The Baptist General Convention of Texas responded to the swine flu epidemic by postponing a state championship Bible drill. Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth e-mailed members asking them to stay home on Sunday if they had symptoms. Arkansas’ Ouachita Baptist University convened an ad hoc committee. The Southern Baptist Convention’s international missionary board encouraged churches to delay mission trips to Mexico and delayed sending some of its own missionary staff there. Another SBC agency advised families to have on hand two weeks of food and water supplies.
A few Baptists sought proactively to help the poorest of the poor. Don Sewell, consultant to mission advancement for the Baptist World Alliance, alerted Baptists to reliable channels for providing aid to those in Mexico.
Still other Baptists took a different approach. Chuck Colson blamed the media for creating hysteria. Baptist seminary professor Herschael York discounted the seriousness of swine flu and criticized the lack of concern for those dying without Christ.
While Baptists were heading at the end of last week in lots of different directions in response to the H1N1 influenza virus, they were united in their silence about the virus of hate-speech accompanying the spread of the flu virus. They uttered not a syllable of challenge to those who are exploiting the fear of a flu pandemic to roil racist fears about immigration.
Nationally syndicated radio show host Michael Savage said over a week ago, “Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico.”
Savage asked if Islamic terrorists could have planted the virus in Mexico knowing that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would not close the borders and illegal aliens were the “perfect mules for bringing this virus into America.”
“I’m going to have no contact anywhere with an illegal alien, and that starts in the restaurants,” said Savage.
Radio host Neal Boortz, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin and Fox News host Glenn Beck engaged in the same kind of anti-immigration bashing.
The Boston Globe reported that on Friday WTKK-FM radio suspended right-wing talk show host Jay Severin, who said, “So now, in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico—women with mustaches and VD—now we have swine flu.”
Calling Mexicans “the world’s lowest of primitives,” Severin said, “When we are the magnet for primitives around the world—and it’s not the primitives’ fault by the way, I’m not blaming them for being primitives—I’m merely observing they’re primitive.”
He said, “We should be, if anything, surprised that Mexico has not visited upon us poxes of more various and serious types already, considering the number of criminaliens already here.”
“It’s a sad day in America, when you can’t even call this pandemic strain by its proper name, ‘Mexican Flu’,” said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group headquartered in North Carolina.
Not all anti-immigration rhetoric was as raw as the comments cited above. Some rhetoric was muted.
Toni Lawrence, a city councilwoman in Houston, Texas, hinted that allowing foreigners to be treated at area hospitals endangered Houstonians.
“Who are we infecting by even bringing people into our hospitals?” asked Lawrence, a member of First Baptist Church of Houston. “We need to look out for Houstonians first.”
While Baptists are rushing about trying to protect themselves from the swine flu virus, we are letting another virus go unchecked. We are witnessing a pandemic in conservative America of hate-speech against Mexicans. Unless we contain that virus, it will replicate itself a hundredfold in Baptist churches—if it hasn’t already done so.
If Baptists are Christians, who are known by their love, it’s time for some tough love toward racists and rant radio. We need to challenge the fear-mongering toward people of color. We need to warn church members that hate radio is dangerous to their faith.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the BaptistCenter for Ethics.