When Even Strong Words Fall Short: A Moment for Commensurate Heroism
David R. Weiss, January 19, 2018
Perhaps no value holds a more central place in Christian life than compassionate hospitality. It lies at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, is unmistakably a force that leads to his crucifixion, and ever afterward has been among the signposts of both sainthood and mere Christian discipleship.
Under President Trump—and an emboldened GOP that aims to deftly leverage his overtly racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamaphobic, and xenophobic messaging to their own political advantage—no Christian truth is more under attack than the call to practice hospitality.
Currently, as Republicans threaten to shut down the government over Democrat insistence that any budget agreement includes recognition and resolution of plight of those immigrants currently suspended in DACA, the GOP gambles that Americans—the majority of whom still fain “Christianity” as a identifier—no longer really give a damn about its central call to hospitality. At some level they may be correct, although public polling sets support for a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) solution at more than 80%.
But alongside . . . in the shadow of . . . this spotlighted budgetary blip is the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) assault on immigrants who by many measures contribute to the strength of our nation. It is “open season” on immigrants, even those previously protected by their public profile.
As The Nation reports today:
This week, longtime New York immigrant-rights activist Jean Montrevil, who had lived in the US for 31 years and was arrested just a week prior, was deported to Haiti. On Thursday, Ravi Ragbir, a leader alongside Montrevil with New York City’s New Sanctuary Movement, was transferred back to the New York area from Miami after ICE took him into custody during a check-in on January 11.
Also on January 11, ICE pulled over and arrested Eliseo Jurado, the husband of Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who has taken sanctuary in a church in Boulder, Colorado. This string of recent arrests prompted another immigrant-rights leader to come forward. On Tuesday, the longtime Seattle-based immigrant-rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando went public with details of ICE’s enforcement against her. On December 20 she received in the mail what’s known as a notice to appear, [which] signals the beginning of DHS deportation proceedings. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard from immigration,” Mora Villalpando told The Nation. “My case makes it clear that this is a targeting of people who have decided to be outspoken,” said Mora Villalpando, who has never received a deportation order and says her criminal record is clean. “I only have traffic tickets in my life, and that’s that.”
ICE denies that these enforcement actions are politically motivated. “ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security,” ICE spokesperson Lori Haley said. “However, as ICE leadership has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
Meanwhile, locally, Saint Agnes bakery has abruptly turned off its ovens and closed its doors—apparently in response to a threatened ICE audit of its business and its employees. As many as a dozen longtime and skilled bakers—vibrant members of our community who for years have made the bread we bought in local stores or ate on the plates of local restaurants—quit on the spot for fear of deportation.
Such actions by ICE should be named theologically for what they are: Antichrist. These aggressive campaigns to deport and/or intimidate undocumented but also un-criminal members of our communities are expressions of political terrorism. They seek foremost to sow fear, both among immigrants (undocumented and otherwise) and among citizens. They feed xenophobia. They kill the spirit of hospitality that is the first behavioral mark of a follower of Jesus.
Thus, while I applaud the strong words of the Minnesota ELCA bishops in condemning Trump’s latest round of racist messaging—messaging that’s already actively echoing across our heartland—it isn’t enough.
If we hope to save the soul of Christianity—to preserve the dignity of humanity itself, and to make possible a future in which America’s ideals might one day be realized—two things are essential and urgent.
Our bishops—not just in Minnesota, not just Lutheran, but religious leaders of all faiths—must raise a united voice that echoes the words Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke in his sermon on March 23, 1980 (the day before he was assassinated). Addressing his nation’s soldiers, he announced: “In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression!”
I call on our bishops—our religious leaders from coast to coast, border to border—to announce with one voice to ICE agents: “In the name of God, in the name of these suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression!”
And then I call on faith communities in every town, village, city, and glen to step forward in radical hospitality—what my former grad school mentor called “commensurate heroism”: that is, to say to every ICE agent who risks his or her livelihood by choosing hospitality over terror, who risks their job to defy unholy orders, “we have your back. If you shoulder the risks to which your faith calls you most directly, we will help you bear the costs incurred.”
I’m glad to see Democrats hold the line on a DACA resolution—even if it means that Trump and the GOP choose a government shutdown over a commonsense and humane resolution, because such a choice will help further unveil the dysfunction of the Grand Old Party and the moral emptiness of the President.
I’m glad to see the strong statement by the Minnesota ELCA bishops, too. Such words can inspire persons of faith to realize that moral decency and simple humanity are not mere whims to be entertained from an armchair. They are compass points that direct our actions—sometimes in direct defiance of authority, sometimes in direct support of our neighbor, always in the direction of hospitality.
And it’s time for our leaders to connect those dots publically and invite, implore, beg, even order the rest of us to connect the dots in our lives.