There's a long tradition in the U.S. (and around the world) of blaming minorities for natural disasters. Conveniently, the people targeted for this type of scapegoating are usually powerless, and are often already despised by the people doing the blaming. The present pandemic is no exception. A clergyman who teaches Bible classes at the White House recently posted a piece, asking in response to the coronavirus, Is G-d Judging America Today? The predictable answer is yes, and the predictable reason is related to "sins" such as "environmentalism" (gasp!) and "homosexuality" (double gasp!).

But how do we know which sins result in divine punishment? And what communal penalty is appropriate for a particular sin? Was 9-11 heavenly retribution for abortion (per Jerry Falwell)? Did Hurricane Katrina devastate New Orleans in retaliation for that city's support of a gay pride parade (John Hagee)? And was Hurricane Harvey sent to drown Houston because it elected a lesbian mayor (Kevin Swanson)?

I'm not normally a fan of attributing natural disasters to human sins, but since it's Passover--a holiday where we remember ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians for enslaving Jews--I thought I might give the whole "divine retribution" thing a try.

And now that I think about it, the idea that G-d is punishing us with a virus doesn't seem all that far fetched. After all, the Egyptians suffered boils, so there is obviously precedent for sending a disease to smite wrongdoers. But which sin would trigger a coronavirus pandemic? Certainly not the "sin" of homosexuality. That causes hurricanes. Obviously.

When you look at what's happening in our country and the world, it seems pretty clear which sin is responsible for our current troubles--the sin of xenophobia. What's that you say? You object? You say that xenophobia is not a sin? Let's take a look at our handy Bible to learn more--

Exodus 12:49 - There shall be one law for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.

Exodus 22:20 - You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33-34 - When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Numbers 15:14-16 - There shall be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the Lord; the same ritual and the same rule shall apply to you and to the stranger who resides among you.

Deuteronomy 27:19 - Cursed be he who subverts the rights of the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

Etc., etc., etc. You get the idea. We are commanded--repeatedly--to treat the stranger as we treat the citizen. Those who mistreat the stranger will be cursed. So the Biblical foundation for our current troubles is clear.

But as our President loves to point out, the coronavirus began in China. Are they guilty of xenophobia? Indeed. Not long after Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, the Chinese government started implementing a series of increasingly restrictive measures against the Uyghur ethnic minority. These include forcing as many as one million men, women, and children into "re-education" camps in order to change their political and religious thinking to be more aligned with Communist Party ideology. To students of the Passover story, the persecution of the Uyghurs sounds eerily familiar--

Exodus 1:8-10 - A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph [a leader among the Israelites]. And [the king] said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”

And so the pharaoh enslaved the Jews. The rest, as they say, is history.

What about the United States? We are now the epicenter of the disease. Why are we being subject to G-d's wrath? The obvious answer is that we have failed to treat citizens and strangers in a like manner. We have wronged the strangers who live among us. How?

Even before President Trump came to power, our country treated non-citizens and citizens differently. There are good reasons for doing so, of course: National security, preserving the welfare state, assimilating new arrivals in an orderly way. But some of the differences seemed less-well grounded in sound public policy: Mass immigration raids, private prisons, limited due process. Since President Trump's ascension, though, our immigration policies have been driven by lies and xenophobia: Separation of children from parents, dramatically reduced protections for certain asylum seekers (particularly women fleeing domestic violence), the Muslim ban, the virtual elimination of due process at the Southern border, the draconian and nonsensical public charge rule, expansion of expedited removal, and on and on. We've also been subject to plenty of lies about non-citizens: Asylum seekers are rapists, criminals, and fraudsters, refugees burden our economy, Mexico will pay for the wall. Not to mention the coddling of white supremacists in Charlottesville and elsewhere. All this has resulted in a terrifying and inhospitable environment for non-citizens in the U.S. today.

Thus, it's painfully obvious that we as a nation are failing to love the stranger as we love ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), that we are wronging and oppressing the stranger (Exodus 22:20), and that we have different laws for the stranger and the citizen (Numbers 15:14). Given all this, it's not surprising that we have been cursed (Deuteronomy 27:19). The coronavirus is the manifestation of this curse; it is divine wrath for our sin of xenophobia. I suggest we put on sack cloth and self-quarantine for two weeks to repent.

Of course, I don't really believe that the pandemic is divine retribution for the sin of xenophobia (or for any other sin). However, it's hard to escape the conclusion that our mistreatment of "the other" is making things worse. Why do certain Immigration Courts remain open, forcing non-citizens and everyone involved in the system to risk their health? Why are we continuing to detain asylum seekers in unsafe conditions, even those who do not pose a danger to the community? Why do we deny economic relief to some immigrants (health care workers, agricultural workers, service industry employees) who are on the front line of the fight against the disease and who are working to keep the rest of us safe and fed?

As I see it, there is great wisdom in the words of the Bible, which make clear that we are all in this together. We will succeed or fail against the disease not as citizens and strangers, but as people, united in our common effort. The coronavirus does not discriminate based on nationality or race. Neither should we.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: