by the Revd Dr Hayley Matthews, Director of Lay Training, Diocese of Leeds
As Refugee Week drew to a close Trump’s immigration policy precipitated the removal of children from their parents, caging them in concrete and wire holds with nothing but a foil blanket to clutch in their terror and bewilderment. Any foster carer or adoptive parent can tell you how distraught young children are at being taken from their primary care-giver – there is no sound as distressing as the cries of desolation and terror when a child experiences the psychic tear of abandonment. Meanwhile their mothers wept inconsolably and one father – separated from his wife and child – committed suicide. It was traumatizing to simply watch such horrors taking place in a supposedly civilised nation. Thankfully, a visit to All Hallows, Hyde Park in Leeds provided a welcome antidote to the poison threatening to overwhelm us all with its inhumane actions.
Whilst Trumpian cries of “these aren’t people, these are animals” heralded a worrying call back to base tribalism, the sermon preached by Nigel Greenwood from St Chad’s, was a welcome recall to the crux of our inclusive faith. Yes, that’s right, our inclusive faith.
For adherents to Trump’s understanding of Christianity seem to be at odds with a basic reading of the Old Testament which lists well over 100 references to sojourners, aliens, and strangers amongst the guidance given God’s people on how to treat ‘the other’. These three words are important in this debate for they cover so much of what is happening right now on planet earth. ‘Sojourners’ are travelling from one place to another – they may or may not know where they are going to settle but, for now, they need to pass through your country. In Job 31:32 we read ‘But no sojourner had to lodge in the street, For I have opened my doors to the traveler.’ Hashtag, FAIL.
As for ‘the Alien’, these are people so far removed from our own heritage or way of life that they appear to be, well, alien to us, but what do the scriptures teach? “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:7). Yes, that’s right, all Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity…) are birthed from these scriptures which categorically call us to loving our neighbour, even the ‘aliens’ amongst us and we are reminded in no uncertain terms that we too are perceived as ‘aliens’ to others. Again, hashtag, FAIL.
The word ‘stranger’ is used over one hundred times with the scriptures repeatedly admonishing us to include, feed, house and protect them. Amongst the wonderful couplets the Old Testament is known for, the second verse immediately reverses the text by reminding us that we, too, are considered to be sojourners, aliens and strangers in this world, as we follow a spiritual path to a Kingdom that has no border control.
This is evident in the way that the Vicar and congregation at All Hallows life out their faith. They had just received an accolade: “Improving Community Relations Prize 2018” from the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum at their Eid Celebrations who wrote:
Places of faith are increasingly under scrutiny as religion becomes something blamed for many of the ills in society.
However our next winner is a faith leader who is committed to building rapport will all communities and a real example to faith leaders from the Muslim community.
For many years his establishment has been a sanctuary for people experiencing injustice. Upset by the way in which many of our fellow human beings have been treated, and by the way in which they have not been offered hospitality and support when they have needed it, they play a significant part in seeking justice for people coming to the UK hoping for asylum and who then found themselves held in detention centres.
They have provided support in all sorts of ways to people seeking safety – in doing so learning that journeying together is the best way to share God’s love in this situation and that one person cannot do it alone.
With others in the Hyde Park area, they work for justice, reconciliation and to inspire hope – working with people coming from a variety of backgrounds, ages and lifestyles, and celebrating the diversity in our communities.
For living up to the values captured in their strap line of “Loving, Living and Learning”, the winner of the Improving Community Relations Award is…
Reverend Heston and All Hallows Church
All Hallows and their Muslim friends remind us that throughout the scriptures of all major world religions there are texts calling us to hospitality, support of the homeless, those who find themselves in a strange land, often desperate to escape the persecution, war or famine from which they are fleeing. The Old Testament begins with:
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
While the New Testament reinforces ‘there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.’ Colossians 3:11. We could add here our own ‘otherings’: black, gay, Asian, mother, Pakistani, female, child, transgender, unemployed, working class, male youth, a conservative politician…the list goes on.
Nigel preached that ‘an inclusive church is built upon an open and welcoming congregation where all God’s people are treated with warmth, dignity and respect in a way which reflects God’s own unconditional love for everyone – where people are not subject to discrimination, not just accepted but appreciated, valued and cherished for who they are regardless of superficial considerations’ [italics mine]. Not tolerated, cherished
Nigel echoes the words of The Great Commission in Matthew where Jesus challenged those who claimed to love God without caring for ‘others’ that they would be superseded by those who were not even adherents of the faith; ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:35 + 40). Are we entering the age in which this becomes our reality?
Believers and unbelievers alike agree on one thing; do unto others as you would have done unto you; we can only hope, pray and encourage our sisters and brothers in Christ that at some point the people of faith in America find their unified voice and challenge the distortion of our ancient and life-giving scriptures to sanction the abuse of power and oppression of various peoples, using their influence in the corridors of power and legal systems to set these captives free, reuniting those who have been recklessly torn apart from those who gave them life, to those who even now, are weeping for them.
All Bible quotes from the New King James version of the Bible.