We live in a day of increasing xenophobia and nationalism. A significant portion of the Republican party has given into hatred and bigotry towards individuals who come from other countries and share a different faith. This attitude is even prevalent among some members of the Church. For instance, at least one LDS blogger recently wrote a post urging members to vote for Donald Trump because of his stance against allowing, what the author describes as “hordes of violent third world immigrants into your nation.” (I am choosing not to link directly to this post because I do not want to increase traffic to this post. If you want to, I am sure you could easily find it.)
This attitude is frankly contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is tragic for a member of the Church to hold it. It is also a stance which betrays a deep historical ignorance and belies a lack of belief in the potential of liberty and freedom to improve the lot of mankind.
First, this attitude is premised on the notion that some people are inherently inferior, either due to birth or culture and that the superior races need to protect themselves. This attitude has led to some of the most horrific events in human history. It also is completely false. The Book of Mormon teaches that all are alike unto God:
“He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
The Book of Mormon also counsels strongly against treating people as members of groups or “ites” rather than individuals. At times, the people of Nephi begin to see the Lamanites as the enemy and even seek to destroy them. But courageous missionaries realize that there are many individuals who are seeking goodness and truth even among the Lamanites. They saw the individual rather than the collective.
This attitude also hinges on the notion that certain groups do not and cannot assimilate and will forever be outsiders. As such, it is also historically ignorant: Both scripturally and in contemporary history. In the Book of Mormon, we see that in less than a generation large portion of the Lamanites were taught to love liberty and became a people more righteous than the Nephites.
In contemporary history, we can look to the attitude which was prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century that a wide variety of groups were undesirable and would not be assimilated. From the Irish and Germans, to the Chinese. From the slavs to the Hebrews. Each group has at one time been seen as impossible to assimilate into the American fabric. And yet, in time each group has been stired into the melting pot that is America. The Mormons likewise were seen as alien and foreign. Those who came from overseas to join the Church were treated with suspicion. Yet members of the Church likewise became part of the American fabric overtime.
Ultimately, this attitude is rooted in a pessimism and even skepticism about the power of liberty and freedom to transform lives: It views liberty as a fragile heirloom that must be protected rather than a precious gift to be shared with all.
To me, liberty and freedom are the birthright of every soul. No matter where one is born, every person yearns for freedom. The light of Christ within each child of God desires this gift. Some will be prevented from fully partaking of the bounty of freedom because of where they are born, others will be limited by their culture of heritage. But I am a strong believer that a free society is a radically disruptive and powerful ideal. And if one comes here and is not transformed by its power, the chances are good that the second or third generation will be.
A society that encourages freedom, allows for free enterprise and opportunity, and provides for the protection of freedoms such as speech and free exercise of religion is a leaven that will raise and improve all those who come to it.
And I haven’t yet touched upon the many souls who are “led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” and ultimately find the Gospel of Jesus Christ here. Those who come from oppressive dictatorships can have their very first opportunity of learning of Jesus Christ and the restored church. And they often bring that message back to their homelands and precipitate the spreading of the Gospel and the rise of freedom.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we need to support complete open borders and forget about any mechanism of control. Certainly, limiting the number of people that come in may be necessary to ensure that a foundation of liberty remains firmly in place. But we need to have confidence in the greatness of the ideal of America and in the greatness of the Restored Gospel.