Called to Welcome the Stranger
Editor's Note: A version of this statement was delivered on behalf of the North Carolina Council of Churcheson March 28, 2012, in Raleigh, to the House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy.
Many people in our country say that their Christian faith is a significant force in their lives. I am one of those people. As I listen to my sisters and brothers in the church discuss immigration legislation, I wonder why our faith hasn’t lead us into a way of life that defuses this contentious debate.
If, as Christians claims, the story of the Bible is important to us, then we shouldn’t be so worried about foreigners; we shouldn’t be so afraid of immigrants. After all, the story of the Christian gospel centers on a man named Jesus — or, as we called him in my Hispanic family, Jesús: the one who was born on the migrant trail, moving from place to place, born to parents who did everything they could to protect him from Herod and his government, parents who even defied the will of Herod and snuck away under the cover of darkness, crossing into Egypt without proper documentation — sin papeles, as we would put it today.
As a Christian, I’m grateful for Mary and Joseph, those faithful parents, who kept Jesus safe from the government’s hands as they crossed borders and as they relied on the hospitality of strangers in Egypt and in Bethlehem. (See Matthew 2:13-18.)
I have no illusions that this story will be important to legislators and voters as they determine immigration policy for our country and our state. But, for many of us who are Christians, we can’t help but see the world through the lens of Bible stories; we can’t help but look at our representatives and our communities in light of the story of Jesus. And when we consider the laws that are passed, we will be wondering where our leaders fit as characters in the biblical story, in Jesus’ story.
Who will be named as those who welcomed Jesus and his parents, who received them with open arms? And who will be counted among Herod’s people?
I am a member of the NC Council of Churches, which has a clear position regarding undocumented residents:
“As people of faith,” states our resolution on immigration, “our calling is to welcome the stranger and offer hospitality…to the migrant and refugee, regardless of legal status.” The statement goes on to repeat the biblical legislation in Leviticus 19:33-34, which reads, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
No matter what the government legislates, we will continue to practice our Christian faith as our church communities extend hospitality, as we treat foreigners the same way we treat the native-born, as we welcome into our lives immigrants like Jesús. When the laws of the land infringe upon our practices of hospitality, we may find ourselves at odds with government authorities. Yet this is nothing new for us, for Christians have a long history of staying true to our convictions as the political powers twist and turn. To echo the words of Peter and the apostles, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).
Isaac S. Villegas serves on the Governing Board of the NC Council of Churches and is the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.