The Imago Dei or Image of God
“Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27
This is the word of God. Humanity however has seemed to put restrictions on who has been created in God’s image. We have put restrictions upon who should be treated with basic dignity and respect. Immigration has always been a touchy subject in our country. Even though most of us in this country has lineage that begins in another country, we often try to decide who is truly from here, and who truly deserves to be here. And this often leads to treating immigrants as if they were below those who are “from” here. Even though we read that all humans share God’s image.
Over the past few years immigration has become an extremely personal thing for my family. My wife Tamar was born and raised in Spain and didn’t move to the U.S. until we were married. The process for becoming a resident is one of the longest, expensive, and difficult processes someone can go through. We began the process back in March of 2011 and as of this writing we are still not completely in clear with her residency.
During this time my wife has continuously been disrespected , especially whenever we travel. There are two instances that stick out more than the rest. One of them came while I was traveling to the airport to pick her up. Half way through the drive I get a call from my wife who is in tears telling me that she may not be able to stay in the country. At this point we have been following the law and keeping up with our paperwork so I am confused to why she would not be able to. She tells me she has been locked in a room in Philadelphia airport for three hours being interrogated and screamed at by customs and security. She eventually tells me she believes she will be able to come home but is still in shock by the experience. During the experience she is without cause or reason threatened to be deported and sent back to Spain.
The other experience came this past summer when we returned home from Spain. Upon return we had to sit in customs for multiple hours. The process is completely dehumanizing. You enter into a large room and are given a number and told to sit down be quiet and don’t do anything. While you sit in silence in this large room with other people hoping to visit family, return to school, return to a job or return home, you are serenaded by the interrogations that are happening in the smaller offices surrounding the room. You can hear the agents broadcasting to the room personal information like where other members of your family live, what you do for a living, how much money you make, where you have traveled, any diseases you have and even the birthdate of the child you are expecting. At one point I had to actually remind myself that we hadn’t done anything wrong. The process is arranged to assume guilt, try to shame people enough to admit guilt and then see what happens from there. It seems like a lot of time could be saved if we just stuck to actually checking if people had what was necessary for travel and move from there. While we were sitting there I was trying to remember where I had felt this experience before. Then I remembered, jail. The difference is the people in here had not actually broken any law but we were still all made to feel that way. We eventually were able to leave but I couldn’t help think what would have happened if I wasn’t there? What if Tamar didn’t speak english as well? There were so many people there who were treated like garbage, not because they deserved but just because they were different. The problem is that this is not just a few bad experiences. This happens across the country to thousands of people who are literally just trying to come home.
President Trump issued an order last week that temporarily put a hold on accepting people from select countries in order to sure up the vetting process. A number of people have reached out to me asking me how my family feels about it and if we are ok. I understand the President and those who support his order when they talk about the need for security and safety. I agree we should try our best to keep people safe. However I don’t believe this is what is driving this decision and I don’t believe it is what drives much of the legal process around immigration in general. What drives this process is fear. Fear of those who are different.
I firmly believe that we can be secure and humane at the same time. The denial of refugees is counter to so much of who we say we are as a nation, let alone who we say we are as followers of Christ. To turn people away in their deepest moments of need does not reflect a land of the brave. To detain people and keep them away from their families does not reflect a land of the free. When we turn away the refugee we turn away the orphan, the sojourner, people who we are consistently reminded to care for in scripture. When we turn away the refugee we turn away Christ, who himself was a refugee at one point in his life (Matthew 2:13-23).
The order has been met with much resistance, including the denomination that we are a part of the Wesleyan church. The denomination along with other denominations and organizations crafted a letter to the President expressing concerns over this order. Please read it and be on the look out for further ways to discuss, engage and resist. In the meantime be in prayer for our country and ALL it’s citizens, show compassion to those who may not be able to see loved ones because of the order, and be quick to listen. I pray we will be lead with compassion rather than fear.