I hardly know how to write about the Haitian earthquake. The situation is worse than any possible imagining. And what is worst for me is this: our Caribbean brethren in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago are demonstrating far more compassion than we seem to be doing.
Before I go on, let me say that I’m not talking about ordinary people here. The first Bahamian responses I read were on Facebook and Twitter, and they were all one could hope for: expressions of horror and disbelief, compassion and love, desires and movements to help.
But among the comments are others — the headlines of our foremost newspapers, for instance, which, rather than forcing us Bahamians to shake our deep, deep prejudices against our closest neighbours, against our cousins and brothers and sisters to the south, instead reinforce our prejudices and our fears. “PANIC, LOOTING AND TRIAGE AFTER MAJOR HAITI QUAKE“, screams the Tribune; the Guardian warns, “GOVT BRACES FOR HAITIAN INFLUX“.
I don’t wish to be crude, but WTF? I mean, what TF?? The Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding is preparing to fly into Haiti along with the leader of the opposition Portia Simpson-Miller, but the messages being given to our public are messages that reinforce our ideas that the citizens of Haiti are degenerate and lawless, helpless people who come and tief the wealth of others (=Bahamians), and messages that we need to brace for an influx of more of these people that we don’t want or need. And these messages are having their effect. The natural responses of ordinary Bahamians grow mixed. Some of us express sorrow for the tragedy while worrying about our safety, concerned that we will have to house more refugees.
Wake up, Bahamas. Ours is a country that has been built — for the last thirty years literally, but for all our history in many many ways — on the strength, sweat and hard work of our Haitian brethren. Many of us are descended from immigrants, recent or old, from Haiti, even though we may neither know nor admit it. We share our stories with Haiti — our B’Bookie is called Bouki in Haiti, and his partner in Haiti is Compère Lapin (B’Rabbie here). We are not separate or better; we are neighbours, brothers and sisters. We share ancestors. We look the same.
And we oppress our neighbours with our words, with our fear, with our hate. We think with our bellies — witness the results of the Tribune poll — but we masters of hospitality will not open our home to those who need hospitality most.
And we call ourselves a “Christian” nation. How many of us are truly committed to following the words of Christ? Or does our Christianity line up with this?
The Rev. Pat Robertson is offering his own absurd explanation for why a quake hit Haiti: Many years ago, the island’s people “swore a pact to the devil.”
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it,” the controversial televangelist said during an interview Wednesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“They were under the heel of the French…and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.'”
Robertson continued: “True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”
Maybe we “Christians” secretly think that Jesus Christ was a wuss. After all, he said that we should turn the other cheek when people oppress us, that if we have two cloaks we should take one and give it to the poor, that if we visit prisoners, house the homeless, feed the hungry and clothe the naked we are visiting, housing, feeding and clothing Him. This does not normally line up with our theologies, which generally focus on measuring God’s blessing in the stockpiling of material wealth, and which often spout the kind of hate that Pat Robertson so blithely shared with the world yesterday.
But Robertson isn’t one of the gods that I recognize. No. Thanks to my paternal grandmother, I spent plenty of time with the Bible, reading it for myself, not accepting the half-chewed rantings of self-styled demagogues. And there, even in the Old Testament, I read this:
21“(A)You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21, and repeated again and again in Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33, 34; 25:35; Deuteronomy 1:16; 10:19; 27:19; Zechariah 7:10)
Perhaps it’s time we take our profession of Christianity a little more seriously, turn away from our evil and hate, begin to obey the word of the Lord we say we serve, and open our hearts and our home to our neighbours in this time of their unimaginable, unbelievable suffering.