Before the midterm elections, a number of anti-immigrant advertisements aired on television around Kansas that seemed to fan the flames of division. U.S. News and World Report called our state’s races “some of the ugliest of the year,” saying that the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC spent more money here than anywhere else in the country. Those ads manufactured discontent by pitting Kansans against “illegal aliens.”
Meanwhile, during a rally with Donald Trump, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach placed anti-immigrant rhetoric front and center, blaming immigration policy for 9-11.
As a Baptist pastor and man who believes in the conservative values of faith and family, I have often voted Republican. In fact, in 2006, I ran for state representative in Kansas on the Republican ticket. Yet this year, I just couldn’t support the Republican party in the local midterms. Instead of voting for GOP incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder, I cast my ballot for his Democratic challenger Sharice Davids. Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District became one of 43 Congressional districts around the country that flipped from Republican to Democratic control. I, along with many others, also voted against Kobach for governor because we felt strongly that Kansas politics had become overly polarized, lacking in common decency.
Our state came together and voted against the politics of divisiveness.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric heard both in Kansas politics and across our nation reminded me too much of the dehumanizing attacks against African-Americans in the 1960s. Back then, politicians used de-masculating terminology against black people, calling us “boy” and other derogatory words that served to rob us of self-worth. I can remember, as a child, traveling in the south to visit my grandfather in Arkansas and being forced to use colored-only restrooms. The words and phrases used in recent American political campaigns remind me of the pain of our country’s not-too-distant past of dog attacks and church bombings.
These days, anti-immigrant rhetoric in Kansas has stoked similar violence. In 2016, three men from a domestic terrorist group called The Crusaders were caught trying to bomb a Garden City apartment complex that housed immigrants of color. U.S. attorney Tom Beall said the 8-month FBI investigation into the plot probed “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence.”
This is not who we are as Americans or as Kansans. The fact is, our beautiful country is more diverse and integrated than ever before. In the past two years, according to an analysis by New American Economy, our local Congressional district added approximately 5,000 new Hispanic and Asian American voters and lost more than 7,500 white voters. Similar demographic shifts are happening nationwide: Over that same time period, more than 5,000 new Asian American or Hispanic voters joined the electorate in half of the Congressional districts that flipped from red to blue.
People try to pit black against brown with rhetoric like, immigrants take jobs from us, but that’s simply not true. In my district, immigrants pay over $643 million in taxes and wield $1.9 billion in spending power. The more than 2,000 immigrant entrepreneurs here increase job opportunities, not diminish them. Statistics show that immigrants are key contributors to American cities and towns.
As a pastor guided by faith, I’ve long supported fair and humane immigration policy. In August 2013, I traveled to Washington, D.C., in solidarity with my immigrant brothers and sisters. Outside the U.S. House of Representatives, I was arrested while participating in a peaceful civil disobedience, while urging the Obama administration to enact comprehensive immigration reform. I did that because it was the Christian thing to do; and I, along with many others across Kansas, voted against Yoder and Kobach for the same reason: We must stand up against the acrimonious rhetoric that pits one group against another.
We people of faith are morally compelled to treat the stranger among us as we would like to be treated. In Liberal, where I grew up, people didn’t use phrases like illegal aliens, but some folk used a far more derogatory term: “wet backs.” This term is just as volatile as the n-word is to the black community. As a child, my mother — a woman of deep faith — set a Christian example I remain grateful for. She demonstrated neighborly kindness as to those in our neighborhood, immigrants and non-immigrants alike. She would open our doors, inviting those who needed a hot meal in to share our table with us.
My mother told us, I never know where or whose hand my children will fall into on life’s journey. Always be kind.
In August 1988, during President George H.W. Bush’s inaugural address and again in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he called for an embrace of the principles of compassionate conservatism. His presidential archives describe this approach, in part, as heeding the universal call of all faiths to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves.
“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle,” Bush said in January 1988 at his inauguration. “We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”
Can you imagine if our American leaders took that to heart today?
The Rev. Bobby Love Sr. is the pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Olathe.