our most dysfunctional and unjust laws and policies have a common characteristic -- they are racially biased. Racial injustice is our nation's original sin.
It starts with our Constitution. For purposes of representation, black slaves, called "other persons," only counted as three-fifths of a person. The Constitution prohibited Congress from halting the importation of slaves for 20 years and required free states to return escaped slaves to their enslavement. That's in our Constitution.
Maybe it's because our founders were white Englishmen in a time of empire, but the abuse of power by white people toward non-white people is in our DNA.
Our history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, redline districts, lynching, sundown towns, Native-American genocide, and Japanese internment camps testifies to a system that has systematically victimized people of color. Our law enforcement has been harsh, enforcing drug laws, reacting with deadly force and imposing death sentences on black citizens disproportionately. Our immigration policy participates in this long history of injustice and discrimination. There are always people of power who will exercise prejudice under the guise of upholding the law.
It seems to be in our blood. When color is involved, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
What do we do with bad laws? When the system works, bad laws are overturned by the courts, repealed by legislators, and interpreted compassionately by the administrative and enforcement branches. DACA was an example of compassionate interpretation, like healing on the sabbath. The legalists hate that.
When the system doesn't work, in the name of love, we must protest.
Now we have new manifestations of our original sin sweeping the country. They tell us to build a wall, deport the young people, break up families, bring the racism back to the streets, and listen to the alt-right. And it's all done under the cover of legal power.
Jesus still challenges the legalists, still insisting. "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Commentary on 09/26/2017
Print Headline: Bad laws need resistance