Georgia is not Arizona, and its values are not our values.
On the issue of immigration, our highest ideals dictate that we act in a more humane fashion than Arizona has with its anti-immigration law. Here’s why:
First is Southern hospitality and history.
Country music aptly describes Southern charm. At our best, we are welcoming, friendly, no airs, down-home and downright nice. This is one reason why so many immigrants come here and become Southerners.
The immigrants I have taught in high school over the years have been easy to “Southernize” and Americanize. These kids believe in God, family and the American Dream, and I believe in them.
“But their parents broke the law,” the hard-liner is quick to retort. Well, none of our parents is perfect. Indeed, in the area of civil rights, white Southerners are quite adamant that we should not be held responsible for the sins of even our recent ancestors.
If this is the case, then undocumented children should also not be punished for their parents’ actions. Blaming kids for the sins of their parents is not American, Southern or Christian.
Second, we are the Bible Belt.
Georgia is in the heart of the Bible Belt. If we call ourselves Christians, we must look at this issue through a Christian lens.
Religious leaders of every denomination and creed have spoken out against enforcement-only immigration policy. Dream Act supporters used a Methodist church as a base while lobbying Washington. Catholic leaders all over the world have championed the cause of the undocumented.
God’s Holy Word says, “Love the alien living among you as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Jesus also prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Finally, Jesus told us, “When I was a stranger, you took me in … whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you also do for me” (Matthew 25).
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We Southerners do not believe that Jesus was just kidding. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Third, what part of illegal don’t we understand?
Southern common sense dictates that the law guides but does not always determine our actions. I live in Calhoun, Ga., named for a vice president who championed nullification of laws that seemed unjust. We celebrate bootleggers when we watch NASCAR and “Dukes of Hazzard.”
I recently participated in an illegal, unconstitutional public prayer at a high school football game. Am I an illegal Christian?
In fact, our history is replete with unlawful heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, the original tea party movement, all the Christian martyrs and our Savior himself, who was executed as a criminal.
Breaking the law does not always mean one is wrong. If I had the immigrant’s dilemma of obeying the government or providing for my family, I would choose my family. And we Southerners despise government that does not promote family values.
For all these reasons, Georgia is not Arizona, and we should not follow Arizona’s example.
We will be judged by history, our children and our Maker for how we treat our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Though the political winds blow hard in a terrifying direction, I pray that we act in a way worthy of our highest ideals and better angels, not our demons and resentments.
Sean McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Ga., who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.