Quarantining Our Fears

By Tony Alonso

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“Christ Healing the Sick,” Romare Bearden

“Do not be afraid.”

“Do not fear, little flock.”

“Have no anxiety at all.”

These, and dozens like them, are the phrases softly spoken by a radical rabbi from Nazareth in the first century to a small circle of imperfect but faithful followers. They are the words of the same man who ran toward the sickest and most stigmatized women and men he met. He embraced them. He healed them. And then he asked them to go and do the same.

“It time for the U.S. to consider a travel ban.”

“I do know what works, and that is closed borders and quarantine.”

“Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”

These, and dozens like them, are the phrases loudly spoken by predictable American politicians over the past weeks to a hungry news media. They are the words of the same people who not only run away from the sickest and most contagious women and men they have never met and never want to meet, they also want to imprison the sick and the healthy alike in their own countries under the demonstrable myth that it will make them safer. And then they invite us to sit next to them at the table of their fears.

For followers of that rabbi from Nazareth, the contrast should be stark and startling. Countless courageous nurses and doctors embrace the call to go to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to heal others even at great risk to themselves. American politicians sit comfortably in the confines of their congressional or gubernatorial offices and insist we be afraid, very afraid.

The people who demanded an Ebola Czar and then rejected the Ebola Czar because he was not a doctor now dismiss the advice of the American medical community in their nearly unanimous condemnation of a travel ban. These politicians want a doctor, but only a doctor that tells them what they want to hear.

And many of these are Christian politicians. They want a Savior, but only a Savior that tells them what they want to hear. The same politicians whose voices grow weary confirming us in our deepest fears and manufacturing new ones we had never thought to have on an almost hourly basis are themselves followers of that courageous rabbi from Nazareth.

The worldwide Ebola death toll is nearing 5000.

The Ebola death toll in the United States is 1.

Even as airplanes, subways and bowling alleys get the public scrubbings they’ve probably needed for decades, it is good to remember that not a single person who shared the home and daily routine of any of the American Ebola patients have contracted the disease.

It is easy to be afraid. And the case for a travel ban is easy to make in headlines and sound bytes. It’s just not a Christian one.

Tony Alonso is a composer and a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  Follow him on Twitter at @TonyAlonso1, or check out www.tonyalonso.com.