“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
Lent is a time for study and reflection about the sacrifices Jesus made and how I can follow his example. I find his central message both helpful and quite challenging: that the most important thing we can do as followers of Jesus is to love ourselves, love our neighbor, and love God.
At this time in our national politics, it seems as though loving ourselves or loving our neighbor must come at some cost. President Trump’s executive order suspending the refugee resettlement program and lowering the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. suggests that in order to live safely in our communities, we must exclude and isolate all refugees. As Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson put it, “This action will be taken, we are told, to make us safe. Yet, isolating ourselves from the world does not make us safer; it only isolates us. Being afraid of those who differ from us does not make us wise, or even prudent; it only traps us in an echo chamber of suspicion and anger, and stops us cold from loving as Christ loved.” When we pick one or the other, we somehow lose out on fully loving God.
The reality is that refugees are victims of persecution, and have been forced to undertake a perilous journey in seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They bring with them incredible determination and resilience. When we offer new life and friendship to the people that are victims of terror and persecution, our nation becomes stronger. When we harness our values of defending freedom and opportunity for all, we weaken the actors of extremism that would say those values are unachievable. And, of course, we come closer to living out the love that Jesus calls us to.
Beyond those values of refugee resettlement, examination of the refugee resettlement process reveals a secure and measured program that focuses on safety for refugees and U.S. communities. Vetting for refugees is an extreme and lengthy process that includes multiple agency checks, medical screenings, and in person interviews before admission to the U.S. Our national security infrastructure is working just as it should. The Cato Institute published a helpful risk analysis and found “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year…. The hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists are not large enough to warrant extreme actions like a moratorium on all immigration or tourism.”
The kind of isolation that ignores these realities and prioritizes self-protection at the cost of protection for all is dangerous and pushes us away from Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are not engaged in a zero sum game of life. In this season before Easter, we are especially reminded that followers of Jesus are not bound by fear. Rather, as followers of Jesus we are each evangelists, pursuing a world based in hope that works to reconcile all people to God and thus to one another.
And that is where following Jesus becomes challenging. When we pursue a world of reconciliation, we remove ourselves from the center of the equation. That is not a simple task. The “greatest commandment in the Law” is never easy. This Lent, as I draw closer to Jesus, I pray that I and those around me may begin this process by being “mindful not only of our personal need for repentance and renewal in doing the work of God, but indeed of the need of all humanity to repent of our indifference to the brokenness of our relationships, to the suffering of millions of people worldwide who are starving, oppressed, enslaved, or seeking sanctuary even if it be in a place far from their homeland.”
Donate to the Stand to Support Refugees Campaign to assist Episcopal Migration Ministry's work in refugee resettlement.
Join the 2x4 Fight for Refugees advocacy campaign to urge your representatives in the U.S. government to support robust refugee resettlement programs.