There is a third strain of equality that I think is not a parent to the American pattern of accepting all without distinction, but an older sibling, and that is equality before the law. I don't know enough about the history of law worldwide to be entirely confident, but I believe the law is usually different for kings, slaves, landowners, men vs women, strangers - in the great majority of times and places. It is one of the things we believe is an advance in Western Civilisation that these have narrowed into one law for all. I suspect this is also derived from Christian practice, though it gradually became independent of it, in America at least. Though it is hard to make a logical argument of identical rights for those who wish to come here versus those who already are here, there is an emotional equivalence that is very strong in American thinking. Well, they've got families, y'know, just like you and me. They're the same as us really, we haven't got any cause to look down on them. All God's creatures - you're the Christian, you should know that. They want to come here and have a life. Like your grandparents did, and mine. Just the same thing. What business do you have keeping them out?
All quite reasonable as far as it goes. Here's the rub: this has worked out very badly for black people. Fairness to one group turns out to be unfairness to another. Most immigration has worked out great for America (some groups more than others), and the general rise in prosperity from all this economic energy has benefitted all of us, enough that the per capita of African-Americans in Mississippi is higher than Sweden's*. Yet in each generation, those waves of Irishmen, Italians, Slavs, and Jews have taken the lowest-rank jobs that would have otherwise been available to…gulp. So yeah. Comparisons are difficult. I'm not sure there were many black people itching to be poultry farmers in Massachusetts, or mill workers in Rhode Island when my most recent ancestors came. As hard as things were, some jobs were available to them that might not have been available to African-Americans. At a minimum, people might not have bought the black man's eggs.
White people descended from recent immigrants like to point out that they weren't slaveholders, and their great-great-grandpas were dirt farmers in those days who never took a cent that wasn't theirs. This is true. Nor did they "benefit" from the value produced and economic growth of slaveholding, except very indirectly, in which subsequent African-Americans benefitted as well. But less immigration just might -- might just have allowed a few more openings, and forced a few more people to accept having a black egg-route guy. Even if you take an extreme genetic/racial ability/bell curve approach to competition and want to maintain that those Irishmen deserved those jobs because they could do them better (I do not - egg-routes are more dependent on hard work than IQ), it still remains that without that competition things might have been different.
So that's uncomfortable, but for the present, why isn't the question Why make this worse? I believe our responsibility to fellow citizens is far greater than it is to the world. Once one frames the question this way, the focus on It's Racist™ to build a wall or discriminate against a subgroup of Muslims looks quite, quite different.
The long way home, certainly. Not entirely direct.
On to the part where playing the opposite game turns out to be illuminating.
I am now speaking mostly to the Christians reading. While non-Christians, especially Jews, might also feel that call to absolutism, that burden of being prepared to accept anybody (and thus, everybody), is primarily from the hard words of Jesus. All, every, least of these, specifically identifying Samaritans and Romans in his stories**. Jesus tended to be more than harsh with those who attempted to find exemptions on the basis of practicality.
Other Christians put forward the Jesus command to be generous to this person or that one, one group or another. The claim that there are no exceptions, that this is all, every, least of these is sometimes explicit, and always at least implied. The subtext "If you don't do this you are not obeying Jesus" is quite clear. This was true long before Facebook or the internet, which only affect the speed of delivery. I remember it as far back as highschool youth group. People playing this card seem to be quite sure they are being the conscience of the Church, or speaking "in the prophetic voice" as we would say now. Sometimes they are. Other Christians saying uncomfortable, accusing things are always worth a listen, because God has indeed used that method to warn his people repeatedly.
Yet this doesn't mean that everyone who talks like this is speaking for God.
The numbers vary wildly, but let us take the UN figures that there are about 65 million refugees plus internally displaced persons. Why do we choose one to get upset about and not another? Well, politics, mostly, is what elevates one cause above another. For those of us on the receiving end, we respond to what is in front of us, usually appropriately. I'm not trying to claim that there is anything wrong with getting involved with trying to help a particular batch of refugees. Life takes odd twists and turns, and we find our life's cause in what might seem to be an accidental way. There are also, at any given time, a thousand other different types of suffering. Why do we choose one cause over another? I don't think there is anything wrong with picking up the Cause of the Week and embracing it as your own. I suspect God uses that in us to get permanent workers for many causes.
But if you are posting about the Cause of the Week repeatedly, then I think you are being manipulated. I apologise for putting this in such a crass way, but refugees are big right now, and Christian leaders are showing up in those photos a lot. I want people to know that these people are not terrorists. There are CHILDREN here. (Yes, 13% of the total. There are children.) Can we get a picture of me with the children? The church can't just ignore this. We have to raise awareness that these are real people, and they are really suffering. We can't just turn our backs. Hey this little fella is kinda cute. How about if I pick him up and you take a picture. Sort of "Let the children come unto me," y'know?
I hope someone does indeed devote themselves to Middle Eastern refugees on the basis of those photos. I hope a lot of people do. I want them to be moved. But all this "raising awareness" isn't very universal, is it? Yes, that's the trick. The appeals to universality are often disguised appeals to a very carefully chosen group. Those Africans can go jump. We've got Palestinians to worry about. I'm sorry, Afghans. We've got Afghans to worry about.
The first time I saw the bumper sticker "God Bless The Whole World, No Exceptions" I thought Well, that's a little nasty. Trying to kick someone with that, I'm thinking. I'm betting I could pretty quickly dig out some people you didn't want God to bless. These appeals to universality are often quite narrow when you squeeze them. In fact, I think that automatically now whenever someone tries to sell me the idea that helping this cause or that one on the basis of Jesus not rejecting anyone. To choose one is to not choose another. Why Tom? Why not Dick, or Harry? I'll give you a hint. There is usually someone who can be made to look bad because they don't support this cause, or don't support it enough. Once you know to look for that, the person or group targeted is often quite obvious.
Yet this is problematic for Christians. Even if we have been manipulated into a spot, we do now know about the suffering- and doesn't God use circumstances just like this to get our attention? Must we always have to be wise as serpents? Can't we just be harmless as doves and leave it at that? I don't know.
The people who post these causes are nearly always better at the "harmless as doves" part than I am. They aren't evil or manipulative people themselves, though might too readily believe one group of manipulators versus another because of their biases. My temptation is to advise - When you see that, write a check for some other cause.
*If this seems incredible to you, consider things like house size, number of cars, electronics, clothing, jewelry, variety of food. Americans consume a lot that doesn't look like "wealth" when you take tourist pictures. Probably a lot of it is bad judgment on our part and we would be more prosperous in some commonly recognisable sense if we spent like Scandinavians. But it is wealth.
**Though also, Matthew 15, where Jesus essentially equates a non-Jewish woman with a dog. (It works out in the end, but still…)