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Essay

Within and Outside Our Gates

By October 13, 2015 2 Comments
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As she did so adroitly years ago through a young boy named Enrique, so once again Sonia Nazario has put faces and names with the otherwise generic and anonymous conversations about immigrants, refugees, and aliens (legal and illegal).  In a searing Op-Ed article in this past Sunday’s New York Times, (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/opinion/sunday/the-refugees-at-our-door.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), Nazario shows us what is happening inside Mexico–with authorization by and encouragement from the Obama Administration no less–to keep people from Central America from ever getting near the U.S. border.   And once again, Nazario introduces us to real people with names and stories to reveal the cruelty and coldness behind efforts to keep people whose lives (and whose children’s lives) are in genuine danger back in Honduras or Guatemala due to the ascendancy of ruthless drug cartels and gangs.

As with the boy and his family from her Pulitzer-prize winning articles (now the book Enrique’s Journey), so in this newest article Nazario convinces us why we cannot just turn these people away.   It also tacitly reveals the heartlessness of those who treat the entire class of refugees and migrants as criminals and threats.   If this blog here on The Twelve accomplishes nothing more than having a few more folks read that article by Nazario, it will have been worth the effort to post this.

In a recent blog here (https://blog.reformedjournal.com/2015/10/08/why-the-donald-isnt-reformed-and-why-his-stance-isnt-christian/),  Theresa Latini reflected on the clear biblical evidence for welcoming the stranger.  This is something I thought about a lot some years ago when I was part of a Christian Reformed Study Committee on the “Migration of Workers” and when I was tasked to write the section of the report summarizing the biblical-theological materials.    Biblically the theme of welcoming the alien within your gates is overwhelming in both Testaments.   You can read the report and find my Biblical-Theological section here:  http://crcna.org/sites/default/files/Migration.pdf .  In the report I tried to grant all the necessary caveats: no nation today is identical to the theocracy of ancient Israel, political realities are different today than 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, nations have a right to monitor and maintain their own borders, etc.

But even granted all that needs to be granted, from a biblically informed and Christian point of view, there can be no missing the default setting of compassion, of empathy.   Again and again the Israelites were told they had to be kind to strangers because they were to REMEMBER what happened to them when the Egyptians were profoundly unkind to them.   Even in the New Testament disciples of Christ follow the example of Jesus who–as John’s opening prologue makes clear and as the kenotic hymn in Philippians 2 affirms–became the ultimate alien and stranger in our midst in order to save us.

Given all that as well as the truly heartbreaking stories that someone like Sonia Nazario reveals, it’s hard to see why Christians are often at the forefront of hateful broadsides and cruel generalizations where contemporary strangers and aliens are concerned.   Yes, we can legitimately debate as Christians what policies and the like are most apt or most likely to help instead of hinder.   But those discussions should take place on a platform built by compassion and empathy and with the default setting of seeking to welcome those who are within and outside our gates.

So often in Leviticus and elsewhere in the Old Testament when God commanded Israel to be welcoming of others, God concluded the command with the oft-repeated yet devastatingly powerful line “I Am the Lord!”   In other words, “You do this, O Israel, because this has something to do with the core character of your God Yahweh.”

That’s still true today with the Lord we now call Jesus.    And that, as they say, ought to be that.

 

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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