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Justice and Mercy in the Migration Debate


Photo: The Nation

By MATT SEDDON    

As I began finalizing preparations for Holy Week in the church I serve, Denis Hernández Barona crucified himself. The Cuban immigrant chained himself to a cross on the Mexican border with Guatemala to protest against a recent wave of deportations of Cuban migrants. The story caught my eye as I readied my church to remember Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha to be crucified.

We have been living through several years of a painful debate about other people carrying crosses – migrants fleeing poverty and violence, desperately crossing Mexico and trying to enter the United States. The debate feels like it will have no end and it happens in all parts of our society. Politicians trade accusations that their opponents lack compassion or favor allowing all kinds of terrible criminals into the country. Families are afraid to bring up the topic at dinner tables. Social media is a veritable meme war.

From my perspective as an Anglican priest, we are struggling with two important ethical concepts — justice and mercy. On the justice side, people who have taken the time and trouble to migrate legally, along with those who place high importance on the law of the land, feel that undocumented migrants flout the law. It seems unfair. On the mercy side, people are moved by the suffering of migrants and the draconian measures that have put people in cages and separated children from their parents.

There is no simple resolution to this debate. The Bible, for example, abounds with commands for both justice and mercy. The Bible takes justice seriously, and numerous Biblical authors exhort their listeners to follow the law. The Bible is also clear about the importance of hospitality, of compassion and forgiveness, and of treating all people as we would like to be treated.

I think we can find ways to move beyond a stagnated debate, but only if we realize we are called to be both just and merciful. On the justice side, it is useful to remember that both in the United States and Mexico, entry without proper documentation is a civil, and not a criminal, offence. The offense is not equivalent to robbery, drug dealing or murder. It is comparable to an expensive speeding ticket. This distinction is often blurred in heated debate, and knowing the nature of immigration law can help us to realize we are looking for civil solutions, not trying to prevent criminal depredations.

On the mercy side, we should allow our hearts to be moved by the parade of human suffering passing through Mexico and trying to cross the U.S. border. We should feel compassion towards the people who have been given crosses to bear by the capricious nature of the economy and the insidious prevalence of violence in Mexico and Central America. And if we are followers of the one who was – lawfully for the time – convicted by the Roman State and carried his cross not for his sins but ours, we should remember that he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).

As an Anglican, and as important as I believe Good Friday and the contemplation of the cross is, the climax of Holy Week for me is not the suffering Christ on the cross, but rather Easter. On this tremendous day, God overcame all the injustice of the world and showed us that violence does not triumph in the end. Every year, as I lead my community through this mystery of death and resurrection, I’m reminded that God not only loves us, but trusts us. God has confidence in us and won’t abandon us to our fallibilities.

This gives me hope. We are smart people. God trusts us to figure this out. We can make it better. We don’t have to pick either compassion or the rule of law. We only have to balance mercy and justice.

Matt Seddon is an Anglican priest and rector of Christ Church Parish in Mexico City.

Everyone is invited to join in Christ Church’s celebration of Holy Week and Easter.

Services will be held on Maundy Thursday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. (in English); on Good Friday, April 19, at 12 noon (in English) and at 3 p.m. (in Spanish). The Great Vigil of Easter, will be held on Saturday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. (bilingual) and on Easter Sunday, April 21, at 10:30 a.m. (in English), and 12:30 p.m. (in Spanish).

The church is located at Montes Escandinavos 405 in Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec.

 

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