Welcome the Refugee: The Witness of Aphrodisius

I’ve spent a lot of time over the st-denispast month trying to decided who I was going to write about next for Dunker Punks in History. I’ve been intending to write about John Kline for some time, but with recent events was considering one of the strong Mothers of the Church, such as Thecla, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Sarah Major or