Monday, December 07, 2009

Screening children for Santa?

Last week we received word from Houston, Texas that some charitable organizations would screen out the children of undocumented residents of the city when it comes time to distribute toys and other Christmas gifts.  You can read the original report published by The Houston Chronicle ( "Some toy drives check immigration status," Nov. 30, 2009, by Jeannie Kever) here

The original story reported that the Salvation Army and a toy drive associated with the city's fire department would be requiring various forms of identificaiton, including social sercurity cards, birth certificates and proof of income, to qualify families and children to receive toys and Christmas gifts this year.  The report set off reaction from groups working with immigrants in the city.

On last Thursday, the paper published a follow up story that reported the decision by the Salvation Army not to require social security cards. 

“It was never our intention to offend anyone with our registration requirement to provide a Social Security number, or to give the impression that we were discriminating against those individuals and families who do not have a Social Security number,” Major Chris Flanagan, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command said in a statement. 

To read the entire report click here.

My reading of the stories lead me to believe that the original intention was to eliminate the children of "illegal" immigrants from the Christmas gift program.   Thankfully, the organizations involved reconsidered the hurtful policy.  As usual when a community rises up and  cries out, things change for the better. 

Still, the enire affair points up once again the intense hatred and the unapologetic discrimination lurking just beneath the surface of many of our communities that can be so quickly directed toward our immigrant neighbors.  Reading the reports and considering the attitudes that informed these policy decisions in the first place, I'm wondering if our faith communities and their leaders don't need to do some work with us on just how God regards the "aliens" and the "strangers" among us. 

Clearly, we need to remember and reconsider the clarity of our faith traditon regarding residents from other places, regardless of how they made their way to us.  I'm thinking of words like these:

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." Exodus 22:21

"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt."  Exodus 23:9

"The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."  Leviticus 19:34

"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:19

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. . . ." Matthew 25:35

In view of the clarity of our faith traditions, I'd say we need to reflect clearly and carefully on our attitudes and our actions. Maybe it's just me, but this seems especially true during the Advent waiting as we consider the arrival of the Child who, himself an immigrant in more ways than one, comes to set us free.

[This post also appeared on the Sojourners blog here.]


Anonymous said...

I understand that some of the concern was to avoid duplication.

I guess one can argue that desperation excuses any efforts to play the system.

Chris said...

Does it matter that the Israelites were INVITED to live in Egypt by Pharaoh himself. He sent wagons to bring them down and gave them the best of the land. They did not sneak across the border. Genesis 45:18-20.

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, Chris: No, it does not.

"The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34

I cannot see anything unclear about this.

The Israelites were invited in, then the Egyptians thought better of it and drove them into "ghettos" and virtual slavery. The real issue here is about power - the power to decide who gets in and who stays - and oppression - the power to take advantage of people (in this case, aliens) living in the margins, in the vulnerable place where they may be uprooted and sent away because the "natives" say so.

I don't see Jesus making such distinctions - you belong, you don't; "you snuck in, so you get nothing." Can you honestly tell me you can hear him saying that?

Dallas, TX

Chris said...

In Old Testament times many times people had to pass through one country to get to their destination. This is different from wholesale invasion. Also, the Tribes of Israel were allotted their own plot of land.

A country that has open borders will soon cease to be a country. Check out what happened to Denmark:

"Denmark, a must read"

Anonymous said...

Chris, the aliens in the OT were living there, not just "a passin' through." Go ahead and reframe the Bible to fit your needs.

Anonymous said...

Besides, Jesus almost always softened what we read in the OT and told his Jewish listeners they had gotten it wrong if their reading of Scripture lead to hardness of heart and a lack of compassion for their fellow man.

Dallas, TX