We live in the South where we like our tea sweet, our talk slow and our religion hot. We pride ourselves on being neighborly. We practice hospitality and compassion with our neighbors. If someone is sick we take them food, if their house is destroyed we help them rebuild. We even wave at complete strangers we pass on country roads as a sign of our neighborliness.
One insurance company recognized this trait and built their brand with the slogan— Like a Good Neighbor. We understand the importance of this virtue and pride ourselves as being a place of southern hospitality.This is part of our culture in Alabama. Not only do we claim to be a place of hospitality, we also claim to be people who are compassionate and religious. After all,we do live in the Bible belt.
My guess is this emphasis on being neighborly and compassionate is influenced as much by religion as it is culture. It’s the oddest thing that of recent days we are known not for our compassion and neighborliness, instead we are making the news for our meanness of spirit and lack of compassion. Of course there are different arguments to be made concerning the immigration bill that recently passed. There are political and economic arguments that can be made both ways on this issue. But there is no argument on religious grounds, at least not for those who claim to be Christians. Jesus clearly taught that we are to be a good neighbor. He told us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” To those who would claim that these undocumented immigrants aren’t our neighbors, perhaps a re-reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan would clarify things. In that story the good neighbor was the one who showed compassion on the man in the ditch, beaten up and left for dead. The man in the ditch, the one in need of compassion, that is our neighbor. How can we turn our back on that person and still claim loyalty to Christ?
There have been many voices already heard on this issue. The voice that has been missing in this debate is the religious voice. This is especially true for Christians in the state of Alabama. We sit quietly by thinking we do not need to get involved, that this is a political and economic issue, not a religious one. Maybe the insurance company will keep their slogan but it no longer applies to us as Alabamians. We are not good neighbors, at least not as it is being legislated these days toward undocumented immigrants. It is true the bill has been passed but the debate is far from over. Our neighbors are in need of compassion and help. They live among us and need a good neighbor. I don’t pretend to know the answer on this difficult issue. Indeed there are many voices to be heard concerning this bill. Perhaps it’s time for the religious voice to be raised on this issue. How will we respond? Im hoping that we will live up to our reputation, that we will be compassionate and neighborly. That’s the Alabama I have known and loved.