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“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”
Pretty damn clear.
And, it should be noted, that’s a warning that comes from Jesus in his last teaching before the Passion, a teaching about Judgement Day.
It’s ironic to the point of paradox that today many Christians will demonstrate to advocate the sanctity of life while nary batting an eye at The Donald’s announcement that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians from entering. Of course, it should be noted, President Obama was hardly more ‘Christian’ on the immigrant and refugee issue.
That refugees and immigrants (to say nothing of death row inmates) are invisible on the ‘Pro Life’ continuum nor even countenanced among the ‘Every Life Matters’ rhetoric is but an indictment on the extent to which we’ve traded, possibly unawares, our baptismal charge for a particular political ideology.
The theologian Robert Jenson complains:
‘The institution we call the church has been and usually still is one of the chief bulwarks we erect to defend our status quo against the threat of God.’
‘But,’ Jenson happily notes, ‘it is the oddity of the church that the communication- namely, the word of God, by which it lives fights against the stasis to which the church, like all communities and nations tend.’
As if to provide Jenson with anecdotal illustration of his critique, many evangelicals are happily acquiescing to Trump’s move to disqualify any refugees from being welcomed into our borders. Never mind that America could barely field a football team with the paltry number of refugees we’ve allowed up to this point.
We all know The Donald says the Bible is his favorite book and he’s made it his mandate to protect Christianity and make it strong again so I couldn’t help but wonder what passage inspired his America First policy.
Leafing through my own Harper Collins Study Bible, I think found his memory verses.
“When an alien resides among you in your land,
do not mistreat them picket them with dehumanizing, xenophobic slogans, arrest them without cause, publish species crime reports, and ship them back to their impoverished, violent countries as quickly as possible where conscription into a cartel or rape likely awaits them.
The aliens residing among you must be treated as y
our native-born prisoners, their children as criminals and their home countries as places completely unaffected by your trade and foreign policies.
Love them as yourself Detain them on military bases and in prisons, speak of them in town halls as though they were plague-carrying rats, and have your first impulse be how to avoid any moral obligation to them for you were once aliens in Egypt this is your country and they should go back whence they came.
I am the LORD
your [America’s] God.
If they cry out to me, then (too bad for them) I will certainly
hear their cry reward your self-righteousness and unfaithful fear of scarcity.
My anger will blaze against
you [those who advocate for marriage equality,] and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless uh, I think that about covers it.
from Leviticus 19 and Exodus 23 (no seriously, it’s in the freaking bible)
With Christmas not that far in our rearview mirror, it would behoove Christians to recall that the God who commanded his People to care for the poor and the refugee among them (Exodus 23) became, in Jesus Christ, both poor and a refugee.
Of course, the rub is with that modifier ‘his People’ because those of us who count ourselves among God’s People have other obligations upon us than what the constitution permits and goals other than the pursuit of material happiness.
Sure, I’m no different than the Donald. I’d prefer to feel secure in my community and, because I’m a sinner, aside from token expressions of concern, I’d rather remain safely distant from the problems and pain of the world. But, as Robert Jenson notes, I cannot because of the bible I read.
Perhaps it’s so obvious it doesn’t require comment, but the real tension exposed by the refugee question is the extent to which, for many of us, we’ve made being an ‘American’ equivalent to being a ‘Christian.’ If we’ve not made them equivalent, then the refugee crisis also reveals how, really, the former is more important to us than the latter.
When push comes to shove, its the logic of country, not the gospel, that determines our speech and actions.
In the name of security and ‘realism’ we excuse views contrary to the commandments. We do not declare that, because Christ is Risen, God will ultimately beat all our swords into ploughshares; therefore, we can take risks and welcome the stranger among us.
Not only are ‘American’ and ‘Christian’ not equivalent identities, they are, on more occasions than we care to countenance, conflictual identities.
While Americans have no primary task other than, each, the pursuit of our individual autonomy, the primary task of the baptized, as Stanley Hauerwas writes, is ‘to stand within the [violent] world witnessing to a peaceable Kingdom which reflects the right understanding of that very world.’ Even more important to our task as Christians is to remember that the peace to which we witness ‘is not something to be achieved by our power. Rather peace is a gift of God that comes only by our being a community formed around a crucified savior.’
Many Christians will object, as many of our presidential candidates do, that in the quote end quote real world we cannot afford the luxury of heeding the demands of our baptisms. Such objectors, however, forget, as only the comfortable can, that:
There is no morality that does not require others, including ourselves, to suffer for our convictions.
Christians who happen to live in America, then, seem to face an impossible dilemma between a posture of hospitality towards the stranger who may also be an enemy and a political crisis that seems to have no simple remedy beyond the nativist one.
Fortunately, scripture does not ever command Christians to accomplish anything, for, if Jesus is Risen, it’s not up to us to make the world come out right.
So the choice for Christians is not between doing nothing or attempting to do everything.
The choice is the one put to the first disciples: ‘Follow me.’
And in following, in our ordinary attitudes and deeds and within our communities of faith, we trust that the world of violence might have its imagination freed for a Kingdom that, if Jesus is Risen, is in fact the ‘real world.’
Just as the kingdom of Egypt welcomed the holy family who were strangers among them, we Christians (should) witness to the Kingdom of God by welcoming strangers as if they were the holy family.
If this sounds like an extreme liberal position to you, check out this video from the Jesuit Editor of America Magazine, Father James Martin.
Or, read this editorial by the conservative evangelical leader, Ed Stetzer, in Christianity Today.