February 24, 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Yesterday, one of our pastors wrote urging that a pastoral letter be sent in support and in solidarity with those most directly affected by current attitudes and actions surrounding immigrants in the US. Please receive these words in the spirit in which they are written:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien; the alien who resides with you shall be to you like a citizen among you. You shall love the alien as yourself.[i]
As a nation of immigrants – persons who through the centuries and in recent years were motivated to leave their countries of origin for different reasons, and refugees - those who have been persecuted, escaped or were expelled from their homelands, as well as those of us whose ancestors were captured, trafficked and enslaved, we have come to this country called the United States by various means and ways. Despite our individual or family journeys, we all found ourselves here, to forge a new life alongside or atop of displaced Native persons to live among people, perceived strangers, whose bloodlines, cultural practices and life experiences are very different from one another.
In the famous passage found in Matthew 25 labeled in some Bibles as “The Judgement of the Nations,” followers of Jesus are confronted by criteria used to judge the faithful and the unfaithful. Verse 38 in chapter 25 of the gospel passage records some questions. The people asked, “When did we see you as a stranger… and welcomed you?” Our common understanding of Jesus’ response is that when we have welcomed a stranger, we welcome Jesus. When we welcome someone, we invite them to join our lives. Then the former stranger is no longer unknown to us. Now that we know this, when Jesus appears as a stranger, that former stranger is a part of the community. Conversely, Jesus continues the teaching saying that when a stranger has not been welcomed, then we have not welcomed Christ. The Gospel story warns that the consequences of shunning the stranger along with the hungry, naked and imprisoned yields condemnation on ourselves.
Yes, there are nefarious souls that lurk to do harm, who have strange or dangerous behaviors, but those are not the ones Jesus is referencing, and they are not the ones being referred to here. Who are the ones that are now considered strangers, and thereby unwelcome in our country at this time? We know because strong messages have been communicated from “powerful” places that reveal the attitudes and fears of some within our co-citizenry. From the recent executive orders of the US President, and through the muscle and menace of some governmental agencies, such as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), many innocent persons who have migrated to this country with and without legal documentation are justifiably concerned. The usual places of sanctuary or refuge, such as restaurants, markets, street corners, churches and homes for persons of similar descent, are now susceptible to raid, for apprehensions, arrests and potential expulsions.
Cure your children’s warring madness; bend our pride to your control; shame our wanton selfish gladness; rich in things and poor in soul.[ii]
Our 45th President has labeled the recent deportation efforts as a “military operation.” This sends a message that the US is in effect at war, on its own soil, against known and unknown persons who have come here from other countries who now, fear being harassed or deported. As followers of Christ, how are we called to respond?
Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore…Grant us wisdom, grant us courage serving you whom we adore, serving you whom we adore.[iii]
We’ve heard the NYC mayor proclaim that our city, with its boroughs and neighborhoods, will continue to be a Sanctuary City for immigrants. In order for this assertion to have moral authority and greater authenticity beyond being a municipal proclamation to resist the overreach of federal authorities, people of faith have to step up in visible, audible and active ways. Now, we don’t have time to waste. So let’s do this. Keep your eyes and ears open on behalf of the most vulnerable in our community and country – to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
Our region itself, the American Baptist Churches of Metro New York, is comprised of persons and communities that reflect the rich diversity of humanity. Churches in our region were established by and for persons who traversed from other parts of the world to this place to find a new home. Our churches became spiritual homes for individuals and families from various parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa as well as Europe. Our homes and our churches have provided sanctuary in many senses of the word, and we need to continue to do so.
To strengthen our resolve to be in support and solidarity with immigrants, I would like to refer to you other statements other sister organizations have made. Please see the following for encouragement, strength and resources:
- Letter from Religious Leaders on Immigration
- CWS Global opposes President-Trump's Position on Refugee Resettlement
- ABHMS stands with Baptist Joint Committee denouncing Immigration Executive Order
- ABHMS Immigration & Refugee Ministries
- NYC Immigrant information
- ACLU legal assistance for immigrants
- New Sanctuary Coalition Website
- Facebook page of New Sanctuary Coalition
This year, one of the offerings at the ABCMNY Spring Rally, is a workshop to help equip those who might walk in solidarity with immigrants, particularly those who are being targeted. This will be the first of a series of trainings that will be offered this summer.
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for You.[iv]
Brothers and sisters, let us find many ways to keep the faith and be in solidarity with each other, particularly the most vulnerable, and those asking us for support in this very capricious time in our nation. We ask you to consider doing at least the following:
- Deplore vigilante and hate filled rhetoric pronounced in public and private spaces.
- Join in coalition with others of good will to offer protections to those being targeted.
- Call for reasonable and constructive action by governmental agencies.
- Pray for the greater good and the soul of our diverse country.
- Recognize and embrace the stranger as Christ in our midst.
Please share this pastoral letter with your members, networks and friends.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley
[i] Leviticus 19:33-34
[ii] God of Grace and God of Glory; Henry Emerson Fosdick, verse 3
[iii] God of Grace and God of Glory, Henry Emerson Fosdick, verse 4