|The Leadership of Rising Hope United Methodist Church|
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
It is a small thing. Not much at all in the grand scheme of world events. And at first glance it may look more like darkness than light. But I believe that when the church stands up for the gospel, it matters.
This morning I received a letter from a United Methodist layperson in Virginia. His sister is a member of our church and he attends with her when he is visiting.
He enclosed a letter from the Alexandria District Superintendent, Rev. Jeff Mickle, addressed to the clergy of that district.
Rev. Mickle wrote to inform the pastors of what he called “a special cause for prayer and advocacy” in relation to the appropriately named Rising Hope United Methodist Church:
“On Wednesday morning of last week, February 8, as a group of homeless men left the Rising Hope hypothermia shelter at 6:45 a.m., a contingent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were stationed just across the street from the church to stop these men. The agents gathered the men (all Hispanic) and forced them to stand against a wall for two and a half hours while they were questioned. Many of the men had green cards, and no criminal warrants that would justify this kind of treatment. Eventually, about six men were arrested and taken away in vans.”He went on to explain that he had participated in a prayer vigil and press conference held at the ICE Field Office in Fairfax County. Jim Wallis, of the Sojourners community, was one of the speakers, along with the Rev. Keary Kincannon, Lead Pastor of Rising Hope UMC, where the raid took place.
Rev. Mickle assured his colleagues that “Keary represented the call of Christ and the witness of the United Methodist Church very well.” And he reported an obvious but crucial point made by Jim Wallis, that "If the choice is between honoring a president’s campaign promise, or honoring the commands of Jesus, the Church has no choice but to follow Jesus, even if it leads us to stand up against the actions of the government.”
The District Superintendent went on to express his hope that “many of you can participate in solidarity with our brother Keary and in support of the ministry of Rising Hope UMC.”
“As you know,” he writes, “Jesus tells us that ‘inasmuch as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me,’ which specifies feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger.” When government agents stake out churches which are fulfilling the commands of Christ, it is important for other Christians to bear witness.
“Please keep the matter in your prayers in the days ahead,” he writes.
And then he adds:
“Please be prepared to stand up when the time comes.”
I guess if you are keeping score, the ICE agents won this one.
But for me it is still a sign of hope.
In a time when so many Christians seem to hate immigrants (and LGBTQ people, and people of color, and poor people) so much more than they love Jesus, I am thankful for Rising Hope UMC and the people who will stand up for the strangers who sojourn with us in our land.
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