I’ve adopted a new stance this year: Praying and reflecting before I respond. So much is happening so fast of late that it has sent me on a professional and emotional roller coaster. I have realized that this just might be the new norm for a while so I have got to find my typically calm center again or I will go bonkers. One strategy that has worked so far is to sit with the matter at hand, whether a ministry hiccup or a current event to make sure I understand what is happening and what is the intent behind the action. This has been a tough week current events wise.
Along with (best I can tell) all of my clergy colleagues, I am disturbed and deeply disappointed by President Trump’s Executive Order to ban (even temporarily) all refugees and those immigrants from his designated list of Islamic countries. In trying to rationalize the reasoning behind such a hasty and unvetted measure I see two reasons- one is the fulfillment of a political promise that elicited a strong response at Trump’s rallies, and an attempt to increase the safety and security of our country. It’s just that I don’t see how this truly accomplishes that kind of security. Persons can enter our country on a passport from Europe with intent to be harmful- in other words, the person could be from anywhere. The diaspora of terrorist practice has scattered to the winds and to believe the risks are located from persons from certain high risk countries or even outside of the US is short sighted.
But it’s the theological and spiritual ramifications that lead me to question this action and seek its recension. The spiritual harm this mindset can cause and the dangerous theological framework this xenophobic response encourages greatly concerns me. The last few days I have been in Miami Beach, FL and watched with great interest the beautiful diversity of cultures, languages, skin and hair colors, foods, music, and dress. As I ate delicious Cuban food and listened to live Cuban music, how grateful I was to experience the joy of this multi-cultural moment. And at one time in our history, Cubans were an “enemy” thanks to Fidel Castro and Russia during the Cold War.
I saw young boys playing around the pool at our hotel with yamakas on their heads- even in their bathing suits in the pool. Later that day I was walking on the beach and saw a woman of Middle Eastern dissent and Islamic faith wearing full dress with tights and a skirt as she went swimming in the ocean with her family, a huge smile on her face. A few more yards down the beach was a woman sunbathing topless and I thought, what an amazing and diverse place that people from all kinds of cultures and practices can make this work.
And we as Christians, are called to especially remember the refugee. We are called to treat the immigrant with grace and hospitality. It is a biblical mandate found both in the Old Testament and more importantly from Jesus himself in his New Testament teaching. The reality is that the refugees seeking safety in this country are some of the most vetted persons trying to enter our country. And they are the most vulnerable since they are almost always coming from a war torn, violent and desolate former life. God has always been on the side of the refugee. There is no way as a Christian to get around this truth.
Bishop Bruce Ough, the President of the Council of Bishops for the United Methodist Church issued a statement on Monday, January 30th which you can read in full here. Below is an excerpt in which he makes a compelling point.
The biblical witness is clear and unambiguous. Walls are unbiblical. Hospitality is biblical. Denying one’s neighbor is unbiblical. Welcoming the stranger is biblical. It is not surprising that Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach the reign of God as a banquet to which all peoples are invited. We are to welcome the sojourner, love our neighbor and stand with the most vulnerable among us. …. When we welcome a stranger we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome our creator. Refugees, immigrants, those yearning to be free—these are the ones whom Jesus spoke about when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). -Bishop Ough (President of the Council of Bishops – UMC)
We are called to be the hands, feet and at times the voice for Jesus in a world that is shapeshifting around us. I hope you will join me in praying for our country to continue to be a place that welcomes the immigrant who longs to make a better life for themselves in a place that offers hope, hospitality and freedom. And I think we can continue to do this without disregarding our safety. That is, we can if we figure out how to work together. Oh that we will figure out how to work together.
Grace and Peace,