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I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

January 31, 2017

Photo Credit: Sean Crews (MDiv Student), O'Hare Airport, January 28

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
Matthew 25:35

The recent ban by President Trump on immigrants coming into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries has sparked a firestorm of protest and fear. Many statements have been issued and protest marches have been engaged by tens of thousands. Courage has been taken up in specific forms of legal and moral resistance. For example, Federal Judge Ann Donnelly made a bold decision to stay the ban in response to the ACLU's arguments on Saturday, and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed the Department of Justice to not defend the executive order. All of these responses have embodied ways in which truth and moral conviction can speak to power.

But the power is mighty and frightening as we have witnessed with the executive order itself and, then again last night, when Attorney General Yates was relieved of her duties. Outrage is being expressed at the violation of our deeply held American value of welcome even as we have been historically imperfect in that welcome and in our communal lives together. American history demonstrates our capacity for barbaric treatment of indigenous people who first inhabited this land; the abomination of racism and enslavement and its continuing consequences; the interment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and the fatal turning away of refugees from Europe as they fled the forces of Nazi Germany. Even in the midst of all this history, we cling to the value of welcome that can still call our country to a higher standard of inclusivity and hospitality for the stranger.

In the midst of felt helplessness and despair against the “powers and principalities,” we wonder, “What can we possibly do in the face of it?” Simple as it may seem, even naïve to some, my response is that we have to intensify our Christian living. We have to embody our call to seek justice at the city gates, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to feed the hungry, to visit those in prison, to care for the widow and the orphan, to clothe the naked, to offer drink to the thirsty, to pray without ceasing, to weep with those who weep, to stand together in faithful witness . . .  and to welcome the stranger. We need to be as strategic and collaborative as ever, to be wise as a serpent, to join efforts for justice with others, to communicate with our elected officials, to bear witness to injustice, and to speak truth to power in all the ways that we can.

At Garrett-Evangelical, we remain committed to the inclusive welcome of all, with special sensitivity to our international students during these difficult and uncertain days. We began working last fall on ways our seminary may cooperate with the initiatives of Northwestern University and those of Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl in her long standing declaration that Evanston is a sanctuary city.

Our Dean of International Students, Dr. Debora Junker, is already convening our international students to keep them informed and to be supportive. We continue our practice of not disclosing the status of our students, nor our employees, and we are prepared to seek legal counsel as necessary.

As I finish writing, I just receive an AP news flash that, 872 refugees are going to be admitted to the United States due to hardship concerns “despite the ban.” This is the result of the powerful witness of so many and the courage of those who have the particular power to intervene with staying a ban and directing others not to defend it.   

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Meanwhile, Garrett-Evangelical perseveres in preparing leaders who will bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and promote wellbeing for all of God’s children and care for creation. Through the hymn text of Harry E. Fosdick written in 1930, we pray:

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power . . .

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore . . .

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.