Including the Vulnerable in America's Story
By Mark Rodgers"Because you have no heart and your meanness never takes a timeout." Amos 1:11 (The Message)In 1939 Adolph Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" followed in 1940 by the launch of Action T4, which systematically emptied Germany's institutions of the physically and mentally handicapped. Over the life of the program and the Holocaust, 200,000 of them were killed, as the Nazis piloted tactics used later in the genocide of the Jews, Gypsies and other "undesirables."I was struck while reading the book of Amos that God judges nations for the violence they inflict on the vulnerable, and a survey of our political landscape should be a cause for alarm. Bellicose rhetoric has turned rallies toward violence, often aimed at racial and religious minorities. This is not America.This ugly undertone surfaced loudly when Republican frontrunner Donald Trump mocked a New York Times reporter with a congenital joint condition during a campaign rally in November. As Trump was defending his claim that he witnessed thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey on Sept. 11, he mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski's physical condition and reporting; the reporter has arthrogryposis, which limits flexibility in his arms.Trump jerked his arms in front of his body while saying: “Now, the poor guy — you've got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!'"Gross atrocities start small, and usually with the least of these. But this has not been America. These are American stories:* Several years ago Rick and Karen Santorum asked me to be their daughter Bella's God Father. I know what a special girl she is, in many ways because of her Trisomy 18, not despite it. Both of my sisters have children with special needs, Charlie with Downs Syndrome and Elsa with a rare neurological condition. Rather than demean them, America has been a nation that affirms a place for them,whether it is through prayers on the campaign trial or classrooms in our public schools.* I was encouraged this month when musician Gaelynn Lea, a 32-year-old classically trained fiddler was chosen the winner of NPR's 2016 Tiny Desk contest. Her haunting song "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun" is played on a violin held like a cello. Gaelynn was born with brittle bone disease, a congenital disability that has stunted her growth and makes playing the violin tucked under the chin impossible.* It is my hope that this summer we will be able to host Le Minh Chau, the subject of an Oscar-nominated short documentary, to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. The documentary shows Chau, a teenager living in a care center in Vietnam severely disabled by the effects of Agent Orange, pursue against all odds his dream of becoming a professional artist. We have a history of heart, including toward those who have had to deal with the consequences of our actions.* In 2010 I wrote about an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood in which he interviewed Jeff Erlanger in his wheelchair. Take five minutes and watch the video of Fred receiving his lifetime achievement award, and you will be blessed. In America, we stand and applaud those who treat others with civility and kindness.