Two days after the candidate who trumpeted he would “build a wall” won the American presidential election—to our country’s great shame, in my opinion—Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University, gave us a timely reminder.
As part of the Fall Faculty Series on immigration, Cross spoke about what the Catholic Church says about the ethics of the immigration issue. It’s no surprise that the church doesn’t exactly line up with Donald Trump.
For one thing, scripture is full of references, from Abraham serving passersby to the parable of the Good Samaritan, of the Christian obligation to treat all humans as having worth—of the “other” being also our neighbor. That “welcome to the stranger,” Cross said, is central to Christianity. He backed that point up with multiple quotations from Catholic saints, popes and scripture.
As it says in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Mexicans included. And Muslims from Syria.
Both the global and American parts of the Catholic Church are very clear on several points, Cross said. Humans have a right to migrate when necessary for their safety or welfare, and families have a right to stay united. While a nation can control its borders and limit immigration for valid reasons related to the common good of that country, “emigration and immigration should not be impeded.” Especially not out of blind fear or needlessly.
In particular, the church specifically rejects categorical exclusion—the idea of banning all Muslim or all Syrians from the U.S.A. is simply against Catholic teaching. Catholics are instead required to practice hospitality. Welcome to the stranger is “an essential condition” of Christianity, Cross said.
“If you seek absolute security, you will not be able to engage in hospitality,” Cross noted.
Cross was careful to distinguish between patriotism—a healthy love of country that allows for other people to also love their countries—with nationalism, the insistence on promoting one’s own country over all others. A patriot may love her country, but she will aid the stranger. For example, the Good Samaritan was not a Jew, but recognized the need to aid a fellow human, a member of an antagonistic national group (the Jews) who was in need.
And countries, under Catholic teaching, have a particular obligation to not only treat migrants with respect, but to be especially helpful and welcoming to refugees.
Well, the crowd was larger for this presentation than some other recent ones in this fall series. I can’t but think we wanted some words of wisdom in the wake of the harsh new political landscape that is settling over this country. More than 50 people listened patiently to Cross. I wish you could have been there. Most of all, I wish DJT had been watching. It was quite a lot of material to absorb, and I’m afraid I am not doing it justice.
But the crowd listened attentively. There was a subdued mood, a somberness to the group. Catholic teaching, it seemed to me, on this ethical point was both clear and balanced. And, sadly, our country has chosen a man as president whose campaign promises were often actively in the opposite direction—not welcoming to the stranger, not treating the least among us well at all.
“Build the wall,” he cried. And I couldn’t help but think of Gabriel, who spoke so eloquently in earlier events in our series—a DACA student at MMU who is facing an uncertain future. A gifted artist who has lived almost all of his life in Iowa and who is on the cusp of earning a bachelor’s degree—exactly what would we gain by exporting him to Mexico? Nothing. It would make us poorer as a country.
It’s crushing. It’s a travesty.
If I were to Tweet about Trump’s repeated calls for anti-Christian actions, for his approach to immigration that is directly opposed to central ideas of Christianity, I suppose only one word comes to mind, and it seems inadequate.