taking the words of Jesus seriously

As Americans finished up Thanksgiving celebrations, immigrant children fleeing violence in their home countries were tear gassed at the border. President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and racist, fear-mongering rhetoric are to blame. We can be better than this.

As a Christian, my soul is indelibly marked by God’s frequent exhortation: “Remember who you are.” Hundreds of verses like this one pepper nearly every book of the Bible, particularly the legal codes of Hebrew scripture: “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Repeatedly God sides with those who are oppressed. We must treat others justly and should not turn our back on those in distress, scripture tells us. Our fates are intertwined with our neighbors since we are children of the same Creator who loves us all.

To forget our story, these verses taught me, is to lose our way. The prophets of old made this clear. From where I sit as a pastor, a mom, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Central America, I see we are losing our way.

Many fear the immigrants fleeing for our border because of their race. Some say they are not racist, but simple pragmatists. They argue we cannot protect our own if we try to protect the whole world. I agree that we must take care of our own, but because of my faith I see that the safety and well-being of my own children can only be accomplished by caring for others. Scripture teaches me that seeing the image of God in my neighbor is the first step toward strengthening my own community.

The Maasai are known for its use of the greeting, “How are the children?” instead of the more individualistic Western greeting of “how are you?” Just as Jesus called us to love neighbor and welcomed the little children, the Maasai daily remind one another that their futures could only be realized through their care of all children.

Our children, in fact, are not well. America has the highest infant mortality rates of any developed nation. My home state of Georgia, which declined Medicaid for political purposes, ranks 50th in the nation. We are right up there with Uzbekistan.

What does children’s health care in the U.S. have to do with tear gassed immigrant children? The way we treat our own children is inextricably tied to how we treat children from other nations. When we are willing to mistreat one group of children, we will mistreat them all. This is why God warns us repeatedly: “Remember who you are.” We can either be Cain, who killed Abel, or we can be like the heroes of scripture who took care of the widow, the orphan, the refugee.

If we were to put our best selves and our scripture in practice and “remember who we are,” we would reject Trump’s efforts to create an asylum crisis where there is none.  We would instead see that that real crisis is the president’s rejection of human rights norms in favor of militarizing the border to gain political points.

We would address the root causes of immigrants fleeing Central America rather than vilify them. We would acknowledge our nation’s complicity in making El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala among most violent countries on earth through our nation’s demand for illicit drugs and our failed “War on Drugs” which made the region more unstable. We would address the fact that most of the weapons that fuel the gangs come from the U.S. We would create trade policies that strengthen American families alongside families in Latin America.

Remembering who we are takes faith and courage. It requires us to think beyond the headlines and seek the common good. As a country, I believe that we can reject fear and realize that we can only truly flourish when we stand in solidarity with one another. We are called to welcome and love, not violence and fear.

TAKE ACTION: One way you can take concrete action now is by joining with thousands of other people of faith in pledging to speak the truth about people seeking refuge, accompany them when possible, and hold elected leaders accountable.

This article originally appeared at Patheos.

About The Author


Rev. Jennifer Butler is the Founder in Residence of Faith in Public Life, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. She chaired President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was named one of the “22 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2022” by Center for American Progress. She is the author of Who Stole my Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny, which makes a biblical case for multi-faith, multiracial democracy in the face of rising white Christian Nationalism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world.

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