Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!

‘Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!’  Grabbing a line from the Wizard of Oz we are living in a troubling time.  Especially if you are a new immigrant or refugee and God help you if you’re undocumented.

Using a time-tested technique, President Trump and minions play the  anti-immigrant fear card to advance their political agenda.  But this is nothing new.

“New immigration” was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Italy and Russia (areas that previously sent few immigrants).

Nativists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativism_(politics) feared the new arrivals lacked the political, social, and occupational skills needed to successfully assimilate into American culture. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a “melting pot,” or if it had just become a “dumping ground,” and many old-stock Americans worried about negative effects on the economy, politics, and culture.

 Immigration 1930 to 2000:

Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914–18) and into the early 1920s, Congress changed the nation’s basic policy about immigration.

The National Origins Formula of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States, but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. It essentially gave preference to immigrants from Central, Northern and Western Europe, severely limiting the numbers from Russia and Southern Europe, Africa and declared all potential immigrants from Asia unworthy of entry into the United States.

Underneath it all was a desire by those already here to keep America as they knew it.  Essentially ‘white’.

This specter of racism and fear of ‘the other’ has been a reoccurring theme in American history and is once again being played for all its worth by ‘nativist’ like President Trump, advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The antidote of course is building relationships with immigrants, refugees and undocumented neighbors.  In the past two weeks:  An undocumented refugee from Congo (who fled a war) walked into my office to ask me to pray with him.  He spoke of his fear of being deported, separating him from his wife and two-year old son (both of whom are US citizens).

I spoke with a young couple from Brazil who are here on a temporary visa but want to stay and take care of her ailing father who is a US citizen.  And, while my car was being serviced I spoke with a young legal immigrant from Egypt who pumped my gas.  He told me of ongoing insults shouted by passing motorists, calling him a ‘f***ing towel head’ and ‘go back where you belong’.

Such are the stories of  immigrants and refugees that are our neighbors.  ‘Nativists’ would have us believe that they are to be feared, that they are not like ‘us’.

The problem however, is that I’ve gotten to know their names.  Listened to their stories.  Discovered that they want the same things you and I want.  Safety and opportunity.  Their family to be healthy and happy.

Despite  prejudice and hateful rhetoric immigrants and refugees still see the United States as a refuge a place to make dreams come true.  They see what is best in us as a nation…even when we forget.

What is needed is meaningful immigration reform. Something that Congress has resisted since last initiated by Ronald Reagan.

What is needed is the wisdom of a Moses:

‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for once you too were foreigners in Egypt.” ~ Exodus 22:21

When Faith and Politics Meet

Some friends on Facebook who share my Christian faith have suggested that I’ve crossed a line between politics and faith.  In particular it has been suggested that I’ve become too political by supporting the upcoming Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com and critiquing President Trump’s stated policy on deportation, climate change, women’s rights.

I offer this response.

‘Dear Friends:   Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the upcoming Women’s March.   You are correct in pointing out that this Women’s March in Washington D. C and similar marches taking place in cities across the United States are supported and being promoted by a wide variety of groups. Some of these groups are explicitly political.  Many others are rooted in their faith.  

This reminds me of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s  when a wide range of groups, some overtly political, secular and some faith-based  worked in common cause to ensure civil rights for all.  While there were surely differences amongst such groups, their shared desire to protect and expand civil rights was a uniting factor.

At the church I serve,https://www.fbcbeverly.org/ we  have several members who will be in Washington D.C and many more in Boston. Each are going at their own expense guided by their faith and conscience.  Dr. King said ‘that the church is to be the conscience of the state’. 

Jesus said in Luke 20: 25 ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s’.  The rub is discerning when to follow the emperor and when our faith says ‘no’.

For many of us, the policies voiced by President Trump will have profound implications for us and our neighbors:  Deportation of up to 11 million undocumented neighbors; roll back of climate change treaty, undermining of Women’s reproductive rights, potential loss of affordable health care etc.   The question for all of us as people of faith is:  How does our faith inform us as citizens?  What would our faith have us do?  What do we do when our faith informed conscience is at odds with the policies of our government? 

 I believe that people of good will can come to different conclusions as to how ones faith speaks to the policies of our time.  I respect if your faith leads you to a different conclusion.  The creative tension is that we are each responsible for listening for the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

 The challenge for all of us is to remain in respectful relationship.  Remain in relationship even as we disagree.  Believing that in our passionate disagreement the Spirit remains at work…expanding our hearts and minds as to what is possible.

 I share with you a love for this nation and a love for God.   I join you in praying for wisdom and for the  well-being of President Trump and his administration and for all elected officials of whatever political persuasion.   With you I commit to helping our nation become more loving and just.

Grace and peace be yours’. ~ Kent

When Jesus was Homeless and a Refugee Too

Donald Trump was elected in part by tapping into the fears of a white culture which is projected to cede majority status by 2040.  This along with rapid changes in the economy and shifts in social norms left many feeling dislocated.

Mr. Trump seized upon the fear by creating scape goats. With broad strokes he identified Mexicans as ‘pouring over our borders’ and sending ‘rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.   He’s called for a national registry of Muslims and a halt to accepting immigrants and refugees from Islamic countries.

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country,  he’s called for mass deportation.  In Nov. 2015 he called for a ‘Mass Deportation Force’ to deport or incarcerate those deemed to be illegal.  In November 2016 he set a policy within his first 100 days in office, to begin deporting 2 – 3 million undocumented neighbors with police records.

The result will be families and communities torn apart.

By making undocumented neighbors and refugees our collective enemy, Mr. Trump can divert attention from underlying issues that confront us: A globalized economy, environmental stewardship, inequality of: wealth, education and health care.

How are faith communities responding to such fear based rhetoric?

Many of my fellow Christians have embraced Trump’s message.  Evangelical leader Franklin Graham (son of Billy) has gone so far as to say that ‘Donald Trump’s election is of God’.

Really?  What are we to make of the following passages:

God calls people of faith to remember that they once were strangers in a strange land and they must, must welcome the stranger as an expression of covenant faithfulness (Leviticus 19:33-34)

  We must “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)

  We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27)

The church I serve, First Baptist in Beverly,(https://www.fbcbeverly.org) takes such passages to heart.  We’ve chosen to reject fear and embrace those whom others would cast aside.  This Christmas season we’ve placed a banner by our entrance:  Immigrants & Refugees Welcome.

photo-refugees-welcome

This banner is our response to the anti-immigrant/refugee/Muslim rhetoric that has coarsened our public life.  Inspired by the Christmas story in Matthew 2:13-23 we remember that Mary and Joseph were homeless when Jesus was born.  That the Holy Family fled persecution by King Herod and found refuge in Egypt.

Today untold millions are seeking refuge from violence, violence, misery.  Minority groups within our own nation feel under threat.  How can we not offer welcome?

We don’t know how the next few years will unfold.  But we do know that we are guided by an ancient story that has captured our hearts, expanded our imagination and graced us with courage.

Courage to say ‘yes’ to love and ‘no’ to fear.

Christmas is coming yet again.  Hope reigns. Praise God!

(For more information on how you or your faith community can get involved for causes of justice: http://faithfulamerica.org/  or, https://sojo.net or, http://cwsglobal.org or, check out Beverly Multifaith Coalition on Facebook or,  look for partners in your local community)