In Genesis 21, we hear of an immigrant who crosses an unfriendly desert with her child: "And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard' " (17).
In this, as in similar encounters in the Bible, God's presence is announced with: "Do not be afraid." Yet all too often, fear frames our encounters with one another — especially when we encounter the stranger. Since the May 12, 2008, raid on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant, fear has been part of daily life for many in Postville, Iowa. The raid removed one-fifth of the population of this once-prosperous community.
The punitive approach used to deal with immigration challenges in Postville — and the enforcement approach that brought it about — grossly misunderstood the forces driving immigration and underestimated people's capacity to endure hardships for the sake of their children. This punitive approach ignored a basic fact of humanity, captured in the Bible and still present today — people have always moved in pursuit of a better future. Narrowly viewing these strangers as criminals obscures their humanity, ignores our faith teachings and does nothing to solve the broken immigration system.
Ishmael, the name of that immigrant child in the Genesis story, means "God hears." In Postville, God has indeed heard. As agents of God, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Postville, joined St. Bridget's Roman Catholic Church in speaking and acting out the angel's words, "Do not be afraid." Students from Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, joined youth from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago in calling for change and becoming the change they hope for in the world. In Postville, long-term residents and recent immigrants have shown the community's resilience, born out of recognition of a common immigrant heritage and their sacred texts.
As our nation debates the need for immigration reform, I pray we will listen to the stories of places like Postville and the framing provided by stories of our faith. I pray we will realize that policies based on fear threaten our identity as a nation. May we instead follow the example of Lutherans and countless others here who are boldly proclaiming God's message in word and action: "Do not be afraid."
Check out this week's articles:
'The best-kept secret in the ELCA': (right) In Atlanta, ELCA seminarians are immersed in an African-American context.
'Everyone in public service needs a strong moral compass': Nancy Erickson serves as the secretary of the U.S. Senate.
Kids and families, head outside!: 'Nature provokes us to be awestruck by God's creation.'
Discuss introducing lay and clergy leaders to ministry in African-American contextsJune 30-July 7: Join Larry Clark (right) to discuss introducing lay and clergy leaders to ministry in African-American contexts.
Tell us: 'Mixed' marriage Respond with 300 words maximum to email@example.com by Monday, Aug. 10. Include your name (and your spouse) and the congregation/city where you worship.
Decades ago, a Lutheran-Roman Catholic marriage didn't always meet with favor. But in an increasing number of ELCA congregations and for many Lutheran-Roman Catholic couples, times have changed. If you are Lutheran or Roman Catholic (or formerly a Catholic), tell us your experience.
1. What made you decide to make a Lutheran church your faith community? Or have you made another arrangement?
2. What about your church makes this the right fit for you as a family?
3. What has this adjustment meant for you, your spouse or anyone else in your family?
Respond with 300 words maximum to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, Aug. 10. Include your name (and your spouse) and the congregation/city where you worship.
This week on our blog:Sonia Solomonson asks, "What's ahead?"
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