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Regarding Refugees

Although it's been barely a week since the inauguration, this administration's actions are causing many of us to become more actively engaged. 

I may strongly disagree with the new administration on a wide host of issues, but on most of of them, I try very hard to give others the benefit of the doubt, and I try to maintain a posture that "people of good faith can agree to disagree." 

However, the Judeo-Christian mandate (Exodus 23:9, Matthew 25) to welcome refugees is, for me -- pastorally, personally and professionally -- a central (not peripheral) matter; a place to take a very firm stance. 

Caring for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant/refugee/stranger in our midst is not only the American and patriotic thing to do, it is the Judeo-Christian thing to do -- and anyone who says otherwise does not just have a different point of view: they are wrong.

This is not a new stance for me: as I said in a sermon in September of 2105 (read that here if you want) the best posture of our country is to be open and generous toward refugees and immigrants. And as I said in a sermon in June of 2016, sometimes it is irresponsible for us to be silent. (Read that sermon here if you wish.) 

Please know that I will continue to write, teach, and yes, preach about our Gospel imperative to welcome the stranger. It is impossible to keep our Baptismal Covenant and also stand silently by in the face of thinly disguised xenophobia and the scapegoating of immigrants -- actions which will almost certainly result in the loss of innocent lives. 

So, what can we do? What can you do an individual Christian, and what are we to do as a church? 

The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer listed "three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state."*

The first is for the church to question the state regarding its actions and their legitimacy -- to help the state be the state as God has ordained. That means making your voice heard. Sometimes silence is wisdom; sometimes silence is cowardice. Spend time discerning, in prayer and conversation, the difference. 

The second way is "to aid the victims of state action." Bonhoeffer said that the church "has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community." That means getting involved in a ministry. Or considering that your involvement with a helping organization to be your ministry -- the work God has sent you out to do -- because the vast majority of Christian ministry happens not under the roof of the church, but by the auspices of the church in your daily life.

The third way the church can act toward the state, Bonhoeffer said, "is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself." He meant that a stick must be jammed into the spokes of the wheel to stop the vehicle. That means "it is sometimes not enough to help those crushed by the evil actions of a state; at some point the church must directly take action against the state to stop it from perpetrating evil."

Thank God, the refugee family we welcomed last Tuesday -- including a 12 and 10 year old child -- got here just under the wire: because they are from Iraq, under these proposed changes, this family would have been stuck in Baghdad for who knows how long. And who knows at what cost. 

Still, our ministry with them -- and with others who are our society's most vulnerable members -- is far from over. 

Obeying our Lord, and -- as Easter people who are confident that God's love always wins in the end -- we will continue to do everything in our power to help and protect them and others who seek our help and protection. 

And God's power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. 


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