Tag Archives: immigration

No Human Is Illegal

I Kings 19:1-15a
Galatians 3:23-29
No Human Is Illegal
23 June 2019
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

With thanks to a June 22 post on Presbyterians for Just Immigration that helped jump start this sermon.

If you are like me, you may need some context to understand what is happening in our passage from I Kings. It is story about politics and faith that comes as a part of a longer story about politics and faith.

One point to begin the story of Ahab and Jezebel and Elijah is in Egypt. Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers. Then hunger came. As it so often does, hunger people from their homes. In this case, Jacob and his sons.

Because he could interpret dreams, Joseph had risen from his beginnings to a position of authority in the Pharaoh’s court. He had responsibility for storing and managing food. After Joseph messed with his brothers a bit, they reunited, and the family moved to Egypt.

The came to be called the Hebrews, the name for the people came from an Egyptian word meaning “outsider” or “nomad” or “workers of inferior status.” Still, life went well for the people.

Then Joseph died. And a new Pharaoh came to power. He feared the Hebrew people. They had become numerous and he saw them as a threat. He tried several ways to eliminate them. But God heard their cry and sent Moses to deliver the Hebrew people.

They made their way to Canaan, after forty-years of wandering. There they settled. For a time, judges ruled them. But the Hebrew people wanted a king. A king like all the other peoples.

“Bad idea,” said Samuel the prophet. “Really bad idea.” The people pushed. Following prayer, Samuel relented. Guided by God, he anointed Saul as the first king. Saul ruled over all twelve tribes of Israel – one for each of Jacob’s son.

Saul disobeyed commands from God given to him by Samuel. Guided by God, Samuel anointed the shepherd musician David to be King. Conflict follows. Saul dies. David becomes king.

David is recognized as the greatest king of Israel. Of course, he was not a perfect king. He stole Uriah’s wife and arranged to have Uriah killed. Like virtually every other servant of God in or out of the Bible, God did not choose David because he was worthy; God made David worthy because he chose him.

David’s son Solomon follows his father as the king. When Solomon’s son succeeds his father, the kingdom breaks into two parts. Israel in the north with nine tribes. Judah in the south with two. The tribe of Levi had taken on religious duties. Competition and conflict prevailed between the two kingdoms. Each had its own king.

After time, a king named Ahab came to rule in the Northern Kingdom. He married a woman named Jezebel. It seems likely this was an arranged marriage designed to strengthen ties between the kingdom of Israel and Phoenicia – Jezebel’s home country.

Jezebel worshiped a god named Baal. Ahab had a place of worship built for Baal and an altar to Baal erected there.

Not only did Jezebel promote the worship of Baal, she suppressed the worship of Yahweh, the God who appeared to Moses and proclaimed, “I am who I am.” The God who led the Hebrew people to freedom. The God of Jesus.

Jezebel had the prophets of Yahweh killed. Altars to Yahweh were destroyed. When a famine came, Jezebel used royal provisions to feed and support the prophets of Baal.

Elijah, faithful to Yahweh God, noticed a fracture in the community. Worship of Baal was increasing. Called by God, Elijah acted. He challenged the prophets of Baal to determine the true God.

They met on Mt. Carmel. Two altars were made. A bull sacrificed and placed on each. The prophets of Baal called upon Baal to send fire and consume their sacrifice. Nothing happened. Elijah called on Yahweh God. Fire came from heaven to burn up the sacrifice. Elijah ordered the people to seize and kill the prophets of Baal and other false gods. It was done.

Jezebel was a wee bit irked at this. With her husband Ahab, she still controlled the power of the state. She called for Elijah’s death. She told Elijah so. And he fled.

In fear and confusion and despair, Elijah fled. That’s where our reading for this morning picks up. With Jezebel’s death squads looking for him, Elijah ran for his life.

Into the wilderness Elijah went. He hid under a tree and asked God to take his life. But an angel appeared and told Elijah to eat and drink. Elijah found strength to continue his flight.

After forty days and nights, Elijah hid again. In a cave. This time, God visited him. God spoke to him. Not in wind or earthquake or fire. No special effects for God this time. God spoke to Elijah in the voice that pierced through the silence.

