I was raised in a town where there are many immigrants. Growing up, we children played together and shared meals. It came as a surprise when, as a young teenager, I started recognizing that prejudice was felt toward immigrants in my town.
Immigration is a complex issue. And it is also an issue that goes to the heart of a community. It goes to the heart of each one of us, in fact, because it comes down to how we treat our neighbors. Do we feel differently about new people with different traditions and mores than we do about our other neighbors? It takes a broad, open-minded affection to love people who bring new faces and new challenges. Yet the Master, Christ Jesus, seems to say that we are all capable of loving our neighbor.
Jesus placed great importance on the command “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). But we might be wondering how far our love has to extend. Can we get past the unfamiliarity of a different language or culture and come to love all our neighbors?
Our affection can have a strong foundation if we know something about the source of true love. The unending source of love – spiritual love that will not persecute or prejudge – is divine Love, God. What a difference it makes when we start to think about others in the community as having just as much of God’s care and love as we do. For one thing, we approach another individual with respect when we accept that his relation to God is the same as ours. In reality, we are all the sons and daughters of God.
It is what God is that makes us capable of love. If we begin to see that we are the expression of the one all-loving Mind, or Spirit, all sorts of graces of character develop. A spiritual attitude toward our community doesn’t imply gullibility in personal relationships, though. It is an open-eyed insistence that God is universal. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “When we realize that there is one Mind, the divine law of loving our neighbor as ourselves is unfolded; whereas a belief in many ruling minds hinders man’s normal drift towards the one Mind, one God, and leads human thought into opposite channels where selfishness reigns” (p. 205).
Even the slightest appreciation of man’s spiritual origin chips away at some of the harsh conclusions that we may have formed about immigrants in our community. The instilled prejudices and fears that crush out neighborliness present a mortal picture of man – an array of false beliefs about man as something separate from and acting contrary to his God. But when we see kindness or wisdom or beauty in our community – even if it is expressed in ways that are at first unfamiliar to us – we are seeing something of man’s spiritual identity as God’s reflection.
Seeing this spiritual reality in the face of outward incompatibilities takes vision, but it is worth working for. Its benefit is being able to look someone else in the eye and see man, expressing the honesty and integrity and goodness of his creator, divine Spirit.
As long as the movement of immigrants continues, there will be many opportunities for overcoming prejudices in our lives. Starting with ourselves, we can do our part in building a strong community of neighbors, made up of people who have one God and are learning to love one another.
Reprinted from the March 29, 1990, issue of The Christian Science Monitor.