In a Journey of Accompaniment & Service to Emerging Leaders

And what is our vision for the stranger?

Written byManuel Padilla

Any vision that would reshape our current and future ministry with the Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. begins with two facts. First, one in five U.S. Hispanic residents is here without official governmental authorization. Second, a fair number of those unauthorized Hispanic residents of the U.S.A. will continue to reside here in the shadows for a long time to come.

Duke Divinity School student Adrian Federico Apecena has shared an excellent paper titled “The Undocumented Immigrant and the Implications for Christianity in the United States.” Below are some excerpts from it that we hope will give us pause to reflect and share. In the text that follows, we have added parenthetic content to demonstrate the continuity of Mr. Apecena’s argument.

“The church in the United States has been divided in regards to what it means to view and deal with this in a Christ-like way. Should (our church treat) one who trespasses these immigration laws… as a criminal, even when it is an issue of their very survival?”

“My quest is to aid in educating the Christian community on what its role should be in this matter…. The question here would be: who is my neighbor? Does a legal document define who our neighbor is? Or does language? Particularly, if we are referring to those who are also Christians, are they not our neighbors? Should we… consider them (not to be) part of the body of Christ because they are in a country without permission of the government…?”

“An analysis of Romans 13: 1-7 is valuable in this discussion…. The first verse (says)… ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God….’ To be ‘subject’… means primarily… that one is in a position of subordination to the governing authorities….”

“An example of this subjection, though not one of obedience, can be found in the Book of Acts: ‘So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, <Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard>…. (Acts 4: 18-20) For them, there is a higher authority than that of the men who put them on trial…. I believe there is something important happening in this passage that must be pointed out. The apostles are not arguing that their incarceration is unjust…. They face the Jewish authorities and they subject their lives to them, yet they openly express that they are not willing to obey their orders…. We see a similar type of occurrence, to a more extreme measure, in the Old Testament with Daniel and his three friends…. Despite their disobedience to (K)ing Nebuchadnezzar, they remained subject to his authority and accepted their punishment, the consequences of their defiance.”

“The focus now turns to what Jesus’ life demonstrated for us in regards to this matter and how he acted in relationship to the foreigner/stranger. Let’s take a close look at the situation between Jesus and the woman from Samaria in John 4: 1-42… he was talking with a woman with the burden of a bad reputation. This is a burden that undocumented immigrants carry today because they have no ‘papers.’ Most of the time, (they’re) not given the opportunity to show that they, as we… see with the Samaritan woman, have value in the eyes of the Lord and could be a great gift to other believers and to their community.”

“Many in the church are of the understanding that we must care only for the widow and the fatherless…. James expresses very clearly what religion should look like, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’ (James 1: 27) If this is (all there is to) Christianity, (then) it makes sense that a big number of Christians do not see caring for the stranger or foreigner as God-ordained…. We cannot read Scripture as thousands of separate precepts… as if they each were separate from one another…. Throughout the Old Testament we see how God cares for the foreigner…. It is God’s desire that we not close the door in the face of those that are what Israel once was.”

“When they (Peter and John) faced the council they said that there were two authorities, one was God and the other was the council, but it was God’s call they were following. In the same way, presently in the U.S. we have two ruling authorities…. Sometimes when we are obedient to God’s will for our lives, we could end up in a situation in which we must face seemingly unfair treatment from earthly authorities, to whom we are called to be subject.”

At the end of the day, the church is not called to reenact within its own body the divisions of the cultural politic. Rather it is called to view the scriptural and historical struggles with this issue within the church, and then to act as logically and practically as we can – as the church.

When we consult together as a church, how shall we envision a future that includes these strangers and sojourners?


3 Replies
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Ivonne Ramírez

2015-02-20 04:44:04
I agree and disagree with this specific view of our current challenge in the country. It is true that immigrants can be treated differently because of their legal status and I can relate to that in situations of my everyday life. I am looked at by other people (my neighbors) as a stranger that is in their country as an intruder, I don't know if they were Christians or not but the treatment I sometimes get is the same from everybody. They don't know my legal status and they certainly don't know my character and the hard I work to be a good Christian girl, yet they do not include me as part of the church because of that same reason. Having said this I agree with Aquiles Martinez and his view of starting with ourselves to truly start welcoming others. We have to love and welcome ourselves as strangers in order to accept others because once we love ourselves we will be able to do the same for others. I am very excited and I look forward to learning more about the church and how we can help others but I am more anxious to learn about me through this experience so I can share it with the 'strangers'. If I love myself as an stranger then when I go out to the real world I will have many love to share.
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Jim Perdue

2015-02-20 03:51:15
My mind moves in a similar direction; but while understanding that we can never quite get away from anthropomorphism, I still would rather go down the other side of the mountain from the "me" side and suggest that, in the Bible, God is the ultimate stranger. (see: Abraham and the 3 strangers, Jacob wrestling, Elijah getting unceremoniously fired after the cave encounter, Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the sacrifice of Isaac, the Job dialogues, and the whole Old Testament things about the unpredictable and untrustable shekinah, and El Shaddai. And of course there's JHWH - I am who I am/I was who I was/I'll be who I'll be, thank you very much). And doesn't the saying about hospitality to the stranger as entertaining angels connect not only to Abraham and the 3 strangers, but also to the sense that the angel is pure messenger, in the Hebrew sense of bearing the very person of God? I think a good argument could be made that the preponderance of appearances about accepting and including the stranger in the Old Testament writings point instead, first the neighbor, and ultimately the stranger and the enemy as being testing steps along the way to really being able to dialogue and establish a trusting relationship with the divine mystery - whether it is a consuming fire or my old buddy Jesus. If we can't love the neighbor (or stranger) whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen? To me, this changes the whole approach to strangers as well as to family and neighbors, making today's immigrant, who is not stranger, enemy, family or neighbor, the ultimate enigma blocking humanity's path to God. Perhaps, that begins to get at the real problem; but, I digress... ;)
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Aquiles Martinez

2015-02-19 18:00:26
I appreciate Adrian's to embrace those whom we see as "'strangers" and "sojourners." However, to rely on one biblical/theological paradigm that tells us, in a linear way (and even messianic way), how to relate to others ("me" or "us" vis a vis "my" or "our neighbor") is not only incomplete but starts out with a questionable presupposition. Without neglecting the value of thinking of "others as neighbors" or discarding "the hospitality-loving our neighbor paradigm", we need to begin with "ME" since I AM MY OWN STRANGER. I need to learn how deal with my own self as THE CLOSEST NEIGHBOR (AND SOMETIMES ENEMY) as the foundation upon which my relationships with others will be developed :--). What I want for myself and do not want for myself is crucial for establishing a meaningful and reciprocal relationship with others :-)