We don’t want to love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves. We don’t even want to claim people who are different from us, less powerful than us, more vulnerable than us or somehow indebted to us as neighbors.
Jesus challenges us with the painful truth that many religious people would rather claim God’s name than conduct themselves according to God’s character.
We are never excused from the challenge and call to holiness in the social justice mandate of the Holiness Code and the Sermon on the Mount.
We are called to be God’s people. We are called to live in the power of God’s character. We are called to demonstrate God’s character and claim on our living by the way we treat people.
Jesus reminds us that God’s sunshine and rain are indiscriminate. God’s blessings do not draw distinctions on how people are treated based on professions of faith, political ideology, national origin, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation, gender, age or anything else.
God is calling God’s people to God’s page.
So if God in the Holiness Code and Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are saying the same thing – that being the holy people of God involves loving the poor, alien, worker, vulnerable and even the enemy as oneself – what are we to make of the effort by a group calling itself “Secure Arkansas?”
Secure Arkansas wants to pass legislation that would prohibit immigrants from receiving public assistance benefits from state agencies.
State House Bill 1292 would deny persons who are not lawful residents of the United States from receiving public assistance benefits except in cases of life-threatening or emergency situations.
The leading proponents of HB1292 include Jeannie Burlsworth, chairman of Secure Arkansas, and Debbie Pelley, state coordinator for education of Secure Arkansas. These activists also affiliate with a group that calls itself “Women of Prayer and Action.” Burlsworth, Pelley and others associated with them profess to be people of faith.
Is their faith that of God and Jesus? Does it square with the call to holiness found in the Holiness Code and Sermon on the Mount?
The plain answer is that a religious or social ethic that seeks to justify denying help to immigrants is anti-holy.
It does not come from the heart of God. It is not consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus.
It may be politically popular to withhold help from others based on where they come from, but that isn’t true to the heart of God. It may be politically popular to fear people who speak another language, come from other homelands, and are vulnerable in our communities on account of those realities and their economic and other hardships, but that isn’t holy.
The God of migrating Hebrews told them to provide for poor people and aliens. Jesus had earthly parents who were forced to migrate to Egypt. They can’t be the same source of efforts to withhold food, shelter and other necessities of life from people on account of their nationality.
We are called to be holy because God has called us to join God’s character. God has called us to join God’s heart and live toward others as God lives towards us.
God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to claim each person as neighbor. God has called us to be comfortable with others and with God because God is comfortable with us even in our “otherness.”
And in case you question if this is true, revisit Leviticus 19:33-34. You’ll find these words: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
Secure Arkansas, Jeannie Burlsworth, Debbie Pelley and the “Women of Prayer and Action” appear to be on a very different page from the page of God and Jesus.
They appear to be on an unwelcoming, ungenerous, unloving, and unholy page.
It’s one thing to refuse to love as God loves if we don’t want to be children of God. But if we claim to be children of God while we refuse to love others as God loves them and us, then we are hypocrites.
God calls us to holiness, not hypocrisy. Let’s show the world we’re on God’s page with Jesus. Otherwise, we run the risk of forging God’s name to an unholy, unwelcoming and unloving page we’ve written.
God is calling us to share God’s holy character, not defame it. Let’s act like we know the difference.
Wendell L. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas.