Migrants, Refugees, And Religious Liberty

Migrants, Refugees, And Religious Liberty July 19, 2023

geralt: Refugees And Liberty / pixabay

Those who often speak upon religious liberty and human dignity often do the exact opposite of what they say. This is especially true within politics. Politicians like to portray themselves as defending freedom, and with it, religious liberty and human dignity, so that they can suggest that their critics and political opponents do not. They might give a limited nod to each, hoping that doing a little will prove they stand by their words, but when their ideologies run contrary human dignity or religious liberty, they show their true colors. This can be seen in the way so many of them want to establish laws which forbid or hinder people from helping the poor and needy get the food they need, or in the way they hate migrants and refugees, doing all they can to show forth their hate, including the promulgation of cruel laws and policies which are aimed to hurt them as much as possible. Those who speak on behalf of the poor, migrants, or refugees are often treated with similar cruelty; even when their faith requires them to be charitable to others, such politicians, despite claiming to be concerned about religious liberty, show how little they do as they work to circumvent that liberty by making it more difficult for those who are religious to aid those in need.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27 RSV). When people of faith, no matter what their faith, are prevented by law created to stop them from engaging the charity their faith expects from them, it is clear that those who make and enforce such laws have an interest in their own ideological stand more than they have in religious liberty. It is clear, they are using the rule of law to fight against the moral core which connects many religious traditions (including ethical atheists) together. If they were interested in religious liberty, they would not work to prevent people of faith from living out their moral obligations.

Since many of the same lawmakers proclaim adherence to the Christian tradition, and with it, an affirmation and respect to the Jewish tradition, they are ultimately fighting against their own faith tradition. One can question how much they use the faith for the sake of virtue signaling, trying to use it as a label for votes, for obviously, if they paid attention to the Jewish and Christian traditions, they would know they had an obligation to help the poor, the need, the oppressed, which especially includes refugees. We find, for example, coming from the warnings the Torah gave concerning what would happen if the faithful violated the expectations of such charity: “`Cursed be he who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, `Amen’” (Deut. 27:19 RSV).  Similarly, many prophets gave a simple command to show respect to those in need: “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). We are told we are to be kind, and in doing so, it is said that the Lord, God, is the ultimate recipient of our charity: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17 RSV). Jesus reinforced this when he said in the last judgment, what we do to those in need, is done to him (cf. Matt. 25:31-40).

Within both the Jewish and Christian tradition, beyond Scripture, we learn that we are expected to be generous to those in need. Pope St. Leo the Great, thus, rightfully exhorted his audience that it was important for them to live out their faith by doing good for the poor and the oppressed:

Generosity is also proper to merciful and gentle souls. There is nothing more worthy of human beings than to be the imitators of the Creator, and, according to the measure of their own faculties, to be executors of divine work. When the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick cared for, does not the help of God fill full the hands of the minister, and is not the kindness of the servant a gift of the Lord? Although he has no need of help in applying mercy, he also regulates his power that he supports the sufferings of human beings through human beings. [1]

St Leo made it clear, we show our love for God by loving our neighbor:

The love of your neighbor is the love of God, who has determined the fulfillment of “the law and the prophets” in this unity of double charity. None doubt that they offer to God whatever they distribute to human beings, as our Lord and Savior said when he spoke about nourishing and helping the poor: “What you did to one of these, you did to me.” [2]

Similar expectations are found in other religious traditions: charity is to be given, especially to those in great need. When this is neglected, or repudiated, religion loses its proper character.  “Every religion, when it falls into the hands of self-seeking people, is no longer imbued with the initial spirit of revelation. It becomes the religion of the moneyed class and exists in mere form.”[3] Sadly, many Christians have rejected the charity expected from them and replaced it with all kinds of dangerous ideologies, among the worst being so-called Christian nationalism, all the while still wanting to have the benefits promised by the Christian faith. They embrace it when they hear that God loves them and offers them saving grace, but they do not think what they have been given needs to be shared with others. They ignore or reject what Jesus said when he indicated that those who had their debts forgiven, those who have received grace from God, should share that grace with others. This is why they can easily believe that the benefits of religious liberty is not for everyone; they act as if they alone should be allowed to do whatever they want, especially when their actions challenge the rule of law. Similarly, they think they should be free to establish laws which promote their ideological desires, even if such laws end up forcing people to act contrary to the expectations of their religious faith (as can be seen by those who create  laws which deny people the freedom to feed the homeless). It is clear, they are not interested in religious liberty; they interested in using it only to justify their own selfishness. In doing so, they show how far they are from the way true religion is indicated by James (which, for most of them, far from the way their own religious Scripture indicates what constitutes an act of religious faith).

