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Immigrants and the Bible

For some time now immigrants have been in the news as we,
as a nation, have struggled with how to create a just
immigration system. After several hundred years of
welcoming pretty much everyone, in the 19th and 20th
centuries our nation decided we needed to institute controls
over who was admitted into the United States. Overall we have
a pretty dismal record of organizing that process around the
racial and ethnic prejudices of those of us who were in power.
For example, at some point we started to dislike the Irish and
tried to shut the door on them, and many of us of us of
European descent were threatened by the Chinese and
Japanese and moved to exclude them. Of course, we allowed
Africans in, but as slaves.

Now we have millions of undocumented immigrants who have


entered the country in violation of our laws, and we are in a
quandary about what to do with them. Recently our
government has decided to prosecute all people who enter
illegally, and we have started separating the children from
their parents while their cases are being processed through
the system. To many people of faith, this is an extreme and
unjustifiable measure.

This week our Attorney General tried to reassure Christians


about all of this by quoting the Bible. He picked the 13th
chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul said: “Let every
person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no
authority except from God, and those authorities that exist
have been instituted by God”. I must point out that General
Sessions left out what Paul said eight verses earlier in his
letter that actually addresses the bigger issue at hand: “Let
love be genuine...Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend
hospitality to the strangers.”

Since our government official in charge of enforcing our laws


has invoked the Bible, I thought we should take a look at what
scripture says about immigrants.

In the 19th chapter of Leviticus, we are told to provide for the


poor and the foreigner; don’t mistreat the foreigners living
among you. Treat them as citizens. Love them as yourself,
for you were aliens in Egypt. In the 10th chapter of
Deuteronomy we are told that God loves the stranger,
providing them food. And that you should also love the
stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. In the 23rd chapter
of Exodus we are told not to oppress an alien for you know the
heart of an alien since you were aliens in Egypt.

I think we get the point. Since we all have histories as aliens,


strangers and foreigners, we would do well to remember our
own stories and the stories of our ancestors when we are
considering how to treat the immigrants we encounter. In fact,
God commands it.

But our Attorney General was talking about government


action, not our individual actions as Christians, right. Well,
not so fast.
The Apostle Paul, while a Roman citizen, was not empowered
with any ability to influence the Roman Emperor. He had no
vote and no voice. That’s not our story, is it? We have voices
and votes. That’s good...great, in fact. But it also makes us
responsible, doesn’t it?

In our reading from 2 Corinthians today the same Apostle Paul


reminds us that “all of us must appear before the judgement
seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what
has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”

That brings to mind the 25th chapter of Matthew where Jesus,


sitting in judgement on the world, separates people like sheep
and goats. To those on his right side he offers words of
commendation, saying: “Come, you that are blessed by my
Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world; for...I was a stranger, and you
welcomed me.” And they say, when did we do this? And
Jesus says “just as you have done it to one of the least of
these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then
Jesus says to the goats on his left side: “You that are
accursed, depart from me...for I was a stranger and you did
not welcome me…” Then those on the left say: “Lord, when
was it when we saw you a stranger and did not take care of
you?” And Jesus answers them saying: “Truly I tell you, just
as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do
it to me.”

At St. Columb’s we are a family of God’s people who come


together, among other things, to equip ourselves for Christian
service in the world, including discharging our obligations as
citizens of this country. As individuals, we understand that
we sometimes disagree on how the Christian Gospel calls us
to action. We also understand that there are occasions when
we should try to combine our voices on important issues as
we have done in the past. I believe that meaningful
immigration reform and measured and merciful enforcement
of our laws, which makes reasonable provision for our safety,
is just such an issue. I believe it is time to combine our voices
to insist that our leaders to fix this.

To that end, I am sending these words, spoken from the pulpit


of St. Columb’s Episcopal Church on June 17, 2018, to our
Congressional Delegation, our President, and our Attorney
General. Those who wish to join me, are invited to contact the
church office this week and ask that your names be added to
this document. Those who disagree with these words are
encouraged to speak up as you are led by the Spirit.

May God bless you all,

The Rev. Luther S. Ott