Elijah heard God say, “There is work for you to do.” “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.” Yet again, God does not call someone who is worthy. God calls frightened, confused, despairing Elijah and makes him worthy.

As I look at what is happening to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in our country, I experience some confusion about policies that are being put into place. I fear for my sisters, brothers, and family members who have come to the United States fleeing violence and poverty. I sometimes teeter on despair.

I am confused to see families separated. I understand that if I had been arrested and sent to prison thirty years ago when Sean and Eric were young, they would not have gone with me. But they had their mother and their church community and their schools. They had roots. They would not have ended up with other children in a cage.

I am confused about why we cannot provide enough attorneys and personnel to process asylum requests efficiently and quickly. People have the right to apply for asylum. It is not automatically guaranteed. But it appears that steps are being taken to make the process more difficult to traverse and to drag it out in terms of time.

I read of overcrowded facilities where children and adults are held. For example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found “standing room only conditions” at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which has a maximum capacity of 125 migrants. On May 7 and 8, logs indicated that there were “approximately 750 and 900 detainees, respectively … We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space.” I learn that many of the detention centers are run for profit. As the Equal Justice Initiative reports, “Private detention companies are paid a set fee per detainee per night, and they negotiate contracts that guarantee a minimum daily headcount. Many run notoriously dangerous facilities with horrific conditions that operate far outside federal oversight.” And I hear that the government, my government, “went to federal court this week to argue that it shouldn’t be required to give detained migrant children toothbrushes, soap, towels, showers or even half a night’s sleep inside Border Patrol detention facilities.” I teeter on despair.

Immigration raids were announced to take place today in cities across the country. The planned raids raised fear in me and many others that “some immigrant children — many of whom are American citizens because they were born in the United States — would have faced the possibility of being forcibly separated from their families when ICE agents arrived to arrest and deport their undocumented parents.” Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times reported that the plans have been delayed. Still the fear remains. Fear that, whether it happens in an organized series of raids or it happens on a case-by-case basis, friends, people for whom I care deeply, and people I do not know may face separation and deportation. And that deportation may lead to death in their home countries.

I am in an Elijah moment facing the issue of immigration. I am confused. I am fearful. I teeter on despair. I wish I could hide hid in a cave. Maybe you do too.

I am in an Elijah moment. And I know that God has work for me to do. God has work for you too. God calls us. Not because we are certain. Not because we are free from fear. Not because we are far from despair. God calls us as we are. And God will grant us clarity and courage and hope and everything to leave the cave and follow where God leads.

What might that look like?

It begins with prayer. God will offer us the opportunity to pray. To pray for people who have fled their homes and those who care for them. To pray for those who work on the border both to provide humanitarian aid and to enforce laws. To pray for leaders in government. To pray that God’s love will be shared.

God will call us to challenge the language that is used in the discussion. We need to proclaim again and again that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. No human is illegal.

People can be fat. People can be bald. Peopled can be bearded. Heck, you may even know a fat, bald, bearded person. But people cannot be illegal.

People can do illegal things. A person may get a speeding ticket or two or more. That does not make the person an “illegal driver.” It makes the person a “person who breaks driving laws.” There are laws governing immigration, which people can break. That makes them people who have broken immigration laws or people who have entered the country illegally.

No human is illegal. The phrase originates with Elie Wiesel. Wiesel survived the Holocaust. He knows the absolute horror that can happen when language dehumanizes and demonizes and divide people. Once we accept that some people are “illegal”, there is no end to the abuse those people might be forced to endure and we might tolerate.

The Wakes are a band from Scotland. Their sound is described as traditional Celtic punk rock and funk. They have created a song with the title “No Human Is Illegal.” It is an upbeat melody with a powerful message that brings tears of hope to my eyes every time I hear it. Its lyrics contain a colorful metaphor or two or I would play it for us this morning. But here’s a couple important lines:

          No human is illegal
And everybody has their worth

Everybody has their worth. Those who follow Jesus know that worth comes because everybody is made in God’s image. Everybody is a beloved child of God. Everybody is someone for whom Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.

