It was a conversation a few weeks ago at Beer + Theology, a pub-style open dialogue on theological topics I facilitate, where students and myself spent an hour discussing a topic which is a question a lot of Americans have right now.
“How can I welcome the outsiders and those who seek refuge?”
In the past few weeks, our country has seen heated responses over President Donald Trump’s attempt to impose a travel ban of those seeking to come to the United States from other countries. Particularly if those individuals come from countries where Islam is the predominant faith tradition.
This attempt at imposing a travel ban by the president, including those who are seeking refuge from Syria, has created a lot of public backlash, protests, and has illustrated the majority of Americans who disagree with this travel ban policy citing it not as an attempt at protecting American security, but to wrongfully target those of Muslim faith.
The president’s attempt at imposing a travel ban has also unified different Christian churches and faith traditions who have released statements and taken action to stand in solidarity not only with those seeking refuge and the Muslim community in opposition to this ban. But to also stand in opposition to this proposed policy which contradicts what Christians read about in scripture.
People often forget that Christ himself was a refugee,” one of our students at our Beer + Theology meeting expressed during our discussion. “He [Jesus] spoke about not only welcoming those from foreign lands because he was also a stranger from another land as well.”
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” says Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46.
Welcoming the strangers and those seeking refugee is the main tenant of our Christian faith and the main tenant of all Abrahamic faith traditions. For it was not only Mary and Joseph who fled from King Herod to protect their newborn son (Jesus), but it was also the Israelites who fled from the oppression of an Egyptian rule seeking refugee in the Promise Land.
While it can be hard for many Americans to find commonality with the nearly 12 million Syrians who are seeking refuge from their own country stemming from the Syrian Civil War, seeking refuge was the story for many who has ancestors from Europe.
In the late 1800s, my great-great grandparents, Joseph and Eva Balavge, came to the United States from Lithuania seeking refuge after their country was taken over by the Russian Empire and the Lithuanian press, educational and cultural institutions were closed and great famines began to spread.
Additionally, for many Americans with European ancestry, it was escaping famine, oppression, and extreme poverty which led their ancestors to come to the United States seeking new job opportunities and to create a future for their themselves and their children.
“Give me your tired your poor your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” en-scripted on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty.
The proposed ban targeting particular individuals of the Muslim faith under the pretenses of a need for national security or the proposed construction of a wall between Mexico and the United States under the pretense of keeping drugs and criminals from Mexico out of our own country not only is an ineffective method of national security. But they are proposals which are un-American that run contradictory to who we are as a nation.
And for us as Christians, these proposed bans and the building of walls contradicts what scripture teaches us to do.
“Extend hospitality to strangers…” – Romans 12:13
While being vocal about the opposition to such proposed policies by urging our elected officials to reject these policies, we also must seek to be advocates for immigrants and refugees and must mobilize our faith communities to work as advocates together in order to educate our elected leaders and our communities about the importance of showing compassion to those seeking refugee.
Recently, Christianity Today published a great article on ways faith communities can be advocates and educators following the attempts of the proposed ban targeted at specific refugees and immigrants. Additionally, it’s important for Christian faith communities to work with the Muslim community and reach out to local mosques in an effort to show solidarity and find ways to oppose such ban while also chip away at the Islamophobia which exists in our country.
While a wall built between the United States and Mexico and a ban on immigrants from predominate countries where individuals are predominately Muslim is contradictory to our American beliefs and our Christian faith, it’s important now more than ever for Christian faith communities to unify with one another and those of various faiths to not only bring hope to those in need but for us, particularly for us as Christians, to practice what we preach.