I remember the first time I saw the photos of Ruby Bridges walking into the formerly all-white Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana on November 14th, 1960. There she was - a six-year-old little girl with a flower in her hair - surrounded by screaming, hateful adults telling her she didn’t have the right to be in their places because of the color of her skin.
I was a child too when I first saw those photos and heard the story behind them, but I remember wondering how the people in that photo, rallying furiously against a little girl, hadn’t been able to see that what they were doing was simply evil.
Twenty years later, I am still asking that question.
The president and the party who have come to power through platforms labeled “pro-life” and “family values” are now creating orphans at our borders. Federal agents - paid for by the American people - are literally taking children, infants even, away from their parents by force, with no certain way to reunify them.
And somehow, everywhere I look I see people - especially Christians - defending these actions. We excuse these actions by quoting Bible verses about the importance of following the law, or by trying to blame these actions on past administrations or laws.
But there are some things for which there are no excuses. Making orphans out of children with loving parents is one of those things. There is no law that can possibly justify these actions, especially for people of faith.
When Ruby Bridges walked into that school on November 14th, it was a legal act, as laws had already been put in place mandating desegregation. But it was not the legality of her presence there that made the words, actions and attitudes of her protestors so evil.
Because if Ruby Bridges had walked into that school prior to November 14th, prior to any laws mandating desegregation, her presence there still would have been right and just, and those who rallied against her would still have been doing evil. Before and after government mandated desegregation, excluding people to different (and inferior) places because of the color of their skin was and is evil. Likewise, regardless of any law past or present, what is happening at our borders to immigrant and refugee families is evil.
Because there is a higher law that Christians must ascribe to if they follow Jesus, and one that I think all humans feel deep in their bones. That is, of course, the law of love - the call to love God and love others as we love ourselves.
In this ultimate law, Jesus said, all others are fulfilled. In spite of their own personal failings to follow its mandates, it was this law that prompted the founding fathers to write into the foundation of the United States,“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This is not a law that applies only to those lucky enough to enjoy United States citizenship. This law of love knows no borders.
Knowing better and not being afraid
There are some issues (although they are few) that are simply a choice between right and wrong. Immigration as a whole is not one of those issues. Immigration and asylum are complicated, nuanced issues and there are many different opinions about how to approach them. But regardless of our various opinions around immigration and asylum, it should be apparent to everyone that 2300 children taken forcefully from their parents and placed in chain link kennels, camps and the homes of strangers, is simply evil. However we decide to address immigration and asylum, separating families cannot be an option.
On her first day in class at her new elementary school - alone because the white parents had pulled their children out of school - Ruby Bridges’ new teacher tried to explain to her the angry crowd outside: “It's not easy for people to change once they have gotten used to living a certain way. Some of them don't know any better and they're afraid.”
But we have to start knowing better. We have to stop letting our fear, stirred up by so much propaganda, lead us into evil. There is only one remedy to this toxic fear, and one path that leads us away from evil. John, the disciple who described himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” in his gospel account also wrote about the way out of fear:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us….And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 18-21.
And what does this love we must carry out in place of fear look like? Jesus told us love does for others what we would like done for us, and love lays itself down for the good of another. If I were fleeing violence with my children and seeking asylum in a foreign country, how would I hope to be treated? This is the question we must ask ourselves to obey our God’s command. The answer to it may be hard. It may ask us to change, to be uncomfortable, or to make room for people and ideas we’ve been conditioned to fear.
But there is no stronger proof of love than that we find carrying it out difficult. Of course it is a hard and uncomfortable task to lay aside our own interests and fears for the good of another. Because love is, in the end, a cross.
Christina Jones is a Press Service International young writer from the U.S.