Like many of you, I watched this past week’s government shutdown with rapt fascination. It reminded me of my college days, seeing two drunks staggering around in the parking lot, saying things that made sense to each other but to no sober bystander, moving inescapably toward an inevitable, yet ridiculous exchange that not even the participants would be able to credibly defend, or even remember the reasons for, after the fact. And yet, it was morbidly watchable, all the same.
Part of the motivation behind the shutdown, as near as I can understand it, had to do with DACA. There are two types of people, I’ve learned. Those who don’t understand DACA, and those who pretend they do. I don’t, but I believe it’s an American immigration policy that allowed some individuals who entered the country illegally as minors the opportunity to be protected from deportation and obtain a work permit. And, whether you think immigrants in this situation should be so protected, or that DACA was a dramatic overreach of executive action, everyone would agree that immigration policy is incredibly complex.
While immigration policy is a tremendously complicated political issue, how we as followers of Christ are to treat foreigners among us is not quite as complex. I think one of the really important qualities of living a robust Christian faith is being careful to delineate what are political issues, and what are biblical ones. We want to be exceptionally careful, I think, to not work so hard to have the “correct” political position that we forget to love as Jesus loves, and as He commands us to love. If we get it wrong politically, well, we can fix it in four years (or two, or six). If we take what God calls good and call it something else, and others get hurt, that can’t be repaired, for them or for us.
If you read much Scripture, one thing that’s clear is that God has a deep, abiding concern for the sojourner, the strangers or foreigners among us. In Exodus 23, God tells Israel, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Have you ever felt as though you live in a society where everyone else thinks, speaks, believes, and acts differently than you? Where they look at you as if you’re strange, as if you don’t belong, maybe marginalizing you because you don’t speak, believe, and act as they do? If you answered, “yeah, every day of my life,” then you know the heart of a sojourner, too.
God calls us to reach out to those who aren’t like us, probably because it helps us learn to love better and more. We learn to love in a way we can’t if we just love those exactly like us. There’s no effort, no seeking to understand and be understood there. To love the sojourner, we have to work at it; to be intentional. C.S. Lewis said that “to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything (or anyone), and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.” We have to love that way: with Kingdom love. When people are loved that way, by someone who they know is working at it, they respond. They want to know why someone would love them that way, when it’s so hard. They want to know the story of that person’s God, the God who also loves and cares for them.
Grace has been intentionally welcoming international students into our school for over a year now. People from all over the world are sending their children to Texas, of all places (yeah, we know it’s awesome, but we live here) because they have heard this is a school that is “blessed,” where their children will be loved and receive a top-notch education. These parents’ hearts-cry for a better life for their children creates incredible opportunities for our school community. It gives us an opportunity to love the way God loves, to testify to the unifying and reconciling power of the gospel. It also gives our school families the opportunity to engage our international kids, the sojourners among us, with the gospel, in ways that their parents accept and have even given their approval. As our school family is faithful, and God moves in our international kids’ hearts, we have the opportunity to equip them to return to their homes, filled with the Holy Spirit and ready to take the gospel back with them.
Learning to love the Other, and caring for them, understanding and being understood, also teaches our little Texan students to be culturally intelligent and well-prepared to build relationships with others in this increasingly-globalized world. It equips them to engage the world, as they’ve been called by God to do.
Loving the Other is messy and awkward; it’s way easier just to love “the Same.” It’s tempting to just label hard things as “political,” thereby assuaging our consciences and absolving us of the challenging work of loving well. But, the cries of those we slight and neglect and fail to love intentionally cry out to the Lord, and ring in His ears. Let us not be found unfaithful.