You Shall Not Wrong A Stranger Or Oppress Him

You Shall Not Wrong A Stranger Or Oppress Him May 30, 2018

Once, the people of Israel were migrants. They had no land of their own. In Egypt, they experienced the hostility often given to migrants, suffering harshly by the dictates of the Egyptians. In rescuing the people of Israel, making them a holy and chosen nation with a land of their own, God told them to remember what it was like to be hated for being strangers in a land not their own. That way, they would know how and why to treat strangers with justice:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless  (Ex. 22:21-24 RSV).

Later, the prophets like Zechariah repeated this command:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart (Zech. 7:9-10 RSV).

The principle behind the law was summed up by Jesus: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12 RSV).

The people of Israel wanted to be treated with respect. Therefore, they must treat others with similar respect. After they suffered injustice in Egypt, God liberated them. He gave them a land of their own, but he also expected them to show such mercy and grace to others as they had been given. God’s cause is for the oppressed, for those who suffer at the outskirts of society, mistreated and abused: the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger, and the immigrant all faced incalculable hardships and so were the ones Israel had to most look after and respect. This is because God, as the Psalmist understood, stands for the cause of the needy and the oppressed: “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor!” (Ps. 72:4 RSV).

The United States, also a land of immigrants, should also remember its origins and likewise keep in mind the plight of the migrant, opening itself up to them with mercy and grace. The sojourner, the migrant, the stranger among us, should not be someone treated with paranoia or contempt. Instead, they should be someone we embrace and welcome into our community. The blessings which we have been given is meant to be shared, not hoarded up. We should give to others how we would like to be given if we ever found ourselves in a time of need. This is especially true for those in the United States who are Christians, for the mercy they have been given, they should render to others. What Pope Francis said in Chile is applicable to Christians in the United States as well. To be true to their name, they must render to the others a festive hospitality filled with love:

This land is a land of dreams, but let us work to ensure that it also continues to be a land of hospitality.  A festive hospitality, for we know very well that there is no Christian joy when doors are closed; there is no Christian joy when others are made to feel unwanted, when there is no room for them in our midst (cf. Lk 16:19-31).[1]

Sadly, despite being a nation built up by immigrants, the United States has a long history of hatred towards immigrants. They are often feared, hated, and mistreated. Racist propaganda, generalizing based upon a few bad examples, forms the basis by which oppression towards migrants is justified. We see this going on today. President Trump defends abuse to immigrants by having them all looked at as criminals worthy of condemnation. Indeed, he will blur the lines between criminals, like those in MI13, and all other immigrants, encouraging the public to equivocate between the two, so the public will think all immigrants at our border are like MI13 and not “innocent.”

It is terrible to see what is happening to refugees and other would-be immigrants at the border of the United States.  The United States has forgotten its past and now treats others as its people once were treated. We oppress the stranger.

Worse yet, we oppress and abuse children who come to the border. We do not seem to care what happens to them. Those who come alone, seeking aid, may or may not be orphans, but they practically are, and instead of being looked after with due diligence, they are thrown into a system which ignores their plight. Many become lost, with no governmental agency caring what happens to them.  Some, indeed, have been handed over to traffickers, because the government has handed children over to sponsors without doing proper vetting to make sure the sponsors will care for and treat the children properly.

This is not something new. This has been going on for years. As Newsweek explained, violence towards migrant children was a major problem during the Obama presidency:

Migrant children under the care of United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) were allegedly beaten, threatened with sexual violence and repeatedly assaulted while in custody between 2009 and 2014, according to a report released Wednesday from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.[2]

While this has been going on long before the Trump administration, Trump’s policies will only make their plight worse, as children will be separated from their parents and treated as if they were unaccompanied by an adult. Families are divided, with no respect for the needs of children nor any respect to the notion of family. It’s cruelty, but that is the point: by mistreating would-be immigrants, the hope is that they would be detoured from coming to the United States. To make that practical, the United States is going to have to become so cruel, it tyranny will have to rival the nations from which the refugees are fleeing. The United States will have to become a monstrosity upon the earth. And because Trump is adamant his attempt to halt immigration and to expel foreigners, what was a problem, perhaps and unknown but terrible defect of the system, becomes a principle to expand upon and exploit.

The mistreatment of any immigrant, anyone seeking asylum, refuge, or a better life, deserves condemnation. Christians especially should realize that God is angered over such cruelty. God warned Israel what was to happen if they continued in their injustice, saying they would be punished and banished from their land, but he also gave Israel a chance for redemption, as the prophet Jeremiah indicated:

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another,  if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever (Jer. 7:5-7 RSV).

What is worse, however, is the abuse which our system gives to children. The maltreatment of children, children in need, is a crime against humanity. Such cruelty, such injustice, demonstrates the evil principles which lay behind the modern immigration system in the United States. If the abuse of children is the outcome, then the system must be dismantled and something humane put in its place. Christians should realize this, and when they do not, when they back and defend Trump’s terrible policies, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.

[IMG=CBP Processing Unaccompanied Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

[1] Pope Francis, “ Mass Of Our Lady of Mount Carmel And Prayer for Chile” (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2] Gillian Edevane, “Border Patrol Kicked, Punched Migrant Children. Threatened Some With Sexual Abuse, ACLU Alleges” in Newsweek (5-23-2018).


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