by Will Deatherage, Executive Director
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”President Donald Trump
If you read my Ten Reasons Why Catholics should Walk away from the Democratic Party, you know that, as a Hispanic American, I generally support President Donald Trump’s initiatives. However, three words frequently chanted at his rallies make me sick to my stomach: “Build the wall!” I support legal immigration. I believe that a nation must protect its borders, which requires punishment to those who break its immigration policies. This does not mean, though, that such punishments should be celebrated. If a starving child steals food from a market, they should not be taunted as the police takes them away. Law and order are necessary, but they must be coupled with compassion. Even if it is not their intention, the cheerful chants at President Trump’s rallies come across as a celebration of that starving child’s deportation.
This cheerful disposition towards punishment is not exclusive to the American Right, rather it is indicative of a wider cultural mentality that the Western world embraces. Leftist cancel culture aptly demonstrates that we not only enjoy exacting revenge on others, but we detest the notion of their redemption. Essentially, we neglect to recall that the wrongdoer often acts out of a sense of desperation and brokenness. Just as a dog only bites when it is hurt, disordered action only comes from damaged people. As Socrates emphasizes, it is worse to perform an injustice than to suffer an injustice oneself, for committing injustice ultimately reflects on the state of one’s character or soul.
Hospitality was of utmost importance in Ancient Israel. When a stranger was brought into an Israelite community, they were treated with great respect. Even when the stranger committed a crime, they were treated with both justice and mercy. This is why the authors of Exodus caution:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,Ex 22:20-26
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.
Who is the stranger, though? Beyond the illegal immigrant, they are the beggar, the drug addict, the criminal, and the undesirable. Hospitality requires law enforcement, albeit one with a humble attitude. That said, cancel culture has given rise to a new kind of stranger: the social outcast. There is nothing wrong with calling out a person who engages in inappropriate behavior, just as there is nothing wrong with deporting people who break our laws, but enthusiasm for “sending people back” or destroying people’s legacies runs contrary to the value of hospitality; the far Right’s celebration of deportation and the far Left’s celebration of cancel culture have revealed the hideous truth that Americans are eager to punish, not for the sake of making the world more hospitable, but because we believe that we have an obligation to make people suffer consequences in their earthly lives. Our secular culture rejects the notion of divine punishment, so it becomes man’s joyous and righteous duty to be our own final judges. Admittedly, even Christians often focus on an “eye for an eye” approach, rather than “turn the other cheek.”
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”Mt 22:34-40
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Last Summer, a German court convicted a 93-year-old former Nazi guard for crimes he committed at age 17. Fairly recently, the country has fostered a renewed interest in prosecuting former Nazi officials, many demanding their imprisonment regardless of age. But what is the point? Is this really what criminal justice is about? Should not law enforcement focus on serving the common good rather than arbitrarily making people suffer? Is this really what a culture of mercy should be investing its time and resources into? Are we so afraid that God is not just that we will imprison 90-year-olds for deeds they likely regret? Where is the mercy? Where is the clemency? A popular argument I hear for the Death Penalty is that it assures the families of victims a sense of peace. But do we really want to foster a culture that celebrates punishment? One that cheers the death of a broken person and the deportation of the immigrant? Or do we want to build a society that punishes only when necessary while pledging to give help and guidance to those who are misled? Christ promises us divine justice, but He also set the ultimate example for us when He cried out to God in His darkest hour: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).