Policies around immigration have long been an issue and part of the DNA of this country, and even a blight on the Obama administration. But, recently, one of President Donald Trump's executive orders slammed the door on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for the next 90 days and suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days. Already, there are numerous stories of families torn apart, students trying unsuccessfully to re-enter the country, and refugees who came into the country seeking protection now detained at airports terrified at the possibility of returning to their violent governments. All of this goes against anything remotely resembling the Christian faith I profess, and I can no longer be silent.
Because at the heart of the Christian faith I follow is an unequivocal call to love my neighbor. To love the foreigner, the Other, the alien, the stranger, and yes, to love even those that are deemed my enemy, that is, those who hate me. This is what Jesus did in his earthly life. In that same love, we are called towards a radical hospitality, the kind of hospitality Jesus embodied and enacted every moment, which is to be a sanctuary to those who are in need of protection and refuge. This is not a mint on your pillow or getting out the special doilies for tea - it is a hospitality that puts your whole life - your flesh-and-blood - on the line.
So, while Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees allegedly protects the nation from terrorists entering the United States, it shuts the world out. But, these are not ideologies or religious systems that we are shutting out. Real, skin-and-bone lives are at stake. Casting out the most vulnerable populations of our world means those who are desperately seeking life will have to return to environments and governments that will deem that life unnecessary and expendable. This is exactly the opposite of what we are called to do as the church, as a country, as a people, as those in a position of privilege and wealth.
What we are called to do is to follow the example of Jesus, who welcomed and loved every single hair on every human being, who prayed and ate with the absolute least of all, who transgressed boundaries that seemed impermeable, who turned over tables in the temples and turned over the very pillars of our existence. The Jesus that I follow, God-Incarnate, the Christ, was a simple carpenter from Galilee, but also a teacher and revolutionary, who confronted traditions and institutions, who implicitly and organically lived, ministered, and died in such a way that he was grounded in his context - he knew himself deeply - and yet, challenged racial, sexual, cultural, religious, economic realities, that is, anything and everything associated with empire.
This Jesus did so with a compelling zeal and creative brilliance, undoing the structures and systems with a mere parable or blessing, a touch and gesture, feeding and praying, until finally, being undone himself on the cross. He put his life on the line, and this was the ultimate act of hospitality for all.
Throughout it all, he spoke blessing over those who grieved and lamented, those who sought peace, those who longed for safety and a home, those who hungered for life, those who faced persecution and violence. He created a sanctuary wherever he travelled throughout his ministry. It’s absolutely fitting that I read the words of the Lectionary passage as I write this - the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel - words of blessing that aren’t well-wishes or hollowed-out hopes. They were words of protest against the current order, an oppressive regime, and an expression of a God who possessed a vision of life and existence that included the total and undeniable flourishing of every single human being.
As we, communities of faith in our neighborhoods and cities, reflect on what we can do in this time thinking about this kind of hospitality, I offer this:
- Pursue the possibility of becoming a sanctuary church, school or university, city. Be the place where our most vulnerable will be protected.
- Call your your elected officials everyday during a break or during the lunch hour. Be the voice for those whose voices are not being heard right now.
- Speak out on social media, yes, but show up at demonstrations, and pray for the well-being of our nation and all our neighbors.
I think often of all the ways my immigrant Korean church was a sanctuary to my family, especially to my parents in the early years of our life in the US. We came in as “traditional” immigrants, taking a pathway to citizenship, but it has taken many years to feel at home. I still struggle with that feeling of being displaced and foreign.
But, I have lovely memories of sleeping on the pews early in the mornings as my parents prayed in the sanctuary, hearing my parents’ easy, real laughter with others like them in the fellowship hall, and playing hide-n-seek with all the kids in the church as if it were our house.
We were able to survive those days because of this strange and wondrous hospitality. It wasn’t perfect, and how we live out our faith wasn’t perfect. But the reality is that our communities aren’t perfect. Thankfully, we’re not called to be perfect - we’re called to love, and in this time, it means welcoming, protecting, shielding, and providing sanctuary to those who need it. They need us. They need us now.