Bible commands us to welcome the stranger

Q: Illegal immigrants are flouting U.S. laws, but does affluent America (or Arizona for that matter) have a larger moral … Continued

Q: Illegal immigrants are flouting U.S. laws, but does affluent America (or Arizona for that matter) have a larger moral or spiritual obligation to help illegal immigrants who are trying to better their lives? What about religious obligations to welcome the stranger? Are we our brother’s keeper?

My grandparents came to the United States from Poland during the early years of the 20th century. My great-grandmother sent her 17-year-old daughter to America, alone, to escape the pogroms. With the exception of one other son who went to Palestine, the others of my great-grandmother’s children were murdered in the Holocaust. My father began school at age six, not knowing a single word of English.

Perhaps it’s my personal history that makes me so outraged about the new immigration law in Arizona. It is nothing short of a full-frontal attack on people of Latino descent. I was also aghast a few weeks ago as Arizona also took steps against multicultural education. This is xenophobia at its worst. I’m confident that the immigration law will be found unconstitutional.

It’s as if the 70 percent of Arizonans who support the law have forgotten the Biblical injunction to “love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” A political cartoon I saw last week had a Native American standing in Arizona. In the first frame, the bubble over his head read, “Know who we call illegal immigrants in Arizona?” In the second frame, the answer: “White People.” They seem to have forgotten that America’s motto is E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) – or that as English writer, G.K. Chesterton, wrote more than a hundred years ago, “America is a home for the homeless…making a new nation out of any old nation that comes along.”

The Bible actually includes almost 120 passages about welcoming, taking care of, and loving the stranger. Early on in the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, three strangers come to Abraham and Sarah’s home and they are welcomed in with a lavish meal. The strangers turn out to be angels from God who bless them with news that they are to have a son at their advanced age. When Jesus is asked in Matthew 25 who will get into heaven, Jesus offers these criteria, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in.”

Loving the stranger was difficult in Biblical times; it’s difficult still. It means resisting the fear of difference and moving to a place of radical welcome and inclusion. And that means embracing people who are different than us without trying to change them. We can celebrate our diversity and our difference.

I am not an expert on immigration law, and I know that reform is necessary. But, I think draconian measures like Arizona’s or those that would eliminate health care coverage and education for children are morally wrong.

At its core, my faith commitment to the dignity and worth of all persons means that we do not regard any person as “illegal” or unworthy of basic human services. But these issues also intersect in more practical ways with my work for sexual and reproductive justice. What’s going to happen to pregnant Latinas in Arizona when they go to the hospital? What about when they visit a public health clinic for birth control? What happens to gay and lesbian immigrants whose life partners are U.S. citizens — but because there is no marriage equality, they are denied the immigration status that a straight couple would automatically receive? And what happens when we deny people public health services like immunizations that are necessary for the health of us all?

I’m proud of the work my denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, is doing to organize against the law in Arizona, where many will join in protest in Phoenix this weekend. There is no question that issues of justice are interconnected, and so long as there is injustice for any group, there cannot be “liberty and justice for all.”

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  • volkmare

    Yes it does, but it does not command us to feed the snake that bites us.Mark

  • Ombudsman1

    I was about to criticize the ramblings here, but I noticed this person is listed as “An ordained Unitarian Universalist minister”.This is sort of like reading an article by Luke Skywalker, an ordained “the Force” minister.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Yesterday, I had a cup of Turkish coffee.

  • PSolus

    “Bible commands us to welcome the stranger”The bible doesn’t command me to do anything, any more than the Harry Potter books command me to do anything.My Magic 8-Ball, on the other hand, is quite compelling.

  • usapdx

    The bible commands that you comply with laws. Illegals are people in our country by violating our laws. Are you commiting treason by approveing of their law volation? Do you know the history of the given gospel that you are reading? All nations have borders even the VATICAN nation.

  • mbeck1

    This is the problem with political theology; it depends on divine revelation, which is subject to interpretation and is often contradictory. Instead of relying on “sacred texts” or visions, perhaps applying reason to the problem might be more productive. Furthermore, by applying religious reasons to this or any subject, we inflate its importance, instead of treating it as a fairly mundane political problem subject to some pragmatic approach. In the end, there will be a pragmatic solution, which may or may not work. If a particular solution doesn’t work, it will be easier to try another solution if it doesn’t have all this theological baggage tied to it involving the forces of good and evil.

  • joe_allen_doty

    Almost all of the adults who are in the United States illegally at this time knew in advance that they would be breaking US Law by sneaking across the USA borders.There have been TV news reports where American reporters went south of the USA-Mexico border to talk to those planning to enter our country between the official Ports of Entry. Those whom the reporters talked to even admitted they knew they would be breaking US law. We as Believers in Jesus the Christ are not supposed to knowing help people break the law. All of the Biblical contexts related to aliens and strangers in Israel has to do with people legally in Israel and in any part of the Roman Empire during the 1st Century AD. No country with a Constitution like the United States of America even existed at the times of Jesus and the Disciples.

  • joe_allen_doty

    Well, with the Unitarian Universalist Association, you can believe in any religious doctrine that you want and you can be an atheist and a member of a Unitarian congregation. I know that because I have known some God-haters who were Unitarian.

  • Thomas Baum

    usapdx You wrote, “The bible commands that you comply with laws. Illegals are people in our country by violating our laws”No, it doesn’t, it says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.A law just means that something is legal or illegal not whether it is right or wrong.Do you realize that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were the equivalent of the “illegal aliens” when they went to Egypt?You also wrote, “Are you commiting treason by approveing of their law volation?”I don’t see how that could be treason but the “founding fathers” did commit treason toward England when they did what they did, is that not correct?Did the people in Nazi Germany commit “treason” when they helped out Jews and others when the “law” forbade them to do so?You also wrote, “Do you know the history of the given gospel that you are reading? “Ever heard of, “Whatever you did to the least, you did unto Me”?Jesus did not try to teach us about “legal and illegal” but something else.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Thomas Baum

    joe_allen_dotyYou wrote, “All of the Biblical contexts related to aliens and strangers in Israel has to do with people legally in Israel and in any part of the Roman Empire during the 1st Century AD.”Do you realize the Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Egypt were the “modern day equivalent” of what we refer to as “illegal aliens”?Lots of people try to hide behind “legality”, isn’t this what Jesus pointed out to some of the “religious” of His day?Remember the story of the “Good Samaritan”?You also wrote, “We as Believers in Jesus the Christ are not supposed to knowing help people break the law.”Isn’t this what some people said concerning some of the “events” that unfolding during the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s?When we put the “law” above people, we are spitting in God’s Face.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • AmyinCA

    @Ombudsman1:As another ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, I’m very flattered by your comment. I try every day to discern the light from the dark side of the Force and to be a channel for the good.Our education to become UU ministers isn’t rigorous in quite the same way as Luke’s training with Yoda–at least, I never had to carry any of my seminary professors on my back while tromping through a swamp–but we are expected to acquaint ourselves firsthand with deity and lead in the ways of truth, love, and justice. And we value the Bible, as my colleague’s words attest, as a collection of human wisdom that challenges us to rise to the best humanity can be.