The cruelty which is shown to migrants and refugees by those who claim themselves to be pro-life and support human dignity show that they have little real interest to promote and support human dignity or life. Rather, they think such dignity should be offered only to those whom they believe are worthy of it. Who is and is not among the worthy might differ from person to person, but it is clear, they believe religious liberty and human dignity is for a few, not all. We can see this in the way they have no problem with pregnant migrant women suffering a miscarriage when their policies are put into practice; they blame the victim for their cruelty.  They say refugees should not have fled for their lives and sought asylum in the United States. Even when cruelty can be shown to be the point of their policies, they try to deflect from the situation and blame the victim, like a typical bully. This is exactly what we see happened with the transport of migrants by the governors of Arizona, Florida and Texas, as well as how migrants and refugees are treated at the border in Texas. It has been revealed that a migrant woman was caught in fencing and suffered a miscarriage as the Houston Chronicle reported (7-17-203),  from an email that a DPS trooper wrote:

According to the email, a pregnant woman having a miscarriage was found caught in the wire, doubled over in pain. And a four-year-old passed out from heat exhaustion after she tried to go through it and was pushed back by Texas National Guard soldiers.

The dehumanization of migrants, refugees sand the poor is terrible, in and of itself; it is worse when it is done by those who claim to be religious, let alone Christian. Christian clergy need to speak out against such inhumanity. They need to make it clear such actions repudiate the teachings of Christ. They should see if there are any actions which can and should be done by their ecclesiastical authorities to deal with such a violation of the Christian faith, For, it must be made clear by them, the Christian faith teaches what is done to the poor, to the needy, to the oppressed, to the refugee, is being done to Christ himself, who is found in and with them. Pope Francis in his “Message For the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (9-24-2023)”  indicates what the Christian, indeed, the humane response should be:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36). These words are a constant admonition to see in the migrant not simply a brother or sister in difficulty, but Christ himself, who knocks at our door. Consequently, even as we work to ensure that in every case migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant; this entails accompanying and managing waves of migration as best we can, constructing bridges and not walls, expanding channels for a safe and regular migration. In whatever place we decide to build our future, in the country of our birth or elsewhere, the important thing is that there always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.

A true embrace of religious liberty in the United States would mean Christians, and people of other faiths, should be free to show love and respect to those in need. This is especially true with the dispossessed, such as refugees. It certainly is what the Christian faith says is expected of its adherents. Christians should be able to welcome them, find a way to give them what they need without having their government punishing them. And, when they find themselves struggling to do what is right because their government stands in their way, they should look to the example of Lot: “Call to mind Lot and you will discover that it was not the strangers who sought for him, but he who looked for strangers and this was pursuing hospitality.”[4] Lot stood guard at the gates of Sodom so as to welcome strangers, making sure they received food and shelter, when the rest of the city would treat them with great abuse; Christians at the border should, therefore, be like Lot, always looking out for the migrants and refugees, that is for the stranger, making sure they are not only given a warm welcome, but the material and spiritual goods they need. If not, if they embrace a cruel demeanor towards the needy, they risk whatever judgment which shall befall upon those who undermine the rights of the oppressed: “”Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:5 RSV).

[1] St Leo the Great, Sermons. Trans. Jane Patricia Freeland CSJB and Agnes Josephine Conway SSJ (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1996), 189 [Sermon 43].

[2] St Leo the Great, Sermons, 393 [Sermon 94].

[3] Abdul Ghaffar Khan, My Life and Struggle. Trans. Imtiaz Ahmad Sahibzada (Roli Books: Greater Noida, India: 2021), 84.

[4] Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: Books 6-10. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2002), 214-5.


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