S***hole countries: A lesson in geography

Travel broadens the mind, it's said. Well, perhaps: but it depends on how you travel, what you see and whom you meet.

Donald Trump is quite a well-travelled man, in some ways, though he is said not to particularly enjoy it. But he has always been a rich man who has mingled almost exclusively with other rich people. The only poor people he's known are likely to have been working for him. He's never spent time working in poor communities either abroad or in the States.

A girl looks back in an area destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Anglais, Haiti, 2016.Reuters

Fair enough; his life hasn't been that shape, and he shouldn't be judged for that. And neither, surely, should we assume that the lurid tales in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury are the whole truth about him, or that his tweets really are the measure of the man. He plays with the media, and the media are happy to play. As a journalist, I know it's a problem: do you react, or do you ignore? And as a human being and a Christian, there's another question – how far do you press the principle of charity, and think the best of someone?

The trouble is that Trump sometimes makes it very difficult to be charitable. His remark expressing a preference for immigrants from Norway rather than 's***hole countries' like Haiti shows a genuine contempt for some of the poorest people in the world. And it wasn't in a tweet designed to shock, but in a private meeting. This is what he really thinks.

Enough about Trump, then. He was elected, though, because he represented what other people really think, too. And whichever side of the Atlantic, and wherever in the world you are, there are people who think the same: that because someone is from a place of violence, disease, poverty and low education, they are worthless.

That is not true, and no one spending time with people in that situation could doubt that. Parents are desperate to care for their families. Children want a future and a hope. In communities of poverty there's often more genuine loving kindness than would ever be found in countries where caring has been outsourced to the state. They want to work, make their way in the world and look back feeling they've achieved something. 'They' are just like 'us', only often they are better people than us.

Does that make them saints? Of course not. In Haiti, for example, there's widespread prejudice against people who are mentally or physically disabled. They're called 'cocobai' or 'worthless'. Even the poorest need to look down on someone else; in that, too, they're like us.

Anyone who's either spent time with such people, or has the imaginative resources to understand their situation, would know this. Whether they live in a foreign country or on the wrong side of the tracks in our own home town, we aren't entitled to dismiss someone because of where they come from, or what language they speak, or what colour their skin is, or anything else.

Instead, we look at them with the eyes of Jesus. Norwegian or Haitian, they're created by God and loved by him. A child is not worth less because she speaks Creole rather than English.

This is a demanding standard to set, given that we are all predisposed to care more about our own communities than about outsiders; and politicians from one country can't govern entirely on New Testament principles unless every other country were to do the same. But it's a gospel standard, to which Christians are called.

So briefly back to Trump: when he says things like that, Christians should just say no.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods