Saturday, November 21, 2015

Welcoming the Stranger and the Refugees

Flight into Egypt - Jacopo Bassano
Toledo Museum of Art

The Bible is full of refugees stories. Jacob and his family left Canaan for Egypt because of famine. Moses and the Israelites fled Egypt for the Promised Land because Pharaoh had forgotten Joseph. Jesus was himself a refugee, his family fleeing Herod and finding refuge in Egypt. The lesson here is that because the people of God have been refugees and migrants -- strangers in strange lands -- they should welcome the stranger. It is stated in Deuteronomy, as part of the summary of the law: "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). 


I share this as a followup to my posting yesterday, in which I shared the statement offered by my denomination -- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- in partnership with the United Church of Christ regarding the situation with recent statements and congressional votes regarding Syrian and Iraqi refugees. These denominations are not alone. From across the religious spectrum from evangelical to progressive Protestants we have seen religious leaders stand up and say no to attempts to bar refugees from entering the country. The United States government (President Obama primarily) has agreed to take 10,000 refugees (they will undergo a strict process that can take up to two years).  That is but a handful of the thousands fleeing from the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. But the political community seems not to be listening. Thirty-one governors led by my own, Rick Snyder (Snyder has been one of the more open to immigration governors, so this is disheartening), have said they will not cooperate with resettlement efforts. What is most disheartening about this is that my region has a very large immigrant population, that counts numerous Syrian, Iraqi, and Lebanese people.  The Governor has said he just wants to make sure that the Federal Government is ready to handle the situation (I hope that is all). 

If that was all, I might have just allowed the denomination's statement to stand for me. Unfortunately the highest elected official in Oakland County, L. Brooks Patterson, has sought to use the situation in Paris as a rationale for opposing not only settling refugees in the area but opposing a hosing project and community center in Pontiac, because the refugees might pose an "imminent danger" to the area. Of course he will get much support from parts of the community, but it is important to note that  such statements are part of a pattern with Patterson, who has used fear based tactics to divide and conquer throughout his political career.  As the political leaders argue over the finer points of policy, let us remember that there is no 100% guarantee of anything. To ask that the government provide that kind of guarantee before allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are fleeing the devastation of the region is simply unconscionable. Let us be wise, but let us also be gracious and welcoming. 

So I write to my fellow Christians, no matter whether conservative, liberal or somewhere in between, may we offer up our voice to say no to messages of fear that cause us to turn our backs on those in need. Let us remember the biblical stories of the stranger who was welcomed.  We may never have been in that position ourselves, but let our hearts be compassionate.  Remember this as well this word of Scripture: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).

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