Who will be sitting at our Thanksgiving table this year?
Will it be a relative or a friend?
Maybe some of our guests will be colleagues from work. Or a poor person and possibly an entire family who would appreciate a meal.
Some of us will be working at food kitchens and still others making sandwiches and giving them to the poor on the streets of our nation's cities.
Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of Thanksgiving. Clearly this question of American hospitality consumes the attention of our political system regarding refugees from the war-torn Middle East. I am, however, more concerned about how this immigration issue plays out in the pulpit and in the pews.
Judaism and Christianity have many sacred texts from our respective traditions that influence our values and our religious beliefs on both sides of this issue.
What texts will clergy use to justify their positions as to whether or not to welcome these refugees at our Thanksgiving table?
"The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34.
Jeremiah said in the 23rd chapter, "Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, do not shed innocent blood in this place" (22:3).
On the other side of this issue, Scriptures tells us about Amalek who was the first of ancient Israel's enemies. He was a terrorist whose people attacked the newly freed slave nation from behind, murdering the most vulnerable of the community of Israel. The battle against Amalek at Rephidim was the confrontation where as long as Moses lifted his hand in the air Israel would defeat Amalek and when he lowered his hand the Amalekites would be victorious over Israel.
This Scriptural image likens the modern day Amalekites to those who swear allegiance to ISIL.
They, like the ancient Amalekites, lay in wait and hide inside the throngs of immigrants from Syria. They bide their time in coming to America to do evil against our nation. Moreover, this Scriptural image reminds Americans to protect ourselves from the enemy who seeks to infiltrate us.
The question is which narrative will we adopt?
The Christian tradition has a multitude of sacred texts that teach how important it is to be hospitable as well as how to face our enemies. Other religious traditions speak to these issues as well. This quandary cannot be viewed only as an academic issue or strictly a theological debate. It is a spiritual question that impacts our ethics and contributes to creating public policy, which impacts national security interests in America.
Shall we welcome these immigrants to our shores? Is it acceptable, on the other hand, to preclude or halt immigration from these terrorist-afflicted lands when we feel the fear that to open those doors would put Americans at risk? Our nation has been struggling with these kinds of questions since we settled this great land.
There is an extensive history of religious conflict between not only white settlers and the Native American population but even between different denominations of Christianity during the earliest years of our settlement of North America. Catholics, Quakers and Baptists were vilified and demonized by the state-sponsored religions of Protestant Christianity since before the American Revolution. Even the famous Peter Stuyvesant wrote to the Dutch East India Co. to get permission to expel the small Jewish presence in New Amsterdam.
The fact is that in the history of immigration to America we have struggled with religious values to welcome the stranger alongside a fear and distrust of newcomers as a threat to our way of life.
Does America represent the Thanksgiving table for those seeking a new life and freedom from war? Does America have not have a solemn duty to protect itself against a self-declared adversary who would perpetrate the same kinds of crimes that other groups have successfully accomplished by attacking us in the past? Since we proudly proclaim we are a religious country and we supposedly take our faith traditions seriously, is this the time to consult our treasure house of religious teachings? Or are we to ignore them?
Thanksgiving is a time for families to celebrate the blessings of living in America. It is the one holiday not bound by any religious tradition but the one that includes them all. It is not the time to argue politics across the table, but it is a time to pray on the matter. It is a time, nevertheless, to consider what God wants us to do. Is it not a time to review our respective sacred texts for guidance so that whatever position we take we can say it is, at least in part, based upon our heartfelt religious convictions to the Hebrew and Christian teachings that we hold sacred in our daily lives?
Enjoy the delicacies of the Thanksgiving meal and reflect upon what it means to be an American and to answer the question: "Who deserves to sit at our Thanksgiving table?"