Tension at the Threshold: Hospitality and Immigration (Part 2)

Tension at the Threshold: Hospitality and Immigration (Part 2)

Find part 1 and part 3 of this series.

“People are attempting to enter the country to do us harm.”

“Removing borders is not loving toward my family whom I’m called to protect.”

“Our church resources are limited. We can barely care for our own families; we can’t care for refugee families.”

Fair concerns remain about risk and logistics when it comes to relearning the virtue of Christian hospitality toward immigrants and refugees. And grace should be afforded here because some days it is difficult to see Jesus in the people who live under our roof, let alone in the huddle of large, Sudanese men being escorted through the immigration terminal at Dulles International Airport. A call to prayer for godly vision is prerequisite to any ecclesial headway with Christian hospitality, for only in God’s light do we see light. [1]

The miracle of spiritual vision aside, congregational inroads on hospitality and immigration may be found in the tension. Rather than force the church to a place where American citizenship is expunged for kingdom passports—a feat the minister must admit has only been realized by monastics, old and new, and a few other off-the-grid folk—allow the church space to struggle with dual citizenship. After all, the word hospitality is duplicitous within itself.

Philoxenia, the Greek word often translated hospitality, is the convergence of love and stranger. The Scriptures do an expansive job teaching the definition of both love and stranger, but put together, they present a challenge not resolved by simply preaching, “See Jesus in the immigrant.” (Though don’t quit praying for godly vision!)

That said, Paul’s timeless description of love provides space for the church to homogenize love and stranger within the tension of a dual citizenship framework, which is where most of the church remains. Paul teaches, “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” nor does love demand its own way (1 Cor. 13). Thankfully, God’s love for us is not predetermined by our sinlessness. God loved us as we were strangers to divine love. This means, in regard to immigration, whether or not one enters the country the right or wrong way, to include the way we think he should, has no bearing on the church’s obligation to extend hospitable love. In fact, one can continue to believe that the strangers among us are here illegally, even work to create systems that discourage immigration for myriad political reasons, all the while loving immigrants in our midst by providing basic needs and safety.

The biblical witness, from God’s welcome at Eden to the first Christian community in Acts 2 sharing all things, shouts that love without hospitality is highly suspect. But to dismiss its element of complication and risk for those navigating two kingdoms is to cheapen its virtue.

Cities of refuge in Num. 35 are typically not considered in the church’s immigration conversation, but the remarkable thing about these cities is that they were for those who were accused of wrongdoing. Refugees were accused of taking a life, though allegedly without murderous intent. A sudden push. A fallen stone. A discrepancy in witness testimony. Tragedy, with obscure complicity, put people on the run. Families of the slain sought to kill the killers, but God commanded that those on the run be protected in Levitical cities of refuge. They were to stay in these cities, established and maintained by the priests of God, and receive full hospitality therein until the high priest died and the offense was forgiven.

No one knows how many in cities of refuge were truly innocent or guilty. The Israelite legal system sorted that out in due time when possible. The obligation for the people of God was to welcome the stranger, no matter how suspect their story was about the runaway stone that tumbled over the ox-cart (with no witnesses, of course). Nor do we know the logistics of how the refugees were in-processed and settled within the cities of refuge. It was likely uncomfortable and bore tension on the residents. Maybe the neighboring city's walls were built slightly higher. Even so, the immigrants who sought haven there were given protective boundaries, fed, and guaranteed life.

As priests, in a kingdom with a high priest who died and forgave all of the guilty immigrants in the land, we too have an obligation to extend such refuge to others. They too may be guilty. The laws and logistics of competing nations may complicate the process and blur the boundaries. Grace is afforded the church as she extends her embrace to shadows. God knows it is scary, unchartered territory for the church of this century. She's out of practice.

But our ancestors, who knew well the kingdom ethic of hospitality, gave us a model in cities of refuge: for priests to host a refuge where those in harm's way have protection, nourishment, and life, even if the jury is still out on the extent of their crime. What is known, though too often forgotten or not properly absorbed, is that “the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as foreigners in the land.” [2] We, church, are the foreigners, and our fear is misplaced if not in reverence toward the creator of us all.

[1] "You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light" (Ps. 36:5-9).

[2] 1 Pet. 1:17 NLT

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