Listening to faces is hard work and has to be developed slowly over time. We live in a world that teaches us to speak twice as much as we listen, or to speak without listening at all. Yet, over time, listening to faces will grow the most important thing we can have in our hearts — deep empathy for each person we encounter every day.
When you turn on the faucet in Flint, Mich. you don’t just get water — you also get the potent neurotoxin lead. And without a driver’s license, Flint residents are being refused bottled water from the city, so undocumented people have to search elsewhere for clean water, reports America magazine. Deacon Omar Odette of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Flint says that members of his parish have been arrested by immigration authorities for not having documentation.
How well would you do representing yourself in court? Unless you’re a lawyer, probably not very well, but according to Jack H. Weil, young children can learn enough immigration law so as not to require a lawyer in immigration court.
FOR CHRISTIANS who live near the U.S.-Mexico border, Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves” takes on a particular urgency when we see our neighbors fleeing violence from their home countries and then being deported back at an alarming rate.
At Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, where I am pastor, we have a history of loving our neighbors by offering them protective sanctuary to shield them from deportation.
Sanctuary is an ancient biblical tradition. In Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 1 Kings, scriptures describe the right of asylum in cities of refuge set aside for those accused of manslaughter until the truth of the matter could be resolved. There is also the tradition of those who seek the safety of the temple by clinging to the “horns of the altar” (1 Kings 1:50).
In the U.S., churches involved in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad provided sanctuary to escaping slaves. In the Vietnam War era, churches protected conscientious objectors. During the brutal wars in Central America in the 1980s, hundreds of U.S. churches declared a national sanctuary movement, protecting tens of thousands of refugees from being deported to almost certain death. Southside Presbyterian was one of the founding churches of the 1980s sanctuary movement.
In May 2014, after another wave of deportations, our congregation made a public declaration to once again become a sanctuary church. We welcomed Daniel Ruiz, a local undocumented father, into protection. After 28 days living in the church, he received a stay of deportation.
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There’s a name for xenophobic-motivated politics: nativism. Oxford Dictionaries defines nativism as: 1)The policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants, and 2) A return to or emphasis on traditional or local customs, in oppositionto outside influences.
You probably saw the media frenzy around Pope Francis’s comments aboard the papal plane on his trip back to Rome from Mexico last week. When asked about presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.- Mexico border, the pope said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
However, I was struck most by the pope’s following remarks, which were omitted from several mainstream media accounts — when he said of Trump’s plans, “This is not in the Gospel.”
Francis is right. The spirit of religion is about healing and nurturing and bringing together. And he puts the question into the politically charged air once again: Walls or bridges? What’s it going to be?
Do we open ourselves to the spirit that wants to give us new hearts? Or do we choose to have hearts as cold as a stone wall?