What would Jesus say about California becoming a ‘sanctuary state?’

The Rev. Bill Freeman

Special to Valley News

As a transplanted Michigander, I hesitate to tell an old joke about California, but here goes. How many Californians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Five. One to screw in the lightbulb and four to sit in the hot tub and discuss the environmental impact.

What’s happening in California right now is no joke. Elected leaders in Sacramento are talking about passing legislation declaring California to be a “sanctuary state.” As I understand it, that legislation would prohibit law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport immigrants who are here illegally.

People have differing opinions about immigration. Not just among Democrats and Republicans, but among Republicans and Republicans.

“We need to finally secure our borders, enforce our laws and stop the problem of illegal immigration,” former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said.

On the other hand, or perhaps you could say on the same hand, former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said, “We should be the pro-legal immigration party. A party that has a positive platform and agenda on how we can create a legal immigration system that works for immigrants and works for America.”

As a Christian minister, I’m less interested in what politicians say about immigration and more interested in what Jesus says about immigration. Many Christians wear a bracelet with the initials, WWJD, which stands for: “What Would Jesus Do?” So, what would Jesus do, or say in this case, about immigration?

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us to “welcome the stranger.” That’s understandable, since Jesus himself was a stranger, actually an immigrant and a refugee in Egypt. Maybe you remember the story in the Bible about how his parents, Mary and Joseph, fled from Bethlehem to Egypt with baby Jesus when King Herod wanted the Christ child killed. The sanctuary that Egypt provided the family saved Jesus from King Herod’s murderous intent. Thank God. If Jesus hadn’t become an immigrant and a refugee for a time and had been murdered by King Herod’s henchmen, he never would have uttered the words that we so desperately need to hear these days, “Love your neighbor.”

When the state of California gives sanctuary to our neighbors, it demonstrates to the rest of the country and to the world that the Golden State is living up to the words on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it stated.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States nearly 150 years ago. If America can’t live up to those words anymore, perhaps we should return the gift to the French people.

Instead, America should follow what could become the eventual example of California and some other states and cities and “welcome the stranger” from all over the world who is “yearning to breathe free,” by becoming a place of “sanctuary,” as Jesus would want us to do.

Bill Freeman is the senior minister at Menifee United Church of Christ, which meets 11 a.m. Sundays at 26701 McCall Blvd., in Menifee.

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