Approximately 50,000 children are currently filling makeshift detention centers along the southern border of our country. If you’ve watched the evening news you may have seen images of the conditions they are being kept in: sleeping in piles on top of each other, sitting on concrete floors, in chain link pens. You may have seen videos or read stories about the residents of Murrieta, California blocking a bus full of children being moved to a detention facility in their town to ease crowding, waving flags and chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A!” I have heard this described as a political crisis, an economic crisis, a public health crisis, and even a humanitarian crisis, but above all I believe this is a crisis of hospitality.
Ultimately this is about our willingness to welcome strangers into our communities and lives; to share our resources, and our space. Whenever we are talking about hospitality we are talking about whether we trust God to provide. Do we fundamentally trust that there is enough to meet everyone’s needs? Are we willing to sacrifice even a little of our own comfort for the sake of others? Or are we convinced that there isn’t enough to go around? Will we prioritize our own luxuries over the lives of strangers?
Because lives are at stake. These children are mostly refugees fleeing from violence and poverty. Refusing them our hospitality is condemning them to suffering we would never countenance for any child we know.
It is agonizingly clear where God stands on these matters. Hospitality is a core virtue of the Old and New Testament. Leviticus 19:33-34 reads, “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Exodus 12:49 says, “There shall be one law for the native and for the immigrant who lives with you.” Again and again throughout the law and the prophets God instructs Israel to be merciful to strangers, to welcome outsiders, and to treat aliens as well as they treat their own people.
I am not a preacher prone to hellfire and brimstone proclamation, but if there is a sin worthy of warnings about God’s wrath it is inhospitality. The famous episode of Sodom and Gomorrah from the book of Genesis tells the story of God destroying nations for outrageous sin. It begins with Abraham playing gracious host to angels, which is then contrasted with the outrageous inhospitality of the residents of Sodom to the same angels. The one man God deems worthy of saving from Sodom is Lot who tries to be a good host and to protect the angels from his neighbors’ cruelty. The prophet Ezekiel explicitly says, “This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn’t help the poor and the needy.”
We deport these children at our peril. We close our borders against the will of God. We hoard our wealth and condemn others to poverty and death in flagrant defiance of Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The writer of Hebrews abjured Christians, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I implore you to see these children crowding our detention centers as the angels they are, having been sent to us by God to receive our hospitality. More than that, as Christians we should recognize the very face of Christ in the face of every refugee, for our savior was himself a refugee from violence, when his parents fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.
But no, currently the plan is to send them back as fast as we can in the hopes that we can discourage any more angels from coming to seek our hospitality.