welcome the stranger
“Taking in refugees at a time of crisis is simply the right thing to do.”
These words from Jeh Johnson, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, are spoken in a recent video released by the new-media news source ATTN: on Nov. 24. Through simple, yet powerful, illustrations, the video debunks the myths of refugee resettlement in the United States, with specific attention to the Syrian refugee crisis.
The pope’s teachings and his deeds have inspired people to put aside their differences and to work together for a common good. We hope that this momentum will carry over to the debates on immigration. We must work together push back against the hateful anti-immigrant messaging coming from some of our elected officials and candidates for office, and draw on the moral high ground we find in our faith and Scriptures. Including Matthew 25.
Beyond the need for broad-based legislative reform, ordinary people and communities of faith in the United States can also make a difference on an individual and family level. Just as the pope has called on European Catholic churches to “welcome the stranger” in their own parishes and homes, American churches, synagogues, mosques, and even individual homes should take up that challenge as well. It’s time for people in the United States and Europe to learn what it really means to welcome the stranger.
Tonight, faith leaders and all those who have spent years trying to fix our broken immigration system should feel gratitude toward President Obama. In a primetime address to the nation, the president announced he was taking executive action to relieve some of the suffering caused by the failures of the status quo. Millions of families will no longer live under the daily threat of having their lives torn apart by senseless deportations, which is something all Christians – whether Republican or Democrat – should celebrate. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have spent significant portions of their lives hiding in the shadows, can now enjoy the flourishing God intends for us all. Their joy and well-being must inform our judgments of the president’s action, especially in light of the biblical call to “welcome the stranger.”
Unfortunately, the president’s compassionate actions are creating a political firestorm among some Republicans in Washington. Their anger and antipathy toward the White House are blinding them to the positive effects these measures will have for our society. Even after decades living and working in our nation’s capital, I’m still amazed at the many ways political ideology can prevent us from having “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.” I lament that our political discourse has come to this.
Everyone agrees the only way to find sustainable, long-term solutions is through Congress passing bipartisan legislation. The Senate did exactly that more than 500 days ago, but their honest efforts have languished in the House of Representatives because of Republican intransigence. GOP leaders promised alternative policy ideas; reform garnered widespread, nationwide support — including among a majority of Republicans; faith leaders were hopeful after countless positive conversations with members of Congress; the president even told me that he was “optimistic” about reform after conversations with Speaker John Boehner; the country, and, more importantly immigrant families, patiently waited — yet, the House failed to act.
“The United States is wonderful,” said one woman, after I helped get her oriented to what buses she would take from Tucson to Florida, gave food and snacks to her and her 8- and 9-year-old sons, and helped her find sweaters and a blanket to stay warm through the inevitably extreme air conditioning of the buses. In that moment, I thought about other U.S. towns passing laws to keep people like her out and protesters angrily blocking buses full of unaccompanied minors or mothers and their children.
God’s desire that we show others hospitality is a common theme in scripture; in the Old Testament showing hospitality was a cultural norm, much as it is today in shame and honor cultures. The New Testament frequently expresses its central importance as well. However, what does it actually mean to show hospitality? This is where things really get interesting: in English, we typically understand hospitality as a willingness to host, feed, and entertain a guest … something we all do and especially with our personal friends. However, what if the biblical term has a much deeper (and more difficult) meaning?
This is the problem we run into when we read the Bible in English and assume we understand what it’s saying … often, we don’t — or at least we don’t understand it fully. Trying to translate between languages is tricky like that, and the concept of “hospitality” is a prime example of what is missed between one language and another.
Based on our English definition, most everyone would consider themselves hospitable. But are we really?
I remember the first time I met someone without papers. They were 12 or 13, like me, and pretty unremarkable and brown. I can still feel the tension between my intense curiosity about this boy and my disappointment about him. Going from “I wonder if they have feelings like us” and “he doesn’t have a green card but does he have a mother who loves him” to “he’s kind of normal” and “this is not what I expected a real-life outlaw to look like” in a few quick minutes.
As life moved on and I made more friends, I met more people who were undocumented. I met grandmothers and little children and some college kids. My relationship with this issue kept transforming, from “I can say I have a friend who’s undocumented SO I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, OK?” to “I have friends, some of whom don’t have papers, and I’d like to government to be nice to everybody.” The more undocumented immigrants I met, the less they seemed different at all.
It happened that way with abortion, too. And gay marriage. Start out with a simplistic interpretation of the Bible and a black-and-white opinion, befriend somebody at odds with that opinion, the opinion changes. Time after time. I was against women pastors —thanks to Paul and bad exegesis — until I realized that my mother had been spiritually leading people for 20 years and most of them had turned out OK.
I’m sure that if I run for president in 20 years, somebody is going to find a paper I wrote for my Biblical Interpretation class decrying the moral state of our socialized medical system, contrast that with my current view, and label me a flip-flopper. And they would be right, which would have worried me three years ago. But I’ve met some flip-floppers since then, and they’re pretty decent people. So I’m okay with that now.
To be honest, I don’t really trust people who have had the same opinions their entire lives. Which is probably why I don’t trust much Evangelical theology, these days. I think it’s natural to have your views about the world change as you experience more of the world, and I wish it were easier to be honest about that when it happened. I wish it were encouraged.
We return to the benefits of connecting with others, and the dangers of allowing society to drift into one in which we count it too dangerous to trust.
Jesus’ prayer affirms this: I need other people. I do, if I want the chance to experience union with God and plunge into the heart of what God is about. And I don’t need only other people who are like me; love requires me to attend to a wider group. When I’m very different from someone else and yet we manage to live into an authentic unity supported by trust, we may gain a glimpse into God’s own wideness, perhaps discovering God to be more than we predicted.
For Jesus does not limit the venues for encountering God to churches and to groups of familiar people. What keeps it from being possible in public life, as well? It must be possible to encounter God there, given the world’s need to know God (verse 25) and God’s love for the world.
The Associated Press announced Tuesday it is dropping the term "illegal immigrant" from its Stylebook. Citing concern for “labeling people, instead of behavior,” AP’s Senior Vice President and Executive Editor, Kathleen Carroll, wrote, “The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term 'illegal immigrant' or the use of 'illegal' to describe a person. ...'Illegal' should describe only an action.”
This change is a huge win for those working on immigration reform, including the staff at Sojourners. Last fall, Sojourners joined many others in calling on the Associated Press to change the term.
“The media’s usage of the word 'illegal' is dehumanizing and distorting," wrote Sojourners Immigration Campaigns Fellow Ivone Guillen in October. "When used by journalists, it introduces a bias into their reporting and risks prejudicing the reader against the needs, concerns, and humanity of immigrant communities, regardless of their documentation status.”
More than six in ten Americans support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, a survey out today from the Public Religion Research Institute finds.
63 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship, including a majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, and majorities among every major religious group.
“Proponents of immigration reform are unlikely to find a more favorable moment [in the political climate] than now,” said EJ Dionne, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at the Washington Post, as part of a survey panel this morning.
The election is finally over, and both parties understand the key role Latino voters played in the outcome. The balance of power in Washington remains the same, but the political winds have shifted dramatically on immigration. During the campaign, President Barack Obama promised to pass immigration reform if reelected. House Speaker John Boehner also recently stated that a “comprehensive approach is long overdue.”
Momentum is building. A new consensus is emerging. Progress is possible.