Displaced people…a 2,000 year-old story: message from the Diocese of Maryland bishops

[Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] We’re told more than 65 million people around the globe are on the move. They’ve left their homelands due mainly to war, famine, and natural disaster.

Just last week many Christians celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. It’s the biblical story of three wise men making a trek, following a star, to witness the newborn Savior. They’d been enlisted by a frightened King Herod to bring back information on where this child was.

But they didn’t.

Instead, they went home by a different road. Thus began the effort to kill all the young children in Bethlehem to get rid of a possible threat to the existing powers. We call it the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Jesus survived because his parents left their country for safety and protection in Egypt. They became refugees fleeing for their lives.

Refugees are still fleeing for their lives today. The U.S. government, in an act of mercy and compassion, has in recent years has granted temporary asylum to refugees from some countries. El Salvador has experienced war and earthquakes in the past nearly 40 years.  Many of their refugees were granted “temporary protective status” (TPS).

That’s now being threatened.  After many years of being here legally and building lives for their families, nearly 200,000 across the country face either deportation or a grueling bureaucratic task applying for a green card. In either case they face an uncertain future.  The U.S. government has been extending their legal status as residents here for 17 years; now it wants to get rid of them.  One of the largest populations of Salvadorans is in Maryland and Virginia.

In 2010 the bishops of the Diocese of Maryland penned a pastoral letter called “Welcoming the Stranger.” It’s a thorough examination of our religious conviction as informed by our Holy Scriptures and the life of Jesus that should direct followers in how to treat refugees.

That work has been consulted by many religious leaders as well as the bishops of The Episcopal Church. It also offers wisdom to legislators considering immigration reform.

Our core beliefs are that all people are created in God’s image, and the teachings of Holy Scripture should shape the way we welcome people who may come into our lives. We are all children of God. We are all seeking basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, safety and security.

In the Bible, God is described as the one “who loves strangers, providing them food and clothing…you shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Jesus, in keeping with the teachings of the prophets, spent a lot of time preaching and showing people how to treat people who are in need of help. He called blessed those who are poor in spirit, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and says they shall see God. (Matthew 5:1-11)

Later on in the same gospel Jesus says, “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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

He clearly had a special love for those who were displaced.

And when asked what was the most important commandment, Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It’s in that tradition and strong admonition that we who follow Jesus are compelled to welcome the strangers among us. TPS refugees have been residing here legally, but we are reminded by the Bible that all refugees, no matter their status, deserve compassion and respect. No human being is “illegal.” There are only children of God with whom we are connected by God our Creator.

It seems ironic that the country with most TPS designees is named El Salvador, “The Savior.”

That country now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world for a country not at war. And yet our elected officials are considering returning these refugees—many of whom own homes and businesses, pay taxes, and have lived here most of their lives—to a country where they have nothing and will be at risk.

Such an action is not only un-Christian, it is immoral and downright mean. It goes against the clear teaching of Scripture.  It isn’t in the spirit of basic human decency. And it’s certainly not in the spirit of a nation of people who have come from every corner of the globe.

We urge everyone to advocate through the Episcopal Public Policy Network or Episcopal Migration Ministries to stop this threatened action. We pray that our displaced sisters and brothers will continue to live their productive lives under our protection, without fear, and with dignity and respect.

Faithfully yours,
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop of Maryland

The Right Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen
Assistant bishop of Maryland

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.