Go back to where you came from. What do we do when our nation’s leader’s words are racist?

The U.S. government Equal Opportunity Commission’s Web site says: “Ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical conduct because of nationality are illegal. Examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like ‘Go back to where you came from.’ Whether made by supervisors or co-workers.”

Pastor Duane A. Anders

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We know this behavior is not normal, expected or right by our leaders or by us. In this country, we know if you do not support a leader you do not lead a rally chanting “send her back,” but you find a candidate to support and seek to elect a new leader. This is democracy.

People questioned Jesus’ ethnicity when he began his ministry. In the Gospel of John, When the disciple Philip told Nathaniel “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,” Philip replied, “Can anything good from Nazareth?” In other words, Jesus, go back to where you came from.

Jesus, in his teachings, challenged us to deal with our racism and our hate of others. Jesus taught us to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he shared a story that elevated not the expected heroes of the day, the religious, but an outsider, an “other.” When he told the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus flipped the script and took a Samaritan, a then despised ethnicity, and made them the hero of the story. He taught a better way.

We are a nation of immigrants. Our diversity is our strength. Each of us has to keep learning to love our neighbor in new ways. In my church hangs a banner that reminds us to “Love your neighbor who doesn’t … look like you, think like you, love like you, speak like you, pray like you, vote like you … love your neighbor. No Exceptions.” This is the life we are called to live.

I am reminded of the Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

We as a country are not neutral about injustice, racism or inequality. We are emphatic: “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!” This is America. This is our call to be a nation that loves diversity. We are better together.

May we all continue to learn and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Rev. Duane A. Anders is pastor of Boise First United Methodist Church, the Cathedral of the Rockies.