I’ve been pretty angry about anti-refugee rhetoric. Every time I look at facebook I see it. My governor, and the governor of the former state I lived in have said that ‘they’ are not welcome in the state. I’m shocked at how many people agree with this. I have even seen suggestions that we need to consider even 3rd generation Arab-Americans a threat.
While my heart goes out to people made homeless by civil war throughout the world, and those who live in refugee camps — I am not ready to endorse or oppose our policy on refugees. My feelings are not political, but religious and personal. Because my position as pastor, I refrain from making political comments, or comments on policy.
The religious feelings are simply because of a theme in scripture: Torah law has several passages that are like Leviticus 19:34: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Jesus also tells people in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will be judged for various behaviors including whether or not we welcome the foreigner. I literally look at facebook, and am shocked by how many professing Christians feel it is better to be among the goats.
Another thing that makes me angry is I know history. I know the state government of Indiana, where I currently live, was controlled by the KKK in the 1920’s. I know at the same time governor Henry Allen of Kansas campaigned to make the Klan illegal saying that the Klan “introduced into Kansas the curse that comes to civilized people, the curse that rises out of unrestricted passions of men governed by religious intolerance and racial hatred.”
In the early 20th century, the second KKK focused on “Americanism.” They were not only anti-black, but anti Catholic, and anti-immigration. They felt that these people coming in from Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Italy would destroy the American way of life. The idea that “they have no intention of integrating”, and “their grandchildren will still be a threat” is the very ideas of the KKK.
The KKK failed to stop immigration. Those who want to keep the Arabs out are already nearly 150 years late; Syrians started entering the United States in large numbers in the late 19th century. What is feared happened long before I was born, Arabs are entrenched in our society and going nowhere. They own businesses, they go to work, they are our neighbors. Many of them never even think about being Arab any more than I think about being a barbarian, descendant of Germanic tribes and Celts.
This is where it gets personal: I love Arabs. I do not mean I love Arab culture, or Arab food — I mean, when people talk about preventing Arabs from entering, and driving out Arabs who are already settled in Kansas, they are talking about friends of mine.
When I was studying Theology at Friends University; the Christian community that was most supportive of me was not my own community, but Arab Christians. Our favorite bookstore owner attended the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral; He was at every theological lecture by a guest speaker that Friends University hosted. His store was also a place of study, and discussion groups on history and theology that he organized.
Father Stephen, the priest at St. Mary’s spend hours encouraging me as a student of Theology, and helping me understand Christian history and the shades of meaning in arguments which are centuries behind me, and don’t always sound relevant in my culture. He also would give me food to take home, noting that students are poor; I know that other students had a similar experience; a couple students chose to go to an Orthodox seminary when they chose to go on with their education — and I have every reason to believe they were ordained Orthodox priests.
Even if I did not have personal connections to the existing Arab community in Wichita, I would still love Arab people. I’ve learned that some of the people of significant Arab ancestry are some of the American neighbors I have who attend the local ‘community church’, and who have no more connection to Arab Culture and the Arab community than I have to the “Celtic community”, the Saxon community, or the Nordic community…. or a number of other ‘communities’ For context, this is zero connection, except when asking where my ancestors came from when they entered the United States. When I learned that I had Arab friends who were just Americans like me, I saw proof the KKK was wrong: They do integrate.
This brings me to the point that makes me angry: whenever there is such rhetoric, somebody takes it on himself to act out violently. Governors imply they are shutting down the borders of states, and ‘keeping out’ people who already have the right to live and work in the United States, which is bluntly, as unconstitutional and hateful as sunset towns; and by being part of the rhetoric they increase the danger. The danger we imagine from immigrants is far less than they danger they face from anti-immigrant violence. This rhetoric puts my friends in danger, including friends who have no less claim to being American than I do. I am angry that my friend’s safety would be sacrificed for political gain.
For those who wish to donate and help refugees, including those who are still in refugee camps, Orthodox International Christian Charities is taking donations, and is active in this work. I donated a little: but, it is so little that my heart asked “what is this among so many?”