Mark Gordon, the Immigration Crisis, and Making People Uncomfortable

Mark Gordon, the Immigration Crisis, and Making People Uncomfortable June 30, 2018

Over at the Dorothy Option, our former blogger Mark Gordon has a powerful post that he has given us permission to share.  I am going to clip out two parts, but I recommend you go and read the whole thing here.  He starts with an excellent summary of the facts about immigration:

Okay, let’s be clear about one thing: There is no immigration crisis on the southern border of the United States. Illegal border crossings have been steadily declining since they reached their zenith in 2000. In fact, the “self-deportation” that Mitt Romney campaigned on in 2012 has been happening. The total number of undocumented people in the US peaked in 2007 at 12 million. The federal government’s estimate for 2016 was 10.9 million. The number for 2017 will likely be lower still because border crossings were a mere trickle last year….

The supposed criminality of undocumented immigrants has also been exposed as a lie. Study after study has shown that immigrants overall, and undocumented immigrants specifically, account for far fewer arrests and incarcerations than native-born Americans. What about MS-13? Last year, MS-13 members accounted for .00075% of all illegal border crossers or just over 200 gang members out of 300,000 migrants. Most MS-13 members are US citizens, and like the Italian, Russian, Irish, and Asian mobs before them, the gang mostly preys on members of their own community. And according to the Justice Department, MS-13 is not growing. It’s total estimated membership – 10,000– is the same as it was a decade ago.

Mark then goes on to argue that the problem is not a crisis in immigration, but a failure in Catholic identity.  More to the point, he wrote this post because of a painful incident that happened to him in his own parish while attending morning mass:

[W]e’re seeing that in practical terms many Catholics are unable to distinguish Catholic teaching from the Trump agenda. Nor does it seem that they have any interest in doing so…. I had my own experience last week. I was the altar server for the morning Mass. Our guest celebrant gave a homily in the closing moments of which he turned his attention to the southern border, specifically the issue of separating families. “I find it repugnant,” he said, “and we all should. Who are we? What are we becoming?” No sooner had we entered the sacristy following Mass than a woman, the head of the parish “Respect Life” committee was in there, defending the Trump Administration, justifying the separation of families, and minimizing the effects of that separation. And soon she was joined in this by a retired priest who had concelebrated Mass. When I pointed out that the bishops of the United States and Pope Francis had just pronounced the Trump Administration’s family separation policy to be “immoral,” I was answered with a snort.

Lest any reader want to dismiss this as coming from a diehard liberal, I include one last quote from Mark:

Full disclosure: In 2016, for the second presidential election in a row, I wrote in the name of Wendell Berry.

I asked Mark for permission to share his post because his experience really resonated with me:  attempts to talk about Catholic Social Teaching are dismissed as “politics” or “liberal ideology.”  Most recently, this came up here in Alabama.  There is a small Facebook group devoted to items of relevance to the Catholic community here.  It reposts bulletin announcements, pictures from First Communions and other parish events, and the like.  But members have routinely used it to share various other Catholic memes and articles that people felt to be of general interest.  (I used it to post links to my Vox Nova blog posts.)  As opposition to the family separations on the southern border mounted, and the USCCB and various individual bishops started posting their remarkably direct and strong denunciations of this policy, I started sharing them to this FB page.  I felt that it was relevant, not only to us as members of the US church, but also because we have a large Latino immigrant community in Tuscaloosa.   (I have not been able to confirm this, but I suspect that they have been directly impacted, and they are living in daily fear of ICE raids.)

The response was immediate:  a number of people liked the posts, but a small, vocal group began denouncing.  I was violating the rules of the page by being “political”; the bishops should stay out of politics; the bishops making these statements were “leftists” or “heretics”; Catholic Social Teaching had nothing to say about immigration policy.   I will confess that it took everything I had to hold onto my patience, but I did.  Nevertheless, the exchange was terminated by the administrators:  the original posts and all comments were deleted.  The official reason for this was that they violated page policy.  But given the way they had been enforced (or not enforced in the past), I really suspect that I had violated an unwritten rule:  be “nice” and don’t talk about anything that upsets people.

As I told the administrators (one of whom I know personally and deeply love and respect for the welcome she has given me and my family) I respect and will abide by their decisions (indeed, I may not even post a link to this post on the page), but I really feel that their desire to avoid controversy does the Catholic community in Tuscaloosa no favors.   Already, we suffer from the fact that our priests and deacons studiously avoid social issues–except of course for those that those that respect certain conservative shibboleths.

As a (local) Church, we need to learn to discuss our often uncomfortable existence as part of a secular democracy.  Our shared faith cannot be reduced to pieties and the Catholic equivalent of cat memes.  We need to listen to what our Church tells us (the very root of obedience is “obedir” which is “to listen”) particularly when our bishops, a very cautious and conservative bunch, are moved to speak out.  This is going to make people uncomfortable, because it is going to challenge our compromises and blind spots.

Moreover, while the laity have a duty to listen, we also have an obligation to speak out against things which clearly violate the Gospels.  We need to be willing to correct one another and to accept correction.  I don’t like being corrected, but in a spirit of charity and humility, I have tried to make myself listen and learn.   I am not calling for an end to civility–I hope and pray that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can still be respectful even as we disagree.  But I want an end to “niceness”, I want an end to turning away from the handful of loud voices that distort or denigrate Church teaching because they don’t like it.   I don’t want to shout slogans:  I want a grown-up, faith-filled conversation which may make us feel uncomfortable, but which brings us closer to Christ and his love, a love which, as Dostoevsky reminded us, is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.


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