This is one in a series of posts exploring the wisdom Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition offer as we strive to faithfully respond to immigration issues. This post was written by Shawna Foster, student minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas. It first appeared in the congregation’s newsletter- Ed.
I recently started to volunteer at VIDA Ministries on Monday nights. VIDA is a outreach ministry sponsored by 12 Presbyterian congregations in the Topeka, Kansas that provides free volunteer-led programs and activities for Spanish-speaking immigrants, including an ESL class along with homework tutoring and nursery for participants’ children. I built their new website and included a biblical quote at the bottom. It’s Leviticus 19:33, and clearly puts forth a call to care for the immigrants in our midst.
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
The director of VIDA was totally surprised to learn that this instruction is in the Bible. I was surprised that he was surprised – wasn’t the call to care for the stranger who sojourns in your land the whole reason VIDA was a ministry of these churches?
A Methodist minister in Nebraska preached on the Bible’s support for care of immigrants. After the service, three or four congregants apologized to her. They had thought she was lying. In the pews, during her sermon, they pulled out the good book and were astonished to find that the Biblical passages she quoted were actually there.
The two worlds of the religious right and the conservative right have yet to publicly collide on the issue of immigration. The conservative right has taken the spotlight on the issue and made it only a political one. Many Christians would be stunned to learn there are over 50 references supporting “illegal” immigration in the Bible.
Perhaps it is because Unitarian Universalists use reason and faith to examine holy texts that we see plainly the humanity and miracle that is the story of Jesus’ birth. Under this lens, the miracle of his birth and life is that he survived against the odds as a persecuted immigrant. Christmas could be seen as a celebration of the immigrant child who made it against all odds. Tragically, this understanding of the Christmas story is not part of our mainstream culture and political climate today. Instead, there are stories like those in Margaret Regan’s book, The Death of Josseline, (Beacon Press, 2010), stories of those immigrants who do not survive against the odds.
We work for a future in which neither Jesus nor Josseline are subjective to inhumane conditions causing them to fight or flee for their lives. That is what the Justice General Assembly in Phoenix of 2012 is all about: bearing witness to the complex issues of spirituality and immigration. Unitarian Universalists have been called, and Topeka and Lawrence have responded by creating a wonderful journey – a bus full of UU’s! We’ll leave June 18th and be back June 26th. Because I believe that you can’t fully understand what is happening in Arizona unless you go there and listen to the stories yourself, I’m hoping that you will join us- and in the process, become impassioned to work for justice for immigrants.
On Twitter? The Standing on the Side of Love website offers a list of “tweet-ready” Biblical quotes about immigrants, sojourners, and hospitality.
The Death of Josseline was the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2010-2011 Common Read. Read the book’s closing story, “The Birth of Jesús.”
Shawna Foster is a student at Meadville Lombard Theological School and is the student minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. She was among those arrested on July 29, 2010, in an act of civil disobedience protesting immigration laws in Arizona.