Strangers and Welcome - Reflections 7-5-17

 Quite a while ago, my oldest brother “got into” genealogy. He managed to follow the trail of Larabee ancestors back to 1647 when the first one set toe in the “New World” from England. On my mother’s side, it was my grandparents who came across from Russia and Poland in the early 1900’s.

Except for the Native Americans from whom we took this land, we are a country of immigrants – our families are all originally strangers in this land.

This is the wrap up of a 3-part series on my trip to the southwest in June. Add together my trip, this week’s celebration of the 4th of July, and a billboard I saw on Facebook, and the topic for this week is appropriate: immigration.

It is complex. It is charged with emotion. It can be divisive. But it cannot be ignored. 

Our service project was a road trip to the wall that separates the US from Mexico in Nogales to … pray. We prayed that barriers might be broken, for peaceful possibilities, for intact families, for timely adjudication. 

It is hard to describe the powerful feeling of alienation I felt looking up and standing just 6 feet from the wall (the border patrol will not let anyone get closer than that). I also realized that I had something those on the other side did not have and which I rarely question: the right to be there.

I bring up my immigrant ancestors, some of whom were around in 1776, because it seems that by now a country built on immigration ought to be able to do something more welcoming than a wall. We were all strangers once.

Which leads me to the billboard that the North Carolina Council of Churches put up on I-40 West between Statesville and Hickory. It is a quote from Leviticus, of all places, that reads “Welcome the stranger for you were once a stranger” Lev.19:34

From the very beginning, when Abraham followed God’s instruction to leave his home and go to a strange land, God’s people have been strangers. The children of Abraham went to Egypt as strangers; they fled as refugees and went to Canaan as strangers.  When God told them how to live as God’s children, they were continually admonished to welcome the stranger/alien in their midst, because they, too, had been stranger and aliens. We, as God’s children, are heirs of that admonition. But often fear, or ignorance, or animosity toward the other, keep us from being hospitable and welcoming.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a social message on immigration. In it, they remind us that the Lutheran church has a history of welcoming: Following
World War II, when one out of every six Lutherans in the world was a refugee or displaced person, Lutherans, with the participation of 6,000 congregations, resettled some 57,000 refugees in the United States.

But more importantly than helping our own, Lutherans have continued to welcome the refugee and the stranger from all spots around the globe. Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service is leader in the US among those who welcome and resettle the strangers.

The social message also reminds us of God’s command to Israel from Leviticus, then directs us to where Jesus said he is present in the stranger: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25: 35). The statement calls on Martin Luther to ask us: “How do we know that the love of God dwells in us? If we take upon ourselves the need of the neighbor.”

Here is one final word from that statement:
Our advocacy needs to take into account the complexity of issues, the diversity of interests, and the partial or relative justice of laws at the same time that it counters appeals rooted in hostility, racism, prejudice, indifference, and simplistic solutions. We draw on the best of our nation’s traditions as a refuge and haven for the persecuted and destitute when we affirm that “we support a generous policy of welcome for refugees and immigrants,” and that we “will advocate for just immigration policies, including fairness in visa regulations and in admitting and protecting refugees. We will work for policies that cause neither undue repercussions within immigrant communities nor bias against them.”

Immigration is complex. It is charged with emotion. It can be divisive. But it cannot be ignored. 

What are your thoughts about this issue?

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245