It’s called “racial profiling” and it has a long history as a subject of concern. After Sept. 11, 2001, the pall of suspicion in airports and at public gatherings fell primarily on people from the Middle East. Media sources in major urban areas use the term to refer to what some see as a tendency on the part of law enforcement officers to take special pains to stop and question African Americans. And when drug-related violence and smuggling activities make headlines, individuals of Hispanic descent, especially in states bordering Mexico, are often detained and asked for proof of citizenship.
During World War II, the term, had it been in use at that time, might have referred to Japanese Americans. At other times in our history similar pressures have been felt by the Irish, the Chinese, Germans, Italians and Eastern Europeans. Even as our country celebrates “Unity in Diversity” there is hardly a group of people who have not, at some point in time, been subjected to some form of racial profiling. It seems it is in our nature to fear the “other.”
The Corinthians were no different. Today we hear Paul (1 Cor 1:1-3) reminding the community at Corinth that “… all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ …” are called to be holy. It would seem that they, too, were suspicious of the “other.”
Today many European currencies have merged and international business is conducted in a common language by individuals oceans apart. Air travel is faster and more available than ever before. Yet, even as national borders dissolve in a shrinking world, billions of dollars are expended each year to defend them. It seems that the more we come together the more we fear and feel we must distance ourselves from one another.
Perhaps, then, it is not so difficult after all to understand why we are so slow to accept that one “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the [whole] world.” Could it be because we are also not willing to accept that we may be as much a part of that sinful world as is the “other”?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.