This is a guest post from Kerry Ham, Director of World Relief Sacramento.
Immigration. I can already feel your blood pressure rising at the mention of this politically charged word. Here’s a question you may not have considered: In the midst of the news, stories, and social media posts, are we more like Jesus or are we jackasses? How can you even tell? One way is to examine the questions we are asking about this issue. Regardless of our answers, the questions we ask will reveal if we are prioritizing our position over the people involved.
Immigration and immigration law are complicated. It takes a lot to understand the rules and implications of our laws (saying it’s not complicated only shows you haven’t educated yourself on the matter). We’re going to have disagreements here, but as I watch the news and follow social media, I am deeply grieved with everything that is happening related to immigration.
It isn’t just the stories that cause me distress, although they are very real and heart-wrenching. The images of Angie Valeria and her father Oscar are difficult to look at. The firsthand accounts of the very real fears I heard on a recent trip to Tijuana are difficult to hear.
What disturbs me the most is how immigration and the results of inaction are being discussed among my fellow Christ followers. I hear a lot of callousness in the midst of intense suffering. What I hear is a lot of people taking sides, taking positions, and defending those positions, instead of seeing the problem and the real human beings involved. When the questions we ask are meant only to justify our own position, we are being jackasses. Families are being separated, children are kept in dirty, jail-like facilities without basic sanitation. How we respond is important. What questions do we ask in the face of this tragedy?
We could ask questions that connect us to the human beings involved, such as, “How scared must someone be to risk this?” or “What do we have to fix in our laws to show more compassion?”
Instead, I’m hearing a lot of questions like, “Were they crossing illegally?” or “You know how not to be detained? Don’t cross a border without permission.” or “Obama did this too. Were you complaining then?” or “If we can’t afford to take care of veterans, how can we care for those people who aren’t from here?”
“I keep hearing callousness in the midst of intense suffering; people taking sides, taking positions, and defending those positions, instead of seeing the real human beings involved.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about the law or the care of Americans. But I am saying that when we refuse to even acknowledge the suffering and need of other people, we are being jackasses. While my organization, World Relief, spends time addressing the facts and trying to help people understand complicated issues like this, these are the wrong questions. Each of those questions has a good answer, but it isn’t the point. We Christ-followers should be different. People mattered to Jesus, not positions about issues or justifications for inaction.
Jesus encountered jackasses, too. In Luke 10:25-37, he encountered a lawyer who, after correctly answering Jesus’ question about how to inherit eternal life—”you love your neighbor as yourself”—did what jackasses do. He asked a question that revealed his motives and positions. “Who is my neighbor?” This expert in the law was looking for limits and loopholes to WHO his neighbor was. He wasn’t concerned about WHAT his neighbor needed. Our questions reveal our character.
Jesus answers the question with the story of the Good Samaritan. He turned someone from across a border, from a different and despised culture, into the example of how we are supposed to treat others. When the Samaritan hero came across someone beaten up on the side of the road, he didn’t ask “What is he doing here in the first place?” or “Why wasn’t he taking precautions to avoid being beaten up?” or “I have other expenses, how can I be expected to pay for this man’s care?” His only question was, “My neighbor is in need—how can I help him?”
Through World Relief, I have given my life to serving not only vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, but also to empowering the local church by educating Christians and providing avenues for engagement. We try to answer questions in three ways:
1. Biblically– The Bible doesn’t specifically address the southern border, Syrian civil war, or gang activity. It is replete, however, with commands and statements regarding God’s heart for the vulnerable.
2. Factually– Facts do matter. With complicated matters such as modern immigration and borders, taking time to understand beyond partisan politics is critical to understand the complexity of why and how people choose to flee. It’s important to know our laws and our nation’s history as well as the economic value of immigrants and the realities of our current level of security. There are good answers as to why this is happening, but this is still not the most critical category of question.
3. Relationally– This is the critical type of question if we are to avoid jackassery. “Who is this affecting and can I put myself in their shoes?” We cannot do what Jesus would without seeing people the way he saw them. Matthew 9:36 tells us that “He looked at the people and had compassion.” We must not come to our position without first seeing and valuing the real people involved.
As we develop hearts of compassion, we will need to take meaningful action. And we will disagree on the best way to act. Christians have always disagreed on the most important matters. We will have to offer grace and dignity to those we disagree with. But we must act in compassion, not dismissal; in love, not vilification.
The immigration topic isn’t going away. The stories are horrific and the images are worse. We can be different, though. God, help us have the courage to not turn away. Help us to see people as you see them. Help us ask questions—the right questions. And then empower us to do something.
Kerry is the Director of World Relief in Sacramento (and an admitted jackass). World Relief Sacramento office is the largest refugee resettlement office in the nation where they provide initial resettlement, English instruction, employment services, children and youth programs, as well as legal services for over a thousand refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in the Sacramento area annually. www.worldreliefsacramento.org