Welcoming Strangers


Hebrews 13:2 is clear: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

This verse—along with Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:38-40—are the bedrock that should inform our hearts and minds about how our churches, our communities, our states and our nation should respond to newcomers in our midst.

For many years now, our country has been engaged in a debate about how to handle immigrants who live and work in our country without proper documentation. Many of these people speak Spanish as their primary language and arrived here from their homes in Mexico or Central America.

I have addressed this issue in many ways, such as my testimony before a Kansas Legislature committee, in a press conference with Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Lutheran bishops and in a workshop at the Kansas West Conference MissionFest.

In each of these settings, I have tried to stress two key points.

The first is most important. We Christians should welcome immigrants among us. It is a matter of the heart. Do we regard these people as fellow human beings with dignity? Are they people for whom Christ died? Are they potential friends? Are they potential fellow citizens who can join with us in making great cities and states?

In Matthew 25:38, Jesus made it clear that welcoming the stranger was the same as welcoming him.

On a human level, the immigrants I have met have been hard-working, nice people who are seeking to feed their families and make a living like most other people I know. I see their faces, I hear their hopes and their dreams, and I am aware of their fears. In the name of Christ, I love these people because that is what Christ has commanded me to do.

However, there is another reason for hospitality. I believe that our nation needs new people from new places.

Iowa is a better place because the German immigrants named Schuldt and Bahnson arrived there in the late 1800s. Kansas is a better place because some Swedes named Loring arrived here.

The fact that my children are descendants of European immigrants from these countries means that Sweden and Germany made a contribution to the 21st-century United States through the lives of my wife, our children and me.

Hispanic immigrants are enriching our culture, helping our economy and making our states stronger, more populous and better. Many of our businesses need the labor immigrants provide. We need more immigrants, not fewer. It is in our self-interest to welcome them.

I have consistently taught a second point as well. We Christians respect the law and seek to end lawless behavior. The current situation of 12 million undocumented people living in our country is a serious problem that needs to be remedied. It not only breeds disrespect for our legal system, but it leaves undocumented people unprotected from criminals and immoral employers.

That is why the United Methodist Council of Bishops has called for a comprehensive federal answer to this problem. We have advocated the following:

  • Provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants;
  • Reunify immigrant families that have been separated by immigration itself or due to workplace raids and ensuing indefinite detentions and deportations;
  • Increase the number of visas for short-term workers to come into the United States to work in a safe, legal and orderly way;
  • Extend legal protection to all workers who come to stay for a certain period of time as well as for those who stay permanently, including the right to bargain for higher wages, to protest against poor working conditions and to preserve their human rights as workers, be they documented or undocumented;
  • Eliminate privately operated detention centers, which are not regulated by the federal or state governments, and end all indiscriminate raids.

Now that the election is over, I believe the time is ripe for a solution. Let’s work together to help our government find a just and fair way forward.