The work of government is holy work, according to Martin Luther. In his explanation to the 4th Commandment, he writes we are to “neither despise nor anger …others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love and respect them.”
For 80 years, since 1939, Lutherans have worked in partnership with the federal government, through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to offer “welcome and hope to more than half a million refugees.” (LIRS.org)
Meeting in Milwaukee in August, our ELCA affirmed its partnership with LIRS and declared itself a Sanctuary Church. The declaration was a call for fair and compassionate federal policies and practices that keep families together, a call encouraging congregations and members to advocate for legislation that welcomes the stranger into our country and call on legislators to write much-needed good immigration laws.
The story of the final judgement in Matthew (25:34-39) encourages us to declare ourselves a Sanctuary Church, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘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.”
Several days after we declared ours a Sanctuary Church, on August 12, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced a change in the “public charge.” The change scheduled to go into effect in sixty days will deny green cards to immigrants who used Medicaid, food stamps, vouchers or other forms of public assistance. Gaining citizenship in the US will depend upon the applicant’s education, household income and health. Citizenship will favor the wealthy over the poor.
About 554,000 apply for green cards each year, about 382,000 would “more likely than not” fall under the ruling, likely need temporary public assistance and therefore be refused a green card. The rule will not apply to active military members, refugees or asylum seekers. However, the administration is moving to drastically reduce asylum in the U. S. (Colleen Long, Jill Colvin, AP and WBEZ, Aug. 12, 2019)
Mr. Cuccinelli’s conservative Catholic belief prompted the change in the “public charge.” His reading of scripture stands in sharp contrast to a Lutheran reading. He explained his beliefs in a 2012 address at the Christian Life Summit. (http://cherishlifeministries.com/?page_id=126)
In his address he mourns that our nation is on a downward spiral and we must return to God (as he understand God and God’s will) and to the natural law upon which he believes our founding fathers built this nation. Natural law would not tolerate failures he has identified: breakdown of the family, gay marriage, access to abortions, and a government health care (ACA) that robs individuals of their liberty. Creeping socialism and social safety nets are to him atheism in sheep’s clothing.
Government, he believes, is in league with the devil and must get out of the way. Church leaders, he believes, over the past decades have “created a culture of dependency on government, not God.” It is the church, not government that he believes can love an individual and introduce the individual to the one source where there will no longer be need of government. It is therefore wrong for anyone, including immigrants, to expect government to come to their aid. His thinking mimics that of Grover Norquist, who said he “wanted to shrink government to a size where he could drown it in a bathtub.”
The rewritten “public charge” is a religious document informed by apocalyptic theology. The devil, he believes, is winning and we must do battle, a battle in which lives may be lost, but souls must be won. Devout Christians enjoined with him in battle will be mocked, ridiculed and scorned, but that is to be expected because Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 12:20).
There is little room for grace, instead faith to him is a power, if harnessed, with believers’ help will save souls, return individuals to God, and restore our nation to how he believes the founding fathers imagined it to be. Government must get out of the way, Mr. Cuccinelli believes; the only hope comes from the pulpit. Governing is holy work, according to Luther, and those in authority are acting on behalf of God and must act accordingly.
There is more to be read in our Bible, important passages for all of us to ponder as we face so much change.
When the old ways crumble and drastic change is all about, hear Isaiah (43:19): “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Listen to the words from Joshua (1:9): “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Sunday’s gospel lesson included these comforting words of Jesus (Luke 12:32): “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Read again and again the description of judgement day described in Matthew (25:34-39).
And when failure abounded for St. Paul, when all about him was falling apart, he heard Jesus say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).