The children who have come to our border are a gift. In fact, according to my faith tradition, they are a holy gift, calling people of faith into the holy work of hospitality. In the Bible (from Mark’s Gospel) "Jesus took a child and placed the child in the midst of his disciples. ‘Whoever receives one of these children, receives me.’" I believe that Jesus is pointing us to the thousands of children, placed in the midst of us, calling us to stand for welcome.
Scriptures of all major religions prescribe and encourage hospitality. Torah commands Jews to love the strangers and sojourners in their midst and to treat them like family, "for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt." The most common Biblical word for "salvation" literally means, "to make a place" for someone. The Qur’an teaches that genuine hospitality includes not only feeding guests and strangers, but also showing them love, respect and peace. Temple Square fairly oozes hospitality and the Relief Society has a long history of helping those in need. Pope Francis is urging the U.S. and other governments to protect the migrant children and to rectify the appalling conditions at home that have set them on the road. And, to be sure, compassionate hospitality is not restricted to people of faith.
Linda Hartke, President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), calls us to stand for welcome. "People of faith in the United States opened their hearts and homes four decades ago to the tens of thousands of children who were alone and refugees as a result of the war in Vietnam. We rose to the occasion again years later when the lost boys and girls of Sudan inspired us with their courage. These young people, now adult U.S. citizens, became teachers, doctors and business owners, our neighbors and coworkers. They have made the United States stronger."
The children are a gift. Their presence tests the moral character of these United States. Our country can grow stronger if we address this humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to confront our broken immigration system. Immigration, refugee, and asylum policies express who we are as a nation. These refugee children have made perilous and courageous journeys, leaving their home countries to seek protection from drug and sex trafficking, hunger, poverty and gangs.
The United States often urges and expects countries throughout the world to host thousands of refugees on their own lands. Now, when our nation is faced with a refugee crisis at our border, how will we respond?
Today, as a faith leader with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, we stand by American and faith-based values of welcome, freedom, safety and due process when it comes to the tens of thousands of children seeking refuge as they flee violence in Central America. We deeply oppose incarcerating children and families who have arrived at our borders seeking refuge. We oppose any changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 because children fleeing violence and seeking refuge deserve compassionate treatment and meaningful access to protection and legal relief.
As citizens in this great nation, we may not always agree on immigration and refugee policies. However, as Maria Elena Salinas, following the trail of migrant children, writes, "…here’s why the rules should be different: They are children."
As people of faith, we may not always agree on justice or the way for God’s peace, but we should never fall silent in working to bring about justice and peace. Especially when, I believe, the children are a gift whom God has placed in our midst.
Rev. Steve Klemz is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
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