“Thus, says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
Zechariah 7:9-10 NRSV
I want to invite us all to do something very difficult. I want us to think about the current immigration issues from a spiritual and theological perspective rather than from a political perspective. The media and our governmental leaders exert great influence in shaping our thinking and feelings about immigrants, both documented and undocumented. The focus is often on concerns about strangers and fears about criminals and threats to security. Sometimes these are valid concerns, but more often than not, they are exceptions rather than what is normal.
But set aside the political debate and the media hype. Let us reflect on our Christian faith as people of God. Here we find a completely different approach to immigration. First, we must acknowledge the most famous and important immigrant of all, Jesus the Christ. Closely following, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Miriam, Deborah – many prominent figures from our Hebrew ancestors fit our definitions of immigrant, in many cases undocumented.
Second, we have Jesus’ teachings. Who is our neighbor? Who are we responsible for? Where does our responsibility end? For widows, orphans, the alien, the stranger, the poor – we are instructed (through the words of the prophet Micah in 6:8) “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah is speaking very clearly to an immigrant people.
Third, Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus in many places, none more powerful than his message to the church in Ephesus, that through Christ Jesus God is making one new humanity – destroying all the dividing walls and uniting all people. (Ephesians 2:15-16) Jesus and Paul preach diligently that the divisions of “us” and “them” are erased by faith, and that for Christians we are called to care for the least of these among us: “Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)
Fourth, our United Methodist tradition, and the shared values of our antecedent denominations, clearly favor care for the stranger, the alien, the dispossessed, and the immigrant. The commitment to social justice, global missions, and relational evangelism make welcoming the stranger a cornerstone of our covenant community. John Wesley sought to help Methodist leaders envision our world at the kingdom/kin-dom of God. The realm of God and the risen Christ welcomes all who believe, regardless of class, race, culture, ethnicity, economic caste, education, or theological nuance. In Christ, we are made one. Through faith we are the incarnation of Christ, and we exist to offer Christ to everyone we meet.
Last, I would encourage all of us not to demonize immigrants. The vast majority are not villains or enemies. And even should we choose to view them as enemies, Jesus has very clear instructions for us: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) So, I encourage all of us to be perfected in God’s holy love, by praying for our immigrant brothers and sisters and children as we do for our family at home.
This wonderful country of the United States is a nation of immigrants. Our diversity is our strength. Should we hold people accountable? Yes. Should we encourage all to be lawful observers of our customs and codes. Yes. But, should we be making it possible for all to receive adequate food, lodging, safety, opportunity, shelter, and protection? According to the prophets of old – from Zechariah and Micah and Jeremiah to Jesus and Paul – there is no room for debate. God is working through us by the Holy Spirit to make “one new humanity.” So, let us all remember, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).