By Rev. Corey L. Brown
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2 NRSV)
I have long been an activist in the fight against all injustice, long before the Trump era. I have marched for #BlackLivesMatter. I have protested the unconstitutional immigration raids. I have committed my solidarity in the fight for the LGBTQ community against the “bathroom” legislation against transgender choice. I have attended vigils against the state-sanctioned executions of individuals. I am a staunch supporter of my Muslim friends in the fight against xenophobia and Islamophobia. The Church has been known for being a silo, selectively choosing when to get involved. Just recently the African Methodist Episcopalian Bishops have spoken up against the injustices arising because of legislation from the Trump administration. I have finished my second year of my Masters of Divinity at a Baptist Theological Seminary. We have made some attempts at providing safe spaces since my time here, but they have been just that. I feel we have missed the mark at creating community. As an older African American male student, I have watched as some of the faculty struggled with empathizing or even understanding the plight of many of the students from my context. I have also been in talks with younger, white liberal students from conservative families and churches, who struggle with the apparent animosity towards conservative religious and political views and policies. The white students have confided in me that they do not feel safe enough to speak their mind, considering the hostilities. They acknowledge they have their own personal contentions with conservative views but are products of them and their friends and family are still operating in those worlds. In a way, I sense they still feel they must defend their hometown families and communities from the angry liberal discussions, even if it places them in tension with their current views. Due to the hostility of the environment, they feel as if they are in the minority and do not feel safe to speak their mind. As a minority, it takes effort on my part to see or empathize with them because throughout the life of many minorities, we have been the ones in the “unsafe” place. I have enough compassion to realize that as a minister who wants to unite and show love for everyone, I should be willing to empathize with their plight of role reversal. It must be traumatic believing that what has given you security is in threat of being dismantled or removed, no matter how wrong or unethical it may be. Security and safety are what all of us desire for our families and our community. This is where the church comes in. I believe the church needs to be a place of tension. If we sit in pews week after week and are not moved by the existence of suffering and our complicity in its continuance, we are not fulfilling our roles of the Christian faith. Our goal is to recognize suffering and to do what we can to end it, even it means a sacrifice on our part. This is a basic requirement of community.
An immigration and refugee ban goes against the premise of hospitality of Christianity. Legislation which allows the banking industry to go unchecked is no way to empower the working class impacted by the questionable practices of the past. An administration considering canceling the Johnson amendment which draws a distinct line between partisan politics and religion fails to consider the theological implications and the potential for a national religion.
As Christians, we have every right to protest unjust policies and legislation, but partisan politics has no place in religion. Our founding fathers were very clear and had no intention of this being a Christian nation as many proclaim. Many argue allowing prayer in schools. Prayer was never removed, legally your child can pray in school. As we fight for prayer in schools, proponents need to understand that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikh, Baha’i, and even atheists are going to have to be included in that decision to satisfy the Freedom of Religion in the Constitution.
White evangelical Christianity has been very vocal and active in its support of partisan politics. This is very disturbing as it shows a lack of understanding on the part of the leadership in putting the backing of it religious institutions and churches behind a party, even going so far as to say that a candidate is G-d’s chosen candidate. One of the many things highlighted during this Presidential campaign and election season is that there are a group of people who have had no interest in creating an inclusive community, but have been awaiting the opportunity to vocalize and to act on deep-seated anger and resentment. Phobias against groups of people are used to empower and embolden people with no intention of acknowledging the humanity of others or of being in communion with others. Even the most “devout” Christians have come out as being radically against showing love for all humankind, arguing that it upsets the normal balance of things.
We must stand and combat this regression into incivility towards the world and towards each other. How can we espouse the tenets of Christianity on Sunday morning but stand at our borders and deny refuge for those escaping persecution and death? How can we sit in silence as women and children cry out because they are abandoned by their country, kidnapped by terrorist, and exploited by opportunists all because they pray differently than I do and use their native word for “G-d?” As a student of a seminary of a public university, I am calling on the students and faculty to come together for the sake of humanity. I have watched over the course of a year as the English Language Learning Institute (ELLI) population has dwindled in response to anti-Islamic sentiment. I watch as our seminary serves as host to ELLI student classes, but spend little time showing hospitality towards these students. As a minority student, my acknowledging them and speaking with them only goes so far. I am not seen as a threat or as someone in authority or power, not one who has threatened to kill the families for the sake of gathering intelligence.
Higher education has long served as a welcoming beacon to the citizens of the world and is doing itself a disservice choosing to stand in silence as the world suffers. I demand that we publicly denounce all policies and legislation that denies the humanity of anyone, that confirms the fears and phobias of oppressors or racists.