My God Is A Refugee: The Immigrant History Of The Christian & Jewish Faiths

The foundation of Jewish and Christian morality is the experience of refugees.
01/30/2017 05:13 am ET Updated Jan 30, 2017
By Tysto - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=123743

The foundation of Jewish and Christian morality is the experience of refugees. The children of Israel had lived as oppressed religious and ethnic minorities in the land of Goshen in Egypt. But the Lord heard their cries and delivered them from bondage, and after wandering through barren places for forty years, brought them at last to the Promised Land.

This story is what makes Jewish and Christian morality so radical, so egalitarian. The Torah, the law code of the people of Israel, speaks time and again of the need to treat foreigners with respect and dignity.

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21
One law and one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you. Numbers 15:16

This is a radical departure from the laws of other societies at the time. Back then, one set of laws applied to people of upper classes. Another for middle classes. Another for the poor and working class. Foreigners had no rights. No protections. Not so in the land of God’s chosen people.

The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34

Judaism and Christianity part ways over the messiahship of Jesus, but we share the belief that all human beings deserve dignity and compassion. All human beings must be treated as we would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the entire Torah, the rest is just commentary. Shabbat 31:a (Talmud)

Both Jews and Christians believe in a redeemer who will usher in an era of peace and righteousness upon the earth. Christians believe that redeemer came in Jesus Christ, to which Jews simply reply, “Really? Look out your window!” They have a point. The world is anything but righteous. Yet Christians also believe that God’s peace is breaking into the world, like little green shoots pushing their way through sometimes hard and unyielding soil. God’s redemption unites all humanity. And that unity is happening now.

The early Christians saw that unity in the church, a new kind of nation in which ethnicity, gender, and social status did not matter. Today’s Christians may see it in the protests that have sprouted up in response to Steve Bannon’s unconstitutional, unchristian, and un-American executive order (for it is becoming obvious that he is pulling Donald Trump’s strings). People from all religions, all nationalities, and all walks of life are coming together to confess, if not Jesus Christ, then certainly what he stood for.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:34-35

By that measure, some agnostics, atheists, and Neopagans have a greater claim to the kingdom of God than a whole lot of Christians, who on Sunday morning honor God with their lips, yet blaspheme with their apathy.

Some say America was founded as a Christian nation. They are wrong (see Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11). But let’s say for the sake of argument they are right, and that one nation “under God” means the Christian God. If that is so, then what do we make of the very experiences Christianity was founded on—refugees from Egypt seeking a place to call “home”?Indeed, some would say this is the founding story of the United States too (religious minorities seeking freedom across the sea). In that case, conservatives and liberals should join together in protest, for in less than a week the Trump administration has begun to put to the flames everything the United States, and the Christian faith, stands for.

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