Welcoming the stranger, even if it’s against the law (COMMENTARY)

050708_m_CTmonast_767-426x640By SHANE CLAIBORNE
c. 2014 Religion News Service

(RNS) A nonviolent uprising around immigration is growing in Philadelphia. Its faith leaders announced last week that they would welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of “sanctuary congregations” and have dreams the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.

We at The Simple Way faith community join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means “welcoming the foreigner as if he or she were our own flesh and blood.”

Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. To God’s question: “When I was a stranger, did you welcome me?” we are not going to say: “Sorry, God. Congress wouldn’t let us.”

We know that, sometimes, divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.

As St. Augustine once said: “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Some Christians will ask, “But what about Romans 13, where Paul says we must submit to the authorities?” To that we say, as the early Christians, and later Martin Luther King, instructed: Submission does not always mean obedience. There are two ways to submit. One way is by obeying good laws. The other way is by respectfully disobeying bad laws. That’s how we put the bad laws on trial in public and change them.

So on Sept. 24, dozens of faith leaders announced that New Sanctuary Movement congregations would provide physical sanctuary to immigrant families with final deportation orders:

“We defy President Obama’s inhumane immigration policies by moving families into three of our member congregations, the Philadelphia Praise Center, a Mennonite congregation in South Philadelphia; Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a Germantown-based Jewish community; and West Kensington Ministry in north Philadelphia.”

Pastor Aldo Siahaan of the Philadelphia Praise Center said, “We answer God’s call by opening our church to bring hope to people in need.”

Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Tikkun Olam Chavurah led 50 members in a Jewish Rosh Hashanah (New Year) ritual.

“Rosh Hashanah starts the New Year with your eyes fully open, able to bring greater justice to your journey in life,” she said.

Holtzman shared that many Jewish people in the U.S. are immigrants or children of immigrants, and survived because others were willing to take them in during the Holocaust.

We demand that Obama use his executive power to end all deportations without exception and create a country of sanctuary — where all are safe, respected and welcomed and where economic, spiritual and emotional wholeness is realized.

Join the New Sanctuary Movement. Welcome a stranger as God has welcomed all of us.

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Wes Andrews
Wes Andrews

What if we used our energies to improve our laws? We should have had rational and realistic immigration policy years ago before all the chaos we have now. Far better to make better laws rather than to teach people to break laws because they fail to hold their elected officials (both Ds and Rs) accountable.


Interesting definition of “submission to authorities”. Obey the laws you like and disobey the ones you don’t. This is a great country where we can all enjoy tremendous freedom. A country that does not control its borders will not last. I want this country to last.

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