“The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.” That affirmation of the worth of every person comes from a truly radical source. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – Book of Order, G-1.0302.

A step out of the cave of fear, confusion, and despair involves a refusal to dehumanize and consistent persistent insistent affirmation of all people. Other steps may follow.

Maybe God will urge us to learn more about issues surrounding migration and human movement. A list of sources of information may be found in Fellmann Hall after service.

Maybe God will ask us to call our government to work with other nations to address the circumstances that cause people to leave their homes and make dangerous journeys to places they perceive as safe. Of course, some people migrate who are criminal; some people migrate to commit crime. There are always such people in any group.

But the vast majority of people migrate for safety or because they cannot sustain themselves in their home places. Joseph’s family journeyed to Egypt because of famine. Mary and Joseph took their baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the soldiers of Herod who sought to kill him. As the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire writes:

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Clearly the immigration system in our country needs corrections. But the solution to immigration lies not in reforming detention centers or keeping families together or speeding up the processing. All those and more need to happen. The poverty and violence that drives people from their homes must be overcome. A postcard to send to Congress and a sample script to call Congress are available in Fellmann Hall. You may fill it in and leave it and I will see it gets mailed or you may take it home and send yourself.

Maybe God will invite us to prepare family care plans for our own families or to share them with friends and community members who are at risk. Examples are available in Fellmann Hall.

Maybe God will nudge us to use a part of the treasure we have received to care for people in need. The Deacons have made a gift to Angry Tias and Abuelas, a group that provides care and advocates for people on the border from Brownsville to McAllen, Texas. Our One Great Hour of Sharing Offering supports the ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with refugees and immigrants. There are other organizations to which we could give if we choose. Fellman Hall.

God will ask us to take care of ourselves in times of fear, confusion, and despair. Elijah took a nap. The angel gave him something to eat and drink. Anne Lamott reminds us that “Radical self-care is the secret of joy, resistance, freedom. When we care for ourselves as our very own beloved—with naps, healthy food, clean sheets, a lovely cup of tea—we can begin to give in wildly generous ways to the world, from abundance.”

And God will ask us to listen. God is still with us and, if we keep listening, God will remind us that the love that binds us all together is stronger than any fear. Any confusion. Any despair. God’s love is stronger, and it is in that love that we will find our way. May it be so. Amen.

 

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The first time

59788482_10156994797076063_8186161344953712640_nOn June 29, 1980, the Presbytery of Shenango ordained me. In the approximately 38 years, 10 months, and 10 days since, I have never worn a clerical collar. Until today.

I wore a collar as I participated in the New Sanctuary Coalition‘s Life Bond Fund program. I went to the Department of Homeland Security’s office to post bond for an immigrant in detention. It was an honor.

I also recognize the privilege (white and male) that I carry and that has allowed (and continues to allow) me to appear in hospitals, nursing homes, jails, prisons, halls of power, street demonstrations, church gatherings, and other places, wearing pretty much what I choose, and say that I am a minister and be recognized as such. I am working for a world in which everyone receives the same treatment and welcome I do.

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We Meet Again Tour – 4 July 2018

IMG_7677The tour took a short walk, a couple of blocks uptown, and downhill, to West 125th and Broadway. There it joined Mama Ruby Sales and the Rev. Dr.  Jacqui Lewis, the founding directors of the Vincent and Rosemarie Harding Center for Social and Spiritual Restoration,  for a Mourn-in and Day of Fasting to #EndFamilySeparation.

We gathered outside the Cayuga Center where children separated from their parents at the border are reportedly held during the day.

We called for:
an end to this unjust and cruel separation
a renewal of democracy
the strength to stay on the battlefield of justice until we win

We affirmed that:
God is love
And all who abide in love
Abide in God
And God in us

We proclaimed that:
The walls that they build
To tear us apart
Will never be as strong as
The walls of our hearts
The desert is hot
But we are the rain

#FamiliesBelongTogether
#EndFamilySeparation

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Filed under Antiracism, Current Events, New York

Always broken

The system is broken.

I have heard that often following the decisions of grand juries not to indict in the cases of the killing of Michael Brown and the killing of Eric Garner.

The system is broken.

Unless the speaker means she/he is just realizing that for people of color, women, immigrants, members of the LGBTQIA community, and many others, the system has always been broken, I strongly disagree with that statement.

The system was built on the institution of chattel slavery. And when that institution ended, it was replaced by Jim Crow laws that legalized segregation. And when those laws were overturned, institutionalized racism remained, expressing itself today in the New Jim Crow that results in “millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then denied rights, rights won in the struggle, and relegated to a permanent second-class status.

The system was built on indentured servitude.

The system was built on the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the theft of their resources.

The system was built on the theft of the land of Latinos/Latinas.

The system was built by controlling who could enter the country. And then providing a welcome that grudginly accepted labor but only slowly and incompletely accepted humanity.

The system was built on the view that women and children were property of men to care for, perhaps, but also to dominate and abuse and violate.

The system was built on driving people who did not fit the cisgender, heterosexual norm into closets.

The system was built to privilege a few at the expense of the many.

The system is broken. The system has always been broken.

The vision of a system that provides justice and equality for all has long been with us, perhaps always been with us. It judges and challenges the status quo. Since the beginning, there have been people who have been caught by the vision and have challenged the system, who have worked to remake it. Through their efforts, progress has occurred. I give thanks for them. I give thanks for where we have come. But significant work remains to create a system that provides justice and equality for all.

The system is broken. It has always been broken.

God grant me grace and courage to support and join those who seek to remake it.

See you along the Trail.

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On my heart and mind: children

Child soldiersA while back, I posted a sermon about children. Grieving the many places where children endure unimaginable violation, it affirms our call to care for children:

In this place, I am reminded that God is at work in all places. And that sustains and challenges me to look for how God is at work and, as the Holy Spirit gives me grace, to join in that work.

Children have been in my heart and on my mind this week.

Faith in God in Christ have put them there.

And in this place, God invites us all to join in caring for the children. The children of this congregation. The children of this community. All the children, all God’s children of the world. May we hear and respond.

Today, my friend Laura Mariko Cheifetz posted a reflection on children “Children Aren’t Disposable“. She reaches a similar conclusion:

I think children matter. I think everyone’s child matters. I do not believe that parents or communities or even children need to be virtuous or free of fault in order to think their children and perhaps even their parents deserve protection and generosity. You can make all the bad decisions you want, but I still believe you and your children deserve life. I extrapolated this from the lesson my parents drummed into me: You do not have to earn grace. It has already been given.

Children matter. Their families matter. Grace has already been given. Let’s act like it.

And she does a better job of lifting up ways to act:

Support the Children’s Defense Fund. They do great work at a policy level.

Read Toxic Charity. Consider changing your mission to be less charity and offers more agency to people. Bulk discounts (for your Sunday school or book group) are available. http://www.thethoughtfulchristian.com/Products/9780062076212/toxic-charity–paperback-edition.aspx

Write letters to migrant children. http://www.groundswell-mvmt.org/faithshare/people-are-writing-letters-to-the-migrant-children-and-they-are-beautiful/

Advocate for immigration reform that will allow people dignity and a path to regularization. Congress has recessed for August, so there isn’t legislation to advocate for. But you can still leave a message with your U.S. and state congresspeople urging them to support meaningful immigration reform and humane immigration processes, particularly for children and their parents who may be eligible for asylum, rather than increased criminalization and security measures. TheThoughtfulChristian.com has many books and downloadable studies to help you and your church talk about immigration and take action.

Oppose zero-tolerance policies in schools, stop and frisk public policing, and other ways that disproportionately criminalize black and brown youth.

You may give to UNICEF and UNRWA, who work with children in Gaza and the occupied territories. You can also ask your congresspeople to reconsider our typical military aid package to the nation of Israel. You could work with local peace organizations to advocate for an end to the blockade and the occupation.

Children matter. Join in caring for them.

See you along the Trail.

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