“In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. This act provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities.”1 The town of Silver City, where I live, held a mass meeting in December of 1885 and ruled that all the Chinese (who were the truck farmers of the area) be required to leave town within a week. In 1942, in the midst of WWII, between 110,000 and 120,000 men of Japanese descent were rounded up from all over the country and put in prison camps, one of which was in Lordsburg, NM, just 50 miles from where I sit. (My own Episcopal Church had a Japanese priest who was so detained.) Around the same time shiploads of Jewish families and children were calling at ports around the world seeking refuge from the Nazi’s. Charles Lindberg spearheaded a movement called “America First” that convinced Congress to deny them entry to the U.S. because they thought they would be a threat to our national security. I have a historian in my congregation who alerted me to these facts. He goes on to note that we do not learn from our past because as Kierkegaard said, every age believes itself to be an exception to the rule.
I remember all too well, getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar so to speak, receiving the usual corrective action, and protesting, “but this is different!” We all think we’re different, that the rules don’t apply, and that we ought to be treated differently than another who has done what we did.
On the one hand, this illustrates our own propensity to create God in our own image. Like Eve in the garden, we seek to take the reins of reality and steer the boat of existence to the port of our own choosing. It is blindly and presumptuously self-centered, and God granted no exceptions. On the other hand, St. Benedict instructed his monks in the 6th century to welcome all guests as if they were Christ himself—no exceptions. That attitude of radical hospitality has endured in the Benedictine tradition to the present day. Apparently it works—no exceptions needed.
An exception is the unique variance of an individual from the class. If we just get the nature of the class right exceptions would seem to be counterproductive.