In the midst of massive prejudice against them in the wake of the Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks over the weekend, I feel it's important for me to, as a descendant of wartime refugees, to publicly restate the moral imperative--from both a Christian and an American perspectiv--for accepting those with less freedom than ourselves. My hope is that in so doing, we will reach for a divine grace far greater than ourselves. ~E.A.)
Do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 (CEB)
The images of the Syrian refugees being reported in the media are absolutely heart-wrenching.
In response to this humanitarian crisis du jour--which I say not to be flippant, but to in fact highlight that there is indeed a humanitarian crisis seemingly every day now because of how good we are at hating and how terrible we are at loving--the Obama White House has directed the federal government to accept 10,000 refugees by granting them asylum status. Pope Francis has directed every country in Europe to house refugees, and during his recent trip to America repeated those concerns for the immigrant and the marginalized. And on Sunday night, John Oliver did an excellent segment on the refugee and immigrant crisis facing Europe as hundreds of thousands of people flee the Syrian civil war between two different devils--the government under Bashar al-Assad, and the rebel groups, one of which is the Islamic State (ISIS).
Meanwhile, it seems as though those vying for the chance to be the next leader of the free world care more about only talking about immigration in terms of what walls they can erect, and how high and impregnable they will be (and, if you're Donald Trump, how you'll somehow snooker Mexico into paying for the wall with I don't know, unicorn sprinkles or somesuch).
All of which raises a question: what on earth are we to do when others actually agree with us when we say (almost reflexively, as though on cue) that we live in the greatest country in the world? What happens when they agree with us and say, "Yes, we want to join you?"
If we brag about how good and great our country is, we cannot then hold coming here (or wanting to come here) against people who are from somewhere less free.
That is the great dictum of America--and while I generally try to keep my patriotism separate from my Christian faith, I must confess it is especially difficult to do so this once. I love America in no small part because my own family came here as refugees from a slaughter--the Armenian Genocide--and it is Scripture who tells us to care for the poor and the immigrant who are often one and same person.
My family came from halfway across the world as refugees of dubious legal status to settle in the United States to avoid their own deaths--and it was not without sacrifice of both blood and treasure. One of the brothers of my great-grandfather Krikor perished in the Armenian Genocide. The family's assets from their merchant holdings were wiped out. And the world still lies to their descendants about what actually happened then, one hundred years ago.
In order to decide to leave their ancestral homeland in the face of such obstacles, though...you *know* they had to do it. They needed to leave, they had no alternative or option but to. It was migration...or death.
And so, too, then, do our Syrian brothers and sisters flock to Europe and, to a lesser degree, America. Because for them, too, it is a matter of migration or death.
This--this is why the Bible is so lucidly clear about how we are meant to treat immigrants: the Hebrews were immigrants in the land of Egypt.
And liberating the Hebrews was a matter not just of enslavement versus liberation, but after the Pharaoh ordered the deaths of the Hebrew boys, a matter of life and death as well.
So, in turn, Moses led them all out of Egypt, not just 10,000. And when they had at long last made their own set of laws from what God had handed down to Moses, God saw fit to include multiple reminders--not just in Leviticus, but in the parts of the Law found in Exodus as well--that they too were once foreigners, and as such must treat foreigners as their own, for in the end, they are God's own, and thus, if we claim to be of God ourselves, they are our own as well. Paul understood this well when he wrote that in Christ, there is neither Jew or Greek, but it is a lesson that seems to be long forgotten despite being inscribed for eternity in our sacred scriptures.
Pastorally, politically, personally, it pains me at great length that we seem to have forgotten not jut this lesson of the Bible but this lesson of our own history that people from places far less free than us will seek to come here, our natural inclination is, and will always, be, towards liberation.
But humanity will never be truly liberated until all of us are liberated.
For 10,000, in the face of so many needed so very much from us, is just too few.
September 29, 2015
Image--an artistic rendering of a refugee family--courtesy of Twitter