Note: many of the articles linked to this article contain profanity, slurs, and triggers.
In 1915, my grandfather was driven from his homeland and sentenced to die at the age of six. His crime was being born an Armenian in Turkey.
American Ambassador Henry Morganthau, Sr. asked Talaat Pasha, lead architect of the Armenian Genocide, the following: “Suppose a few Armenians did betray you… Is that a resson for destroying a whole race? Is that an excuse for making innocent women and children suffer?”
Talaat Pasha replied “Those things are inevitable.”
To him, my grandfather was non-human. He was just a soulless being to throw aside as Talaat Pasha sought destructive power.
Genocide is one of the greatest ways that the Powers-That-Be dehumanize children of God. However, the process doesn’t begin with the orders to massacre an entire ethnic group. Dehumanization occurs every day in front of our eyes – and sometimes through the words we say or the systems we support. It starts with the small comments, the ways people turn their heads when their neighbors are being treated unfairly, the ways that some are arrested for non-issues while others who are privileged continue to live their lives in peace.
And it escalates when the Powers-That-Be refers to ethnic groups as “animals.”
Recently, the President of the United States referred to immigrants entering the country illegally and with the intent to commit crimes as “animals.” Specifically, he said the following:
“These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Some say that the President was referring only to a specific group of people (MS-13) known for their violent and extensive crime crossing over the border. Yet through such comments, people of one specific ethnicity or from a region end up stereotyped as criminals. And there is little reason why we should call anyone by a derogatory term or non-human being. Even people who commit crimes are fully human, children of God, and made in the Image of God. Whether they became criminals from something internally evil, mental health issues, or as a mechanism to survive, they are human beings and should be treated as such.
Unfortunately this isn’t the first time the President has degraded groups of people or individuals by robbing them of their humanity. They were from a “s**thole country”. They were assumed to be rapists. Their body parts were up for grabs because they were women. They were a journalist with disabilities with whom the leader disagreed. This is a disturbing and continuing trend of dehumanization.
While the dehumanization from the leader of the United States appears extensive, there is dehumanization occurring each day across the country and world.
Even by people who we wouldn’t expect to stereotype. Even by Jesus.
Jesus distanced himself from a woman who was from another origin. Mark 7:27-29 notes the following:
“(Jesus) said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’” (NRSV)
But the major difference between Jesus and others is that Jesus recognized his bias and worked to correct it immediately.
And that needs to be our goal – to be like Jesus in the way we repent and to recognize our biases and how they affect our behavior. Unfortunately, we are all a part of the dehumanization process of God’s children.
Whenever someone of color is assumed to be a criminal and shot without questions asked, they are not treated as full human beings. Whenever a person of color is being reported to the police for sitting in a restaurant, swimming at a pool, or cooking out at a park, they are not treated like full human beings. When a woman is coerced into sex by a man in power, they are not treated as full human beings. When people are paid less for work or robbed of their right to vote, they are not treated like full human beings. When family members are separated from one another because of their immigration status, they are not treated like full human beings. When people are denied medical access because of their financial status, race, or gender, they are not treated like full human beings.
It’s time for us to examine the ways that we have been treated less than human and gather our voices together to stand against the Powers-That-Be who have denied us our full humanity. It’s time for us to stand up to the Powers-That-Be whenever they dehumanize God’s children. But even more crucially, we must examine the ways in which we have robbed our neighbors of their full humanity – the times that we have excluded or talked about “those people” or stereotyped or recklessly called authorities on others not like us. All of us have done this from time to time – even Jesus.
However, Jesus turned his mind and heart around about the woman from Syrophoenicia. May we follow the example of Jesus and change our hearts as well.
The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati. Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She also has chapters in the books Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy and A Child Laughs: Prayers for Justice and Hope. Torigian blogs at http://www.michelletorigian.com.
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