This week I am going to put aside my CEO of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia hat and write just as me, John Berry. As the individual that I am; father, son, husband, grandfather, brother, believer in social justice and human rights, proud citizen of an amazing country, Christian, sinner, one who tries, one who fails, human being, a single human voice in a cacophony of voices. I am going to write just as me because I cannot be silent. Silence is not an option.
Over the last few months I have observed with a mixture of surprise, anger, bemusement, concern, curiosity, confusion, and even occasional agreement the actions and statements of the President-Elect and now President. But, in general, I remained silent and felt that it was appropriate for me, as someone who did not support his election, to let him have his chance to make policy and appoint his advisors and Cabinet. But that changed on Friday, January 27th for me. Silence is not an option any longer.
Because by his actions on Friday, January 27, 2017 our President made America a worse place, a more hateful place, a more dangerous place, a less welcoming place, and a place that lost a part of its moral core; and that is not what Presidents are supposed to do. And as an American I want to say that, at least for me, that is not the America that I know we are. That is not what I, as 1/325,489,832th of the United States, am or believe. So for me, silence is not an option.
As a Christian I try (and often fail) to live my life as taught by my personal Savior. And one of the things that he taught me – in clear and uncertain terms – was that I had better treat people as I would be expected to be treated if I want him to treat me that way at the end. He made it clear that ‘For what so ever you do to the least of these you do to me’. And he specifically references that behavior to strangers, which I take to include immigrants and refugees.
But if I were not a Christian, but rather a Jew, I would likely also recall that the word ‘Immigrant’ appears in the Old Testament 92 times. And that in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus, for just two examples, the Jewish people are reminded that they were once refugees and immigrants and thus they have a special obligation to people in those circumstances.
And then I would know that silence is not an option.
But again, if I were neither a Christian or a Jew but rather a Muslim or a Buddhist I would know that the Quran teaches that honoring the stranger is a holy obligation and that the Buddha taught kindness in loving strangers. And so, I would know that silence is not an option.
And even if I practiced no religion or followed no God I would remember what the Statue of Liberty proclaims to the world:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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!”
And then I would know – silence is not an option.