On confusing Jesus with the Statue of Liberty

 “People are confusing the Statue of Liberty and Jesus…But in fact while the real historical Jesus did urge compassion for those in need, but he also said, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ In other words, support government with your taxes because they have a legitimate function like protecting citizens. Those of us who believe in the sanctity of life believe that sanctity serves to not only to protect the unborn but to protect the born from terrorist attacks. That’s a Christian value as well.” – A certain pastor of a big church on Fox news

Once they wouldn’t let my Dad on a plane. He had to stay behind in Germany a few extra days to go to the US embassy because he didn’t have enough pages in his passport. It was inconvenient, and frustrating, but we knew it would all work out in the end.

Once I was reduced to tears by a grumpy immigration official who made a comment about privileged white people when I was leaving South Africa. I sat on the plane and cried, but I knew that America would let me in on the other side, and that South Africa would most likely always welcome me back (in some form or other!).

Travel can be traumatic under normal conditions. It can be traumatic even when you hold one of the most powerful passports in the world. 

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Syrian Refugees (www.globalresearch.ca)

Now imagine fleeing Aleppo with your family to escape the bombs, paying everything you have to get on an overcrowded boat that will take you across the Mediterranean  (if you’re lucky and it doesn’t sink), arriving on the other side and getting placed in a refugee camp. Imagine trying to maintain some sense of family normalcy in these crowded and chaotic conditions, while trekking to a small internet cafe with hundreds and hundreds of other people every day, trying to get connected via Skype to the immigration desks of another country to start the process for being granted refugee status. It’s really like winning the lottery if you even connect, let alone get accepted to the first stage of the process.

Imagine applying to come to the US as a refugee, and going through the 2-3 year intense vetting process. (Applying to come to the US as a refugee is currently the MOST DIFFICULT WAY to get into our country. If you want to understand all the steps and security checks involved, check out the IRC’s description of their process).  Imagine stepping on the plane, arriving at the airport, and being told “Turn around and go back home. You’re no longer welcome here.”

***

I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island a few weeks ago. I had just come from a march where people were chanting “Say it Loud and say it clear: Immigrants are welcome here.” I read stories of how American people welcomed new immigrants, helped translate for them, threw Christmas parties for families waiting for clearance on Ellis Island. Most of these people were motivated by their Christian faith.

I watched a video of a man from north Africa seeking political asylum in the 2000’s who was frustrated at having to wait 5 months in a detention centre until his status could be cleared. But at his hearing, he said the judge asked him, “What will you do if we let you into America?” and he replied, “Keep fighting for freedom and justice just like I did at home.” And the judge said, “Well then, Welcome to America, sir!”

I understand that there are governmental reasons for not wanting more refugees. And maybe if we were throwing open our boarders and allowing just anyone in, this freeze on Syrian refugees and people from Muslim countries would make sense (except we’re not and never have been- remember the 2-3 year vetting process?).

And I understand a government’s first priority is to protect its own people.

What I don’t understand is how Christian leaders are able to make arguments about the sanctity of life and somehow use that to promote anti-refugee policies.  God primarily introduces himself in the Bible as, “The Lord, father of the fatherless, defender of the orphan and the widow, who shows love to the foreigners among you, giving them food and clothing.”  

This isn’t a side issue. This relates to our theology, our understanding of who God is. If we primarily see God as out there to protect our own interests (rather than how he has consistently revealed himself in the Bible), I’m not sure what God we’re following. Sure, an understanding of the image of God in everyone and the right to protect life can apply to protecting people from terrorism. But it also applies to protecting refugees. And the Christian ethic consistently puts caring for others ahead of caring for ourselves, so when these two things appear* to be in conflict, we side with the refugees.

Perhaps someone who confuses Jesus with the statue of liberty has a better understanding of who God is and what he is like than preachers from the Bible belt. 

***

As a Christian, this has been a depressing week for me. I expect our government to pass policy in its own self-interest. I don’t expect Christians to support it. I’m mourning for how this will affect families from the banned nations, but I’m also mourning how public statements in support of this ban are destroying the public witness of the church. So I asked, in my prayers this week, to see where God’s spirit was at work in the midst of this chaos, and I saw him.

I saw him this week in the Girl Scouts who went to DFW airport to give cookies to protestors protesting detained green card holders and the recent Executive Order.

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Dallas Morning News

I saw him in the Christian leaders who spoke out against this ban, and in particular the provisions that are starting to be made to give preference to Christian refugees.

I saw him in army of lawyers who gathered in the San Fransisco airport to provide voluntary legal assistance to families who were awaiting detained family members.

I saw him in the brass band that marched around the check-in counters with several thousand protestors in San Fransisco chanting, “Say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

I saw him in the Dallas Mayor, speaking out about the ban, and welcoming detainees with roses and heartfelt apologies as they were released.

I saw him in the many emails sent out by World Relief this week (the relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals) urging people to call their representatives about this issue, and providing support for those affected by the ban.

I saw him in this poem, and I mourned that he was on the other side of the door:

 
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_ “NO ROOM”, A POEM BY JOHN BLASE at The Beautiful Due  (where there are more great poems!)
 

Things to do to take action: 

Sign up for World Relief’s mailing List and call your Representatives (every day).

Check out the IRC and donate

Show up to town hall meetings and voice your support for refugees

*Note: I say “appear” because factually speaking these two things are NOT in conflict. 

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4 thoughts on “On confusing Jesus with the Statue of Liberty

  1. You and I share a concern. More than anything else, I’m so afraid that this election has trashed our Christian witness in so many ways. May we be brave enough to stand for what’s right and not what’s easy.

  2. “This isn’t a side issue. This relates to our theology, our understanding of who God is.” Amen to that.

    It took me a good 24 hours and a lot of frustration for this message to finally sink into my ears… “Let the excellence of your work be your protest.” The application for me is on many levels. Maybe it will be some encouragement to you too.

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