Things You Don’t Learn in Sunday School: Talk to Strangers

Something unfortunate happens on the way to adulthood. It becomes easier to follow along with what others think (and tell you what you should believe) than to forge your own way. It’s easy to become arrested in spiritual development, staying stuck in the nice stories we learn as children in Sunday School. Nice stories are designed to be age-approriate.

Once we move out of childhood, however, it’s time to think critically about the biblical stories and ramifications of theological ideas. This is where I see the greatest deficiency in today’s extremely diverse church (that’s my nice way of including über-conservatives). Election season always seem to bring out the underbelly of the church’s divisions. Actually, I’m all for a wide-spectrum of beliefs. What I get so discouraged about is when factions, especially in the church, refuse to be respectful of another’s beliefs or say that the Unites States is a Christian nation and that’s why [their agenda] is the only agenda.

I’ve been immersed in the Hebrew scriptures (aka the Old Testament) lately. I know. Weird, especially since it’s been more than thirty years since I’ve read Hebrew! I was desperate to find something to keep my attention on the treadmill. This iTunes U course has video and I can get in three miles in thirty minutes! One of the verses I’ve been meditating on ties in with something before the Supreme Court right now. It’s also a hot topic on the election circuit and, as to be expected, a divisive issue in the church.

Here’s the passage:

When an 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: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).

There are several passages in the bible that refer to strangers. Here are a couple of more:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).

… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:35, 40).

The stranger or the alien is a modern-day immigrant or anyone different than ourselves. There is no way to get around it. What I found fascinating is God’s command for the Israelites to welcome as citizens those strangers, the aliens, who reside with them. The rationale was based on the fact that the Israelites were once strangers themselves! They were aliens and slaves when they lived in Egypt. It wouldn’t be the only time they would be exploited and discriminated against. They suffered several captivities over the centuries, with modern-day migrations to the U.S. from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jews were not allowed to be citizens, although they were conscripted to serve in their armies, and their lives were made so miserable in many Eastern European countries they “self-deported”. And we all know about the atrocities by the Nazis.

There is no doubt that a great need for immigration reform exists at the federal level. However, the legislation (SB 1070) brought about by Arizona and Alabama clearly undermines Judeo-Christian values and American ideals. Actions and legislation intentionally designed to marginalize, discriminate against, ethnically profile, or dehumanize any of God’s children is ethically and morally wrong. It’s even sinful.

The stories we learn in Sunday School are designed to introduce us to the God who is invested in creation and humanity. As we grow up and as our faith deepens, we are called to live out our values by loving our neighbor, welcoming the stranger, speaking out for defending justice on their behalf.

In a way, we’re all undocumented. God never requires us to “show our papers” in order to be accepted into God’s family. We are welcome, no longer strangers, only because of grace.

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