It’s hard to talk about Christianity in American culture right now without getting tangled up in politics — something I prefer not to do from the Catch if I can help it. But on the currently contested issue of immigration, I can’t help it. Mainly because there is a biblical mandate, both New and Old Testament, to welcome and make room for the stranger and the foreigner. If we are going to be marketplace Christians, we need to exhibit God’s attitude toward strangers and foreigners regardless of what our government does, and God is always placing them first. We may disagree over what we want the country to do or how they do it, but there is no discussion when it comes to us individually.
This is true for us as believers wherever we are in the world. Over forty times in the Old Testament, the Jewish people are admonished to welcome the stranger and the foreigner. And both Jesus and Paul speak of the same thing to us as followers of Christ. Hospitality toward strangers is built into our spiritual DNA.
Perhaps we can learn something from our Jewish friends. A recent article I read from a reputable source pointed out that there is a strong movement among Jews in America to aid and assist their Muslim neighbors and provide hospitality toward Muslim refugees among others. Syrian refugees can take English courses through a free program at a New York synagogue. One Rabbi claims that the current attitude of shunning immigrants being exhibited in America is “a betrayal of what this country stands for, what we Jews stand for, and is a terrible recollection of our own history… There has been an incredible coming together of synagogues around the country to welcome Muslim refugees. Jews really understand what it is to be ‘the other’ and to arrive in a strange country.” And now this same hospitality is being extended to Afghan refugees.
What is it to be “the other?” Many of us don’t know. We might have immigrant ancestors (unless we are Native American), but many of us who were born here are far removed from that. Nevertheless we would do well to reflect on what it must have been like to flee to America or any other country, and try to imagine what it feels like to stand in the shoes of “the other.” This applies to all free countries that have the opportunity to welcome refugees. And it applies to all of us as we come across strangers and foreigners in our midst.
When researching the classic American folksong, “This Land Is Your Land,” I hit upon a surprising verse Woody Guthrie wrote for the original version, but it was never recorded, and because of that, it was dropped from all future versions. And yet the prophetic nature of these lyrics for today, written 80 years ago, is so undeniable, it’s a little scary.
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said “Private Property.”
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
(Because) This land was made for you and me.
I never thought of this as an immigrant’s song until now, but it truly is. It’s “my” land and it’s “your” land — it’s any land where all are welcome.
This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California to the New York Island;
From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
– Woodie Guthrie
Tune in to BlogTalkRadio.com/thecatch tonight at 6:00 p.m. Pacific for an exclusive interview with Andrew MacDonald, Associate Director of the Research Institute, Wheaton College Billy Graham Center who is completing an extensive research project on the Jesus Movement.