A dream of holy community

The Episcopal News Services reports a three day visit to the the U.S.-Mexico border between Arizona and Sonora by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She was part of an event organized by the Diocese of Arizona designed to give “positive attention to the borderlands, upholding unity between the two countries, remembering the victims of the immigration crisis in the United States and Mexico, and raising consciousness and action toward immigration reform and economic development. Jefferts Schori offered the following words before a border crossing in Naco on April 14.”

Here is the text of her talk:

God is not much interested in borders except as our flimsy excuses – to be crossed, bridged, and transcended. What is the greatest word in our story? The central word, according to Jesus, is “love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is what gets past the fence. Love is what gets us past the fence.

The overwhelming witness of the scripture is about loving God and neighbor, particularly the neighbors who have no family member or tribal structure to look after them. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the god of aliens and migrants. We hear over and over that “the Lord your God is the one who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing.” (5) When the Israelites take up their harvest, they are charged to leave some “for the alien, the orphan and widow, so that the Lord shall bless your undertakings…. Remember that you were a slave [and an alien] in Egypt.” (6) It gets even more explicit, “‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ Let all the people say, ‘Amen!’” (7)

About American highly protectionist immigration policy:

United States immigration policy is clearly dysfunctional. We need labor, and Latin Americans, Asians, and many others want work. We need skills and capacities that are not present in adequate quantities here. Yet we have had a highly protectionist attitude toward immigration, even temporary worker immigration, for a very long time. Our policies have been colored by racial and ethnic prejudice, beginning with the Chinese exclusion act in 1882. (11) Today, Brazilians can get visas to visit here, but many stay and end up working as nannies and childcare workers. (12) Filipinas can get visas to work as nurses or school teachers, (13) but not nearly as easily if they wish to start businesses. Even internal migrants’ lives, like Hawaiians,’ are made difficult by exclusionary ordinances – Las Vegas is considering one that will force food trucks to park a quarter mile away from any restaurant, this in a city where most food trucks serve food of non-Anglo ethnic origin. (14)

We need migration policies that can welcome willing workers, that will permit those who have been willing workers here to regularize their status and ultimately become citizens, that will permit families to live together, and that will serve the cause of justice, rather than continued exploitation.

She concludes:

We are not going to get out of this political morass around immigration reform until we lift our eyes and see the bigger picture. The ability to migrate is a fundamental human need, and a deep part of our spiritual identity as Christians and members of the Abrahamic tradition. Migration is a part of what brings health and wholeness to communities, which stagnate and sicken without new people and ideas. The God who loves us all will continue to send us out to cross the borders that have no place in the divine dream of a world of peace with justice. For migration is an essential way in which God works to reconcile the world, bringing us and others into relationship to become one humanity.

The descendants of Abraham are still living into the promise he received, that his offspring and his very name would bless the nations. Our immigration policy is not living up to that promise of blessing. While we have learned to speak of undocumented migrants rather than the oxymoronic “illegals,” there remains some deep irony in insisting that migrants have and carry (national) identification that participates in that lack of blessing. How can the action of Christians and other people who claim a heritage of justice help all people to be a blessing to the world? How will we challenge our legislators to reject fear and prejudice in favor of policies that assure reasonably fair access to labor, reunite families, and refrain from punishing able students who were brought here as children?

We live with a dream of shalom, my friends. If we share that dream of a holy community like the one where the lion lies down with the lamb, where swords are beaten into plowshares, and no one uses violence or studies war anymore, then we must find a way forward. Together we can do this. Si, se puede. ¡Adelante! [Yes, we can – onward!]

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