- June 22nd, 2018 -
On Sunday June 17 as I gathered with the members of my faith community to celebrate Father’s Day our commemorations of the vital role fathers and father-figures play in the lives of children were sidetracked by the heart-wrenching scenes of children being forcibly separated from their parents at our nation’s southern border.
The statements emanating from the current administration that Christian scripture somehow places law over the love of neighbor are patently false. Quoting from Paul can never supersede the words of Jesus—a childhood refugee himself—who emphasized in action and word the longstanding commitment of his Jewish faith that we were called to welcome the stranger, (Matthew 25:35). As the Hebrew Book of Leviticus proclaims: “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
This tradition of hospitality is not only a fundamental tenant of the Abrahamic Faiths—it pervades Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism as well. “Let a person never turn away a stranger from their house, that is the rule, for good people say to the stranger there is enough food for you,” (Taitiriya Upanishad 1.11.2).
Within the IPM Family I know that we share many diverse faiths and some of you who will read this who are not motivated by a particular religious tradition. And as a follower of Jesus, I must confess that at times throughout history, leaders of the Christian faith have used the Bible to justify the unconscionable separation of children from their families. The Document of Discovery that provided a faith-based rationale for the genocide of the America’s native peoples, the twisted use of Hebrew & Christian Scripture to justify the enslavement and death of tens of millions of our African brothers and sisters, the trial and murder of women who did not conform to the “norms” of Puritan New England, the systematic separation of children from their families during the Holocaust, and the forced internment of Japanese citizens during the second world war, provide ample testimony to the myriad ways Christianity has been used by those in power to wreak havoc on our world’s materially poor and socially marginalized.
I also know, however, that my faith and the espoused traditions of this nation, call each of us, and especially our elected leaders, to a higher purpose. From the great 5thCentury African Theologian, Augustine of Hippo, who proclaimed that an unjust law is no law at all, to the Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero who argued on the eve of his assassination in 1980 that even soldiers were compelled to resist a law that ran counter to the will of God: our Christian faith tradition is replete with reminders that political leaders who govern counter to the will of a loving and merciful God merit both our condemnation and resistance.But it’s not just my faith that compels me to speak out against the heinous treatment of the refugee and immigrant families seeking our nation’s protection. The United States of America remains bound by the 1967 Protocol Relation to the Status of Refugees and other international agreements created specifically in response to how our nation and others closed their borders to those seeking asylum as millions of innocent civilians were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
The USA’s own political traditions from the Declaration of Independence, which decried King George’s maltreatment of those seeking to emigrate to the then colonies, to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty—”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—emphasize the very best of this nation’s immigrant past.
As I have written before but never tire of quoting, ironically perhaps Ronald Reagan said it best in his 1989 Shining City Upon a Hill farewell address,when he envisioned a USA in which “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still… a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
I could go on and on writing about what the Christian Scriptures REALLY tells us about welcoming immigrants and refugees, of how this nation was built largely on the backs of enslaved and forced migrants, or of the entrepreneurial vitality immigrants and refugees continue to carry with them to our borders; but my purpose in writing to you as the Chief Executive of IPM is to remind each of us of how we are called to be our better selves.
In my personal and professional life I, like so many of you, have experienced both the horrors from which our Central American brothers and sisters run to this nation and the remarkable gifts people from around the world continue to bring to my life and the life of the IPM Family.
Look around you. See the hard work of the men and women and even children who staff our restaurants, clean our homes, pick our produce, and mow our lawns. Know that each of them has a family that they love and for whom they have come to this country seeking a better life. And know as well that they, like us, are children of God.
No child should have to grow up without a parent. No child should ever be ripped from a loving mother or father’s arms. And, for those of us fortunate enough to live in these United States, each of us is called to care for the parents and children who have been compelled to seek sanctuary at our door.
Please note that this statement was revised by Joe, in consultation with two UCC Pastor Colleagues, for publication in the Mount Desert Islander on June 28, 2018.
It’s time to care! Here is some of what you can once again do to personally help ensure that the separation of children from their parents stops:
- Write &/or call the White House and your Senators & Congressional Representatives to insist that families seeking asylum at our borders are not separated and that those children already taken from their parents be immediately returned to them.
- Open your home to provide immediate hospitality for immigrant and refugee families seeking shelter and comfort at this time.
- Encourage your faith community to declare Sanctuary for those who may be forcibly repatriated without a place to live freely in the USA, https://action.groundswell-mvmt.org.
- Donate to IPM by calling us at 1.216.932.4082 or toll free in Canada and the United States at 1.866.932.4082 as we support the good work of Nicaraguans and Salvadorans within their own countries so their need to emigrate is lessened.
- Keep all those individuals and families potentially impacted by these policy changes at the center of your prayer life and/or meditation practice.
Tel: +1.216.932.4082 / www.ipmconnect.org
Joseph F. Cistone
June 22, 2018