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Statement from Bishop LaTrelle Easterling: Jan. 31, 2017

January 31, 2017

Bishop's header

Beloved,

On January 16, 2017, we celebrated the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His message of justice, liberation, and inclusion reverberated from coast to coast as we remembered our national hero. Whether it was during a breakfast, dinner, or church service in his honor, his words decrying hatred, bigotry, injustice, segregation, and discrimination were extolled as morally compelling. Therefore, it is perplexing at best and painfully hypocritical at worst that just nine days later our president signed Executive Orders contradicting everything we revere in Dr. King.

We are a nation of immigrants. Unless your ancestors are of Native American descent, your relatives arrived on these shores from another country. And, save those brought here as enslaved persons, everyone else is the descendant of strangers who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This country has welcomed millions of immigrants in pursuit of the American dream. How can it be that we would now close our borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented persons without regard for our founding principles, history, and religious convictions?

Our holy writ proclaims, "[God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). This message of love, mercy, and inclusion is continued in our new covenant, the New Testament, as Jesus shares the parable concerning strangers and the vulnerable. Jesus cautions that each stranger is a representation of himself as he teaches, "I assure you that when you have done it for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me" (Matthew 25: 40). Conversely, when we have not welcomed the stranger, we have not welcomed Jesus. This is what the Lord requires of us. This is the measure of our Christian witness.

We must be careful that our claims of protecting our homeland from violence are not thinly veiled excuses for racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. As our president has signed orders banning all people from seven countries from entering the United States, the most affected religious body of that group are Muslims. He has done this under the guise of national security. We have seen this type of mass discrimination before in our history. Japanese internment camps were constructed during WWII out of professed fear. Many of those interned were United States citizens. On numerous occasions, our country has sought forgiveness for that heinous act of racial profiling. The current Executive Orders are equally heinous. The sins of a few extremists cannot be imputed to the majority of faithful Muslims.

As United Methodists we must live the gospel we proclaim. For such a time as this we must preach the courage of our Wesleyan convictions, teach a theology that welcomes the stranger, and advocate a witness that stands with the marginalized and oppressed. I invite all congregations who want to become sanctuary churches to contact your district leadership about the training and resources available to do so. This is also a time for deep Bible study and reflection. Your conference staff can suggest resources for your use, and the names of persons who can help facilitate your studies.

Now is the time for us to stand on the side of justice. In the words of Dr. King, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Now is the time for us to stand on holy ground.

Blessings and peace,

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling

 

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