One of my biggest expectations for my YAGM year was that of difference: different culture, different country, different continent, different languages, political parties, hymns, and games. I expected to encounter difference, so similarities have been shocking. And yet, I can’t help but notice some pretty striking similarities between my home and my other home.

Unfortunately, some of the similarities between the Western Cape and Arizona are discouraging, and with what is currently happening in Arizona, I’d like to tell you of some similarities I’ve noticed.

 First, there is the similarity of wealth disparity. In both of my homes, there are communities that, by global standards, have staggering and unimaginable wealth. But drive for no more than 15 minutes, and you enter a community living on the edge of (or under) the poverty line. Sure, they have different names, but it is hard to tell if I am walking the streets of Scottsdale or Wynberg, downtown Phoenix or the Cape Town Business District. And then Guadalupe is reminiscent of Langa, Khayelitsha, Mannenberg, Delft, and countless others.

 Another similarity is the opinions about immigration. Immigration is a notorious issue in Arizona, with Sheriff Joe infringing upon the human rights of immigrants and laws being enacted that seem to be against the teaching of diversity. And then there is SB 1070, a highly controversial immigration bill in Arizona that passed in 2010. Who knew that immigration was also a hot topic in the Western Cape? And yet, it is. I have heard many people in communities around Cape Town complain about immigration from other African nations. Immigrants are described as being “loud,” “lazy,” or “stupid,” while simultaneously being blamed for “stealing jobs,” and “ruining the economy with cheap labor.”

 My home state has hit national news this month for their legislature. A bill has passed through the legislature that some are calling the “Anti-Gay Jim Crow law.” Supporters of SB 1062 claim it expands the rights of business owners to refuse service to anyone who infringes on their rights to religious freedom, among other things. Critics say that it is a way to allow business owners, and others in the community, to explicitly discriminate against anyone who is, might be, or appears to be a part of the LGBTQ community. The way the bill is written, discrimination could be allowed against anyone (LGBTQ or single mothers or divorced peoples or people of diverse faiths or other marginalized communities) as long as religion is cited as the cause of discrimination. There has been immense backlash and protests, there are social media campaigns to convince Governor Brewer to veto the bill, and it has made headlines from CNN to BBC.

 Expanding the rights of business owners is, in itself, not necessarily catastrophic. What I do see as catastrophic is using religion as a backing for discrimination. It calls to mind similar ideas purported by governments of the past, including the government that instituted apartheid in South Africa.

 White people in South Africa claimed to have God-given rights to land in this place, claimed to be God’s chosen people, and used these claims to oppress the majority of people who lived in this country. They used religion to support their laws of discrimination, and it would appear Arizona is embarking on a journey that could lead down a similar path, if unchecked.

 While so much of the world, South Africa included, moves towards inclusion and acceptance, I hope and pray that my home state can heed the call. That when the bill comes to Governor Brewer’s desk, she vetoes it. That those protesting at the Capitol do not lose hope, and continue speaking up for those of us far and wide who are unable to be there. That the legislators who wrote this legislation have a change of heart, and use their religious freedom to worship as they wish and preach to whom they wish, but keep their religion out of our government. That they might listen to Jesus’ words of love and acceptance of all people, and that their hearts may be open to the joy of loving your neighbors, whether they are LGBTQ or a single mother or Hispanic or an illegal immigrant or a saint or all of the above.

I pray for my home state, and her inhabitants. I pray for my new home, and her inhabitants. And I pray that in the future, the similarities people see between the two places have more to do with the weather, the spicy food, and the love of music than with systems of injustice.

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