Thoughts on America First

by Camille on February 24, 2017

As a nursing mother, I find myself with more time than usual to sit and think these days. In the wee, finally quiet hours of the late night or early morning, I sit in the fuzzy glow of the bedside lamp, the light muted by a t-shirt thrown over the shade so as to not wake Charlie. 

I stare down at my beautiful baby boy, watching his eyelids flutter with milky dreams as his tiny, perfect fingers curl over my breast, and I am overwhelmed by a gamut of emotions. Awe that he is in my arms. Wonder at who he will become. Fear that I will fail him somehow. Gratitude that he is mine. 

I want to give him the world. 

But I want it no more than the mother in Syria or Mexico or a hundred other places around the world. 

In those quiet moments, I can’t stop thinking about that other mother… the one who sits in a bomb-ravaged building, walls crumbling, cradling her baby boy to her chest. I think of how she wants to give him the world as the world explodes around her. I imagine what it must feel like to so desperately want to protect someone and have zero ability to do so. 

Our president has built a platform on the idea of putting America first, and all over social media, I’ve seen his supporters enthusiastically embrace the nationalistic mantra. Yet, these same people have “the last will be first and the first will be last” stitched onto pillows and written in glitter pens on vacation Bible school crafts.

I cannot reconcile these two realities in my mind. 

The problem with the idea of “America first” is that we begin to think we somehow deserve more than our fellow man simply by the virtue of where we were born. Because we entered the world on American soil, we are somehow entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness more than any other beloved child of God?

For months, I’ve seen people touting Trump as the more Christian candidate and claim their vote was based on their faith. I’ve seen memes praising Jesus’s return to the White House with the current president. I’ve seen people praising Trump’s immigration and deportation policies as stories of immigrant roundups float across the news. 

But in Scripture, I read about a God who commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I read about the merciful Samaritan and the clear command to “go and do likewise.” And I marvel at the interpretive gymnastics employed in picking and choosing Scripture in a way that justifies shutting the door to those in need.

If you somehow missed this 84Lumber Super Bowl advertisement, I’d encourage you to watch. 

Deemed too controversial to be aired in its entirety, it tells the story of thousands who desperately seek a better life. 

Watch it, and hold her face in your mind.

Now, look at your own son or daughter for a moment. Would you not do anything to keep her safe? Would you not travel to the ends of the earth to ensure he gets the medical care he needs? Would you not traverse raging seas, scale endless walls, risk everything? Of course you would. That tiny person is your own heart, walking around outside your body. As a parent….as a human being, where is the mercy for those doing no more than you would should fate have reversed your place of birth?  

America first.

Is that what we really want? With cartoon animal tales, do we not teach our children that it’s not who wins but how we run the race? If being first means we leave our teammates coughing in the dust, is it worth it? If being first means we turn our back on the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, is that a noble goal? 

I can understand the appeal of being first. With first, there’s a sense of power, safety, and control desirable in a world that seems so often uncontrollable. There are many in our country who haven’t felt first in a long time…those who have lost jobs, who struggle week to week to pay bills, those who cannot send their children to college. I can appreciate the desire to feel seen and heard. 

But I cannot understand and am increasingly frustrated at those using God to justify or support American superiority. Amongst the many mercy-filled verses leading one to love refugees, I can find no “thou shall be first.” 

As a white woman in upper middle-class America, my life is awash with privilege. I’m spoiled to being first in many areas of life already, and it’s tempting to ignore anything that challenges that comfort. 

But at the end of the day, I don’t want my own life or my country to be first if the pathway there is paved with the carnage of those we’ve ignored, shunned, mistreated, or abused. My prayer is that our country prioritizes operating in a way that facilitates peace and prosperity for all. My hope is that in seeking to be great, we remember to always honor the greatness present in each life, no matter how different from our own. 

 

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