United Church of Christ

Commentary: Legislating Injustice

Witness For JusticeWoe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

(Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV)

In the Refugee Quiz that I share with churches, one of my favorite questions is, “Under which President were the most refugees resettled to the U.S.?” Answer: Ronald Reagan, who oversaw the admission of over 200,000 resettled refugees in one year and signed the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. Folks in your church might have stories and connections to some of the refugees who came to the U.S. that year, over half from Asian countries. Or maybe that story is about you and your family. Nearly all these stories end with something akin to, “It changed our lives and deepened our faith in ways we couldn’t have imagined.”

Three weeks ago, the Administration set the Presidential Determination for the number of refugees who can be resettled to the U.S. in FY20 at just 18,000 individuals—the lowest number ever—and a not-so-veiled attempt to gut the U.S. resettlement system from the inside out. Organizations that have been welcoming refugees for decades have to lay off qualified caseworkers and lose valuable volunteers, and the network of resettlement sites is weakened for coming years. This says nothing of the devastation for refugee families who have endured not only the horrors of war and persecution but have spent years waiting to be reunited through the long, arduous resettlement pipeline.

That same day, the President signed an Executive Order stating his administration “would seek the approval of state and local governments before resettling refugees in their communities.” This does not prevent resettled refugees from moving to whichever community works best for them once they arrive in the U.S. It only gives a platform to hateful and fearful individuals to publicly state how much they don’t want “those people” in their communities.

While most white people in the U.S. were raised to believe that what is legal equals what is just, communities of color have long known that morality and justice are often not the driving factors behind U.S. policymaking. The Bible contains numerous stories of communities creating unjust laws to punish those they perceive as less deserving. In those stories, God repeatedly shows up to remind us that this is wrong. It is wrong to harm the most vulnerable. It is wrong to not love our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Not only is it wrong for us to legislate our human sins of fear, greed, and envy into law, but this makes God angry. God not only weeps for how we have turned away from God’s way to indulge in our own sinful behavior, but God is angry at both our arrogance (“they” are not like us) and at how we harm our own neighbors.

Woe to us who are so arrogant to believe that God’s anger will not find us as we make policies to turn aside the needy from justice. Policies that separate us from each other, and subsequently, from God, hurt all of us in the end. For more information on this topic: www.ucc.org/refugees.

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