The growing momentum behind the Matthew 25 Pledge has reminded me of my old friend and mentor, Mary Glover, who helped me understand the deepest meaning of that Gospel text. She was not a theologian or formal biblical commentator, but she showed and taught me the meaning of this Scripture more than four decades ago. Matthew 25 brought me to Christ out of the student movements of my time and led me to help begin Sojourners. We moved into one of the poorest parts of Washington, D.C., in the neighborhood where Mrs. Glover lived.
After a while, and in response to growing need, we joined with neighbors to start a simple food line on Saturday mornings, where many people lined up just 20 blocks from the White House to get a big bag of groceries that would get their families through the week. Volunteers, who actually needed their own bags of groceries, came to put them together each week before we opened the line. Once everything was ready, we prayed. Mary Glover, a powerful Pentecostal woman of faith, would always pray; she prayed like someone who knew whom she was talking to, and it was clear that she and her Lord were in regular communication.
I remember Mary Glover’s prayer still vividly today. She prayed, “Thank you Lord, for waking me up this morning; that the walls of my room were not the walls of my grave, and my bed was not my cooling board. Lord, we know that you will be coming through this line today, so Lord, help us to treat you well — help us to treat you well. Amen.”
She was able to see Jesus and to point to him in the hungry people coming through the food line. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat … As you have done to the least of these you have done to me.”
Mary Glover became an elder to me as a young Christian man, often setting me straight about many things. She did not have much formal education and was a cook in a day care center who made little money, but she was one of those spiritual leaders who holds neighborhoods together. She showed me where to find Jesus more than any seminary professor or academic theologian I had ever met or read. Mary knew you find Jesus among the most vulnerable members of society: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner — the people Jesus names in Matthew 25 when he says how we treat them is how we treat him.
I just came back from speaking in Los Angeles, and I found Jesus everywhere. There, and throughout the country, Latino communities have become much more fearful since the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. According to a new Pew Research survey, about half (47 percent) of Latinos nationwide worry about themselves or someone close to them being deported. Given that the U.S. Latino population is 57 million and growing, that’s nearly 29 million people who today are living in fear. Many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have loved ones who do have legal status, and these families are in greater danger than ever of being separated by our broken and inhumane immigration system.
“I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me” (Matt. 25:43).
The recent surge in high-profile ICE raids combined with the new policy directives coming out of the Department of Homeland security explain the level of fear that’s present now in these communities — but to understand the level of fear on a visceral level, you need to talk to the people themselves.
Archbishop José Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has personally talked to children and parents in his flock. “They do not want to go to school,” he says of the children, “They think their parents are going to be taken away while they’re gone.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has denounced the new raids as well, calling for greater transparency from ICE, asking ICE agents to stop identifying themselves as “police” in their initial interactions with LA residents, and saying: “Angelenos should not have to fear raids that are disruptive to their peace of mind and bring unnecessary anxiety to our homes, schools, and workplaces.”
The problem is that ICE feels newly empowered and emboldened by President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, as well as his actions since taking office. The implementation of his executive order, which aims to crack down on “criminal aliens,” as interpreted by DHS Secretary Gen. John Kelly, greatly expands the categories of undocumented immigrants who can be prioritized for deportation. As the New York Times reports:
Documents released [last week] by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.
The new enforcement policies put into practice language that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.
In the general election, Trump claimed frequently that his deportation efforts would focus first on those already convicted of serious crimes — a policy similar to what ICE did under President Obama. However, the current guidance from DHS deems removable any undocumented immigrant who has committed any offense — including providing false documents, like Social Security numbers, to get jobs. This basically means that simply being undocumented is itself a deportable offense.
Here are the facts: There are indeed about 11 million people living in the United States who are not doing so under the letter of the law. Many did enter the country illegally, or overstayed a visa, and many of these people have been here for many years. In many cases, they have settled down and had children who are now U.S. citizens. Now many millions of these parents face the very real fear that they may be separated from their children. And the kids who have become citizens in the only country they have ever known are afraid of losing their parents.
I have to ask: Do Christians want to see this happen? Do white Christians who voted for Trump want to see that happen? If you voted for Trump because of your desire to protect vulnerable unborn lives, a concern I share, do you now also care about the vulnerable “strangers” and their children now living among us? Do you want to keep these families together? Do you see Jesus here anywhere?
Over the weekend at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, I had the privilege of speaking to almost 10,000 people — and I felt their fear, as well as their desire to feel some hope that Christians in LA and across the country would see Jesus in those most vulnerable right now and embrace the spirit of Matthew 25. Many signed the Matthew 25 Pledge — but pledging to protect the vulnerable is only the first step. Now we all need to act on that pledge and conviction. There are clear Christian choices here.
Mary Glover has passed now. I often miss her but know we would have talked about this. “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today; help us to treat you well."