response: September/October 2019 issue

Responsively Yours: A Place to Call Home

Responsively Yours: A Place to Call Home

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”
cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—From “The New Colossus”
by Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus penned these words in the 1880s as part of a fundraising effort to support the installation of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. She was an activist as well as a poet, and she was troubled by the reception of Jewish people emigrating to the United States who were fleeing Russian pogroms. The poem was not a policy. It was not even a description of the reception that newcomers were receiving. It represents an aspiration, a challenge to the old world and a hope for a new way of being.

Instances like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the decades when waves of immigrants were met with signs like “no Italians need apply” or “no Irish need apply,” the “repatriation” of persons of Mexican heritage (including U.S. citizens) to Mexico during the Great Depression, the internment of persons of Japanese heritage (including U.S. citizens) during World War II, and the refusal to accept Jewish people who were otherwise being sent to concentration camps by the Nazi regime all speak to our country’s struggle with lifting the lamp to the golden door.

Immigrants and naturalized citizens have seldom been welcome in the United States. In my own family, no one speaks the languages of our heritage because the first generations did not want their children to speak with an accent and face bullying or exclusion. Our nation’s propensity to open or close our doors only for our perceived advantage and at the expense of individuals and families is a sad constant in our history, a history freighted with racism and a changing definition of which groups of people are considered white.

Many of us would like to learn from our past. We want to change the current policies that dehumanize and traumatize women, children and families. United Methodist Women and many other faith leaders have called over and over again for a change in immigration policy. We want the United States to receive immigrants and refugees, who strengthen our country and add to our store of ingenuity and flourish as families and help our communities thrive. We want to heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” We want to be shaped by our singing, as part of the Methodist family who sing our faith, about how Jesus loves all the little children of the world, and we want to live out our theology.

United Methodist Women, the needs of immigrants and refugees today call us to pray, act, serve and advocate with care for “the least of these,” with Jesus’ love for children deeply etched in our hearts. It is a critical time for outreach in our own communities, for support of our national mission institutions, for vigils, phone calls and legislative visits and educational forums on family separation at our borders, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, making sure mothers and children have access to health care and making the environment safe. Just as our foremothers did, let us help people, especially women and children, who come to the United States to find welcome and a place to call home.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 9/4/2019 12:00:00 AM

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