Welcoming the Stranger

So much has been said about the caravan of migrants making their way north through Mexico the last few weeks that it is hard to keep track of all the facts. The way that the media, politicians and the president have portrayed this group of people has made it seem as though they pose an extreme threat to the safety of the United States. This “threat” is so real that the President has called up the armed forces to “secure” the border. Just so you know where I am going with this post, I am going to comment on how the military response to a humanitarian crisis is a disproportionate response and how (speaking from a Christian perspective) the gospel message is being threatened by the actions of the United States.

Firstly, let’s break down the response to this caravan. This caravan is making its way north through Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the United States. For most of the people, they are fleeing extreme violence, poverty and corruption in their home countries. Speaking from a United States historical perspective, this violence and political turmoil in Central and South America is directly related to foreign policies the U.S. has imposed on them for centuries. You cannot study U.S. history without seeing the detrimental policies that directly affected the governments of these nations. It is a matter of historical fact, not of political opinion. The United States is directly responsible for much of the political and social unrest in Central and South America. Again, it does not take a lot of digging into the history of U.S. foreign policy to see that the country is complicit in the unrest of these countries.

That being said, the migrants that are seeking asylum in the United States are fleeing the problem that America created in the first place. For us as a nation to deny them the chance at seeking asylum is a double insult. We can’t blame them for fleeing the circumstances that the United States created in the first place. As for the role of fear, too many of our American “leaders” have portrayed this caravan as detrimental to the safety and security of the United States. This has led to a number of American citizens being afraid of these people with no grounds for their fear. They fear the caravan simply because our “leaders” have told us to be afraid. It is easy to dehumanize someone if you remove their human agency. That is what is happening now. We are being told to fear this caravan and see them as a group of dangerous people who are seeking to do harm to the United States and not a group of people seeking asylum.

The fear is manufactured.

Now, zeroing in on what a “Christian” response should look like, I want to start off by calling out my fellow brothers and sisters who have been vocally in favor of apprehending and sending these migrants back to where they came from. The reason I want to call them out is because that opinion is influenced far more by political affiliation and not a Christ-centered response. If your allegiance is to the United States, then your response can be to exclude these migrants. But let us not pretend for a second that the mouth you use for praise on Sunday and the fear-filled rhetoric you say on Monday professes the same Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You have to choose who your allegiance is to.

I have been dwelling a lot lately on the role of the “stranger” in the narrative of Israel’s history. Deuteronomy 1:9-18 comes at a point in Israel’s history when they are on the cusp of entering the Promised land. The bruised and battered nation had been wandering for over forty years in the wilderness as they slowly made their way towards the land that God had promised their ancestors. They had grown exponentially in number and the burden of governance had become too much for Moses to carry on his own. The outcome of this population surge was to appoint wise leaders to help in the administration of justice among the Israelite people. When these men were chosen, Moses instructed them, “I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you.” (Deuteronomy 1:16) This charge to treat the foreigner among them reveals a major aspect of God’s purpose for Israel. By instructing the judges to judge disputes between Israelites and foreigners fairly, YHWH is establishing from the outset of Israel’s inheritance of the promised land that they are to administer justice and mercy to those who are not native born Israelites.

Similarly, in Leviticus 19, we have a further fleshing out of this command to treat the foreigner with dignity in legal issues. The Levitical instruction states “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Here we have a key rationale for why Israel is to treat the foreigner as one of their own. The collective memory of their Egyptian slavery serves as the empathetic baseline in which they are to receive and treat the foreigner living among them. The reason their slavery in Egypt is called to be remembered is that it was one of (if not the most) defining factors of Israel’s identity. What defined their experience in Egypt was that God’s mercy and righteousness led them out of slavery and into the promised land. It is this same mercy and righteousness that they are commanded to extend towards the foreigner among them.

If we are able to view immigrants, exiles and refugees as brothers and sisters, then their needs become our own. Their pain is our pain. Their protection is our protection. If this becomes our earnest longing, then we will truly be a church that will have “equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26) The immigrant, the exile, the refugee living among us are the ones that God not only cares for, but defends. The passages in Deuteronomy and Leviticus reveal that God’s intention for humanity is to bless it through the acts of justice and righteousness of God’s followers. There is no national boundary that negates the divine mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves.

If by chance there is anyone reading this that is part of the migrant caravan, I want you to know that I welcome you with open arms. My wife and I welcome you. Come in, have a seat, share this food with us and tell us your story. You are welcome here.

–  J

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