Debates continue to rage about immigration policy and the best way to manage our range of migrant and refugee crises. Yet much of our solution-seeking seems intently focused on the levers of government. Whatever side of the political divide, we continue to hear Biblical justifications for a range of policy solutions.
But however important those political considerations may be, we should remember that our basic ethic of Christian hospitality doesn’t rely or depend on decisions or decrees from the halls of American government.
Indeed, as the media and political conversations continue to bubble and boil, individual citizens across the country are quietly welcoming immigrants and refugees with intentionality and grace, bringing and integrating strangers in homes, communities, and churches, but also in private businesses.
In Denver, Colorado, for example, companies such as L&R Pallet have based their recruitment strategy on welcoming the stranger, affirming the dignity and creative capacity of new residents, regardless of language barriers or educational pedigree.
As Chris Horst explains in a profile for the Denver Post, L&R’s CEO, James Ruder, sees hospitality as a key component of Christian mission in the workplace. “I want to hire as many refugees as I possibly can,” says Ruder. “It’s been so refreshing to have these guys here. I have the best team of employees I’ve ever had.”
Horst summarizes their story as follows:
Several years ago, Ruder began hiring refugees to work in his company. Ruder credits his Christian faith as the motivating reason he began investing in Denver’s refugee population.
“All of us are refugees to this country at some point,” said Ruder. “If these people need refuge and God wants to make my company a place for them, that’s exciting.”
Today, nearly half of Ruder’s workforce are refugees. These craftsmen, builders and forklift drivers hail from places like Congo, Thailand and Burma. Ah Hki serves as an assistant supervisor on the shop floor.
Ruder doesn’t view this as one-sided charity. Indeed, in seeing our neighbors according to their true dignity and worth — regardless of background or any corresponding political squabbles — we actually invite new creativity and participate in new forms of abundance. By loving others through our economic partnership, we are bound to see fruit, and L&R most certainly has.
“Ruder believes hiring refugees has been the best decision he’s made,” Horst explains. “It’s required his company to adapt, but it’s a decision Ruder believes has benefited his company’s bottom line. And, it has improved the corporate culture. His employees have welcomed and celebrated the new members of the team.”
The political implications are important, but before and beyond all that, Christians participate within a framework of order and justice that so clearly begins with love of God and neighbor. Ours is an approach that recognizes the importance of rightly ordered relationships, and as with all relationships, that means an embrace of vulnerability and struggle and imagination in all of our personal affairs. Ours is an ethic that relishes in the risk of sacrifice and is willing to deny our man-made priorities of security and comfortability.
The example of L&R offers each of us something to ponder: How are we approaching and treating our neighbors — whether friends or strangers? How are we acting and interacting, collaborating and exchanging, relating and participating alongside each other? Are we approaching our neighbors as co-creators made in the image of a holy God. Are we cultivating and structuring our various associations and institutions in a way that reflects his design for creation?
In Episode 4 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Evan Koons explores this same topic, reminding us that “justice must always be personal, and this means investment”:
This means vulnerability. This means hospitality…Justice requires love, because you won’t have justice unless you remember the image of God in each person. Unless you remember each person’s dignity as a glorious, creative, capable gift to the world, Unless you are willing to give yourself away to keep that memory alive. But we must do more than just remember the dignity of all, and especially the stranger. We must welcome that stranger, make a space for him in our lives, to make a place at our tables for that gift in whom God himself delights…
…Seeking order, seeking justice, isn’t a matter of designing the right programs or delivery systems. Let us remember that seeking order means acting in accord with a true vision of our brothers and sisters. Let us remember the words of a famous theologian: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”
As we continue fighting against individual or systemic oppression or dysfunction, and as we continue to explore how we might more wisely welcome the immigrant and the refugee at the levels of national policy, let us remember that along with the fight to change the system at the top, God has already given us the wisdom, relational capacity, and, above all, the love and grace to begin repairing the fragments of society at the ground level.