Immigrants and the Bible

(Written by the Rev. Luther Ott from a sermon preached at St. Columb’s Episcopal Church in Ridgeland, MS)

For some time now immigrants have been in the news as we, as a nation, have struggled with how to create a just immigration system. After several hundred years of welcoming pretty much everyone, in the 19th and 20th centuries our nation decided we needed to institute controls over who was admitted into the United States. Overall we have a pretty dismal record of organizing that process around the racial and ethnic prejudices of those of us who were in power. For example, at some point we started to dislike the Irish and tried to shut the door on them, and many of us of us of European descent were threatened by the Chinese and Japanese and moved to exclude them. Of course, we allowed Africans in, but as slaves.

Now we have millions of undocumented immigrants who have entered the country in violation of our laws, and we are in a quandry about what to do with them. Recently our government has decided to prosecute all people who enter illegally, and we have started separating the children from their parents while their cases are being processed through the system. To many people of faith, this is an extreme and unjustifiable measure.

This week our Attorney General tried to reassure Christians about all of this by quoting the Bible. He picked the 13th chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul said: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”. I must point out that General Sessions left out what Paul said eight verses earlier in his letter that actually addresses the bigger issue at hand: “Let love be genuine…Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to the strangers.”

Since our government official in charge of enforcing our laws has invoked the Bible, I thought we should take a look at what scripture says about immigrants.

In the 19th chapter of Leviticus, we are told to provide for the poor and the foreigner; don’t mistreat the foreigners living among you. Treat them as citizens. Love them as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. In the 10th chapter of Deuteronomy we are told that God loves the stranger, providing them food. And that you should also love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we are told not to oppress an alien for you know the heart of an alien since you were aliens in Egypt.

I think we get the point. Since we all have histories as aliens, strangers and foreigners, we would do well to remember our own stories and the stories of our ancestors when we are considering how to treat the immigrants we encounter. In fact, God commands it.

But our Attorney General was talking about government action, not our individual actions as Christians, right. Well, not so fast.

The Apostle Paul, while a Roman citizen, was not empowered with any ability to influence the Roman Emperor. He had no vote and no voice. That’s not our story, is it? We have voices and votes. That’s good…great, in fact. But it also makes us responsible, doesn’t it?

In our reading from 2 Corinthians today the same Apostle Paul reminds us that “all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”

That brings to mind the 25th chapter of Matthew where Jesus, sitting in judgement on the world, separates people like sheep and goats. To those on his right side he offers words of commendation, saying: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” And they say, when did we do this? And Jesus says “just as you have done it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then Jesus says to the goats on his left side: “You that are accursed, depart from me…for I was a stranger and you did not welcome me…” Then those on the left say: “Lord, when was it when we saw you a stranger and did not take care of you?” And Jesus answers them saying: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

At St. Columb’s we are a family of God’s people who come together, among other things, to equip ourselves for Christian service in the world, including discharging our obligations as citizens of this country. As individuals, we understand that we sometimes disagree on how the Christian Gospel calls us to action. We also understand that there are occasions when we should try to combine our voices on important issues as we have done in the past. I believe that meaningful immigration reform and measured and merciful enforcement of our laws, which makes reasonable provision for our safety, is just such an issue. I believe it is time to combine our voices to insist that our leaders to fix this.

To that end, I am sending these words, spoken from the pulpit of St. Columb’s Episcopal Church on June 17, 2018, to our Congressional Delegation, our President, and our Attorney General. Those who wish to join me, are invited to contact the church office this week and ask that your names be added to this document. Those who disagree with these words are encouraged to speak up as you are led by the Spirit.

May God bless you all,

The Rev. Luther S. Ott

11 thoughts on “Immigrants and the Bible”

  1. This particular time in the life our our nation is a strong shame upon the foundation of our purpose as a country of immigrants.

  2. I join you by adding my name to this letter for a just and merciful immigration system that makes reasonable provisions for our safety but one that does not separate parents from their children.

  3. I am grateful to both Luther and Bishop Seage for their faithfulness to our Lord and their courage to lead our denomination in this shameful time in our nations history. When we take to our knees in corporate worship we confess to what “we have done and what we have left undone”. Thank you for providing a path for us to not leave this issue “undone”. Please add my name to the list.

  4. We want our names added to the letter and will continue to pray for the welfare of the children.

  5. Thank you for this. I’m glad that Christians recognize that there are no simplistic solutions. From my conversations with people across the political spectrum, everybody seems to agree that there has to be a better way to care for these children. I would also hope that the Church consider the wisdom and morality of the drug policies that have helped create the intolerable situations from which many of these people are fleeing. Thanks for your consideration.

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