While most serious readers of Scripture will caution against taking much of it at “face value” (i.e. reading passages or even books out of context) at the very least, even the most casual reader of the Bible will notice that the idea of belonging to a place is an unmistakable theme.
Whether written from a place of longing for home while in captivity, settling the Promised Land, or under living in the land under subjugation, the stories, poetry, prophecy, and songs of Scripture revolve around the idea that our understanding of ourselves in integrally tied to our relationship with the land.
In the groundswell of response to the current situation at the border, it’s difficult to find many who are enthusiastic in support of the administration’s insistence on separating detained families. Either by irresistible public pressure, moral conviction, or both, politicians, community organizers, and religious leaders from across the socio-political spectrum have denounced this practice. And in so doing, have created national dynamic that suggests that this abhorrent policy is being perpetuated by a small group of ideological extremists.
But considering the current border crisis—which in reality has been a long-running crisis—through the lens of Scripture may be instructive and certainly sobering.
The insistence of understanding Israel’s history through lens of physical space connected them to their identity as wanderers. This understanding reinforced their belief in Yahweh, who was their protector and provider in strange and foreign lands. And in moments of relative security, this identity expressed itself through communal generosity to the foreigner and socially vulnerable.
This type of reflection leads us to some uncomfortable truths about the land many of us inhabit.
The central narrative of American history positions us as pioneers in a blessed land. Instead of sojourners, we knew ourselves as conquerors. We claimed legitimacy through reason and the divine, separating native peoples from the land that told their stories in order to tell our own. Our ignorance does not render this land ahistorical. Rather, it only hides the true story about us.
The claim of who “rightfully” belongs in our land is a direct reflection of how we have imagined ourselves into it. While an inheritance may be something we could give freely, that which has been taken by force requires force to maintain it. And so we create systems—both ideological and very physical—to perpetuate our own justification of belonging through force.
All of us participate in either perpetuating or dismantling this social reality. Our ignorance to it does not render it impotent. Rather, it uses it as permission. Perhaps it is time to give ourselves the permission to reconsider who we see ourselves to be.