The streets have never been more unsafe. Gangs of miscreants and undesirables roam our neighbourhoods, burning and pillaging. Thieves and looters line up to invade our homes and make off with our worldly possessions. Add to that the ever-present threat of a toxic spill unleashing an army of the undead on the unsuspecting public, impervious to pain and hungry for human flesh. What can save us from this mortal peril? Why, razor-wire fences for our yards, heavily-armoured outer doors for our homes and gas-powered semi-automatic shotguns under our beds.
O.K., I made all that stuff up. But what a sales pitch! Companies have run this racket for generations, sowing fear with one hand, then offering the solution to that fear with the other.
Presidents from both ends of the political spectrum have also long recognised the power of this time-honoured marketing strategy. President Trump and his team are merely its latest practitioners. Part of their campaign spiel followed essentially this line:
Undocumented immigrants are coming to take your jobs. Before you know it, they’ll be driving your SUVs, shuttling your kids to their baseball games, wining and dining your wives and turning your kitchens into meth labs. Asylum seekers who don’t share our values also want in; they’ll lie in wait, watching for any opportunity to strike a blow to our democracy. But fear not, I’ll deport these reprobates and block others from entering. I’ll create for you a safe and secure place of refuge for honest, hard-working, freedom-loving Americans.
Sure, it’s ridiculous, a classic (excuse the pun) trumped-up flimflam – but incredibly effective (Hitler rose to prominence on rhetoric no less sensational). It requires not one shred of evidence, merely its capacity to manipulate people’s fears and uncertainties.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
The actual facts (note: not ‘alternative facts’) paint a picture nowhere near as dire as that painted by the Trump team. Publications like Forbes, The Atlantic, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have consistently asserted that no, immigrants don’t eat up American jobs; even Americans with lower levels of education typically seek jobs in different sectors than the majority of immigrants. In fact, immigration has been shown to yield significant economic benefits through the injection of cultural diversity and innovation.
For their part, refugees aren’t devious double agents hatching plots against the country. Contrary to the president’s campaign statements, the United States already has an excellent vetting procedure. The thousands of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. were all thoroughly screened overseas before entering. And of those thousands, how many of them have been involved in a terror incident or a mass shooting, either before or after arriving in the country? (Hint: it’s less than 1.)
Our fears have no basis in reality. But do you know who does have legitimate reasons for fear? Immigrants and refugees. They’ve seen truly abject poverty. They’ve experienced rampant violent crime. They’ve lived through a war of attrition. They’ve lost families, livelihoods and homes to that war. They’ve looked into the face of terror and run from it to save their lives. These are people who need a place of refuge.
Is This Who We Want to Be?
Keep out. You’re dangerous (anyone who wears headgear other than a baseball cap or a cowboy hat is dangerous). We’re not interested in sharing our toys or our food or our shelter or our ample resources with you. We’re looking out for number one. Sorry (not really) about your suffering, but we have our own problems. I mean, have you seen the price of gas these days?
This may not be the message all of us want to send to the world – but it’s the message we’ve sent. We’ve sent it with our votes. And President Trump is merely confirming that fact through the executive orders he has recently signed and intends to sign.
Sisters and brothers, is this who we want to be?
Friends to Strangers
Immigrant and refugee stories form a major strand of scripture. In the Old Testament, the Israelites fled from Egypt and wandered the Arabian desert as a moving refugee camp. Perhaps the experience is one major reason why that culture saw hospitality as vital.* The prophets harshly criticised the people of later generations for their mistreatment of immigrants within the land.
The earliest Christians continued in this tradition. Consider these New Testament passages:
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Hebrews 13:1-2, NIV
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Romans 12:13, NIV
In both verses, ‘hospitality’ translates the Greek word ‘philoxenia’ (φιλοξενία). This is a compound word, created from ‘philos’ (φίλος), meaning ‘a dearly-loved, intimate friend’ and ‘xenos’ (ξένος), meaning ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’. We can’t mistake the intention of these instructions. Part of our calling is to offer welcome and friendship, not just to people we know, people in our circle, but to outsiders, to strangers, to immigrants, to refugees.
Let’s once again open our gates, our communities and our homes as places of refuge to people in greatest need, regardless of ethnic or religious background. Let’s advocate for them to our friends, our neighbours and our leaders. Let’s choose to offer hope instead of succumbing to fear.
* I once spoke with a Rabbi from a Reform Jewish synagogue in Pennsylvania. He illustrated the importance of hospitality in Jewish culture. Jewish readers, he informed me, interpret many stories from the Hebrew scriptures differently than Christians. The most gripping was the interpretation of the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ story from Genesis. The sin of the people of Sodom, the sin for which they were destroyed? A lack of hospitality (Ezekiel 16:49).
For other scriptures about caring for immigrants and refugees, see here.
- Featured Image: Anti-refugee demonstration in Montana (from BusinessInsider.com)
- President Trump signs executive order on immigration (Associated Press, from ABCNews.com)
- Syrian refugees (from the Sacramento Bee – sacbee.com)