“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 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.” “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” – Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35
One of the themes that runs throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible is neighbor love. It behooves us to consider this foundational admonition of God in our lives today when neighbor love – “the alien and the stranger” – seems under threat, particularly as we consider the plight of refugees and immigrants in our country (both documented and undocumented).
On April 16, The Cincinnati Enquirer devoted the entire editorial section to this subject. Kenneth Craycraft, a Catholic theologian wrote a compelling piece that wrestled with church and state, gospel and civil law as they seem to pull us in opposite directions on this matter. He said, “Articles of faith are always in tension with principles of politics and law. Or at least they are if our faith is reflective and authentic…Sometimes we must say ‘No’ to political and legal authority, in order to say ‘Yes’ to claims of the Gospel…Christians believe that the resurrection is, among other things, Christ’s definitive triumph over all law and politics. Christ and his transcendent Kingdom, not particular earthly politics, command our ultimate allegiance and define our highest commitment. When the politics and law of ‘this world’ contradict the politics and law of that Kingdom, the former must yield to the latter…I hope that I have the discipline and courage to err on the side of the Kingdom of God, and thus to stand with Maribel Trujillo-Diaz as a Christian sister against those who would condemn her as an illegal alien.” (my emphasis added)
As our president, Matt Wehrman, reported in Ramblings last month, our Church Council has authorized a new ministry for our church; a ministry to refugees and immigrants. This ministry will be focused in two directions, each in partnership with other organizations, one local and the other national/global. While I cannot give a definitive description of these ministries because they will evolve as circumstances develop, I would like to offer an overall idea of how I envision our congregation living and serving in this ministry.
The national/global ministry will be in partnership with the ELCA under its strategy called Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). The AMMPARO strategy was approved nearly unanimously at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly (our denomination’s highest legislative body). At the February Church Council meeting it was resolved that LCR would become a Welcoming Congregation through the ELCA’s AMMPARO framework. We are the first such congregation in the Southern Ohio Synod. The work of this ministry will include: welcome and minister to migrant guests, attend occasional meetings of the Welcoming Congregations Network of ELCA churches, participate in (internet) conference calls (the next one will be on May 5), advocate for favorable public policy through ELCA and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and pray. This effort is focused particularly on immigrants from Mexico and Central America and fits well alongside our Guatemalan partnerships.
The local ministry will be in partnership with three organizations working cooperatively to address the immigrant and refugee matter in Cincinnati. They are: The AMOS Project, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, and the Coalition for Immigrant Dignity. At the March Church Council meeting it was resolved that LCR would become a Solidarity Congregation as part of this coalition. There are currently 20 congregations (interfaith and ecumenical) that have signed on as Solidarity Congregations. LCR is the only Lutheran congregation. The work of this ministry will include: being a community of love, hospitality, and fellowship for Sanctuary Congregations (not LCR, but those in the coalition who will actually house undocumented immigrants), providing tangible support and resources to Sanctuary Congregations and migrant families (monetary aid, food, clothing toiletries, health and medical support, legal support, entertainment, toys, and reading materials), hosting prayer vigils, giving public declaration of support, advocating, and establishing relationships with city government and police departments.
I plan to host an introductory meeting for this new ministry sometime toward the end of May. If you are interested in participating (not in every aspect of the ministry, but perhaps in specific areas that call you), please contact me and of course, if you would like more information I would be glad to chat with you.Over the past month, I have been very active and involved in advocating for Maribel Trujillo-Diaz. Perhaps you saw me in one of the segments on television or read some of my editorial pieces in The Enquirer. I was deeply moved to participate in a prayer vigil at Ms. Diaz’s parish in Hamilton. As we walked from the church to the Butler County Detention Center we all (about 350 supporters) prayed the rosary. Yes, I was given a rosary (which now hangs on my computer screen in memory of Maribel) and for the first time in my life I prayed it! I can’t say that invoking Mary was very meaningful for me, but the march made my Holy Week a very real experience! To me, this felt like the road to Golgotha! Yes, Maribel has been deported; for me, a feeling of crucifixion as she has “died” to her husband and four young children who remain here in Cincinnati.We need comprehensive immigration reform to resolve the plight of 11 million undocumented neighbors within our borders. We need to practice neighbor love to those who live in the shadows in fear or have arrived here legally as refugees and are trying to forge new lives. I am well aware that this new ministry will not excite all of our members, but I am hopeful that it will tug at some of your heartstrings and you will join me in this gospel work of neighbor love.Humbly,Pastor Zorn
About the Author: Pastor Henry Zorn is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, OH. A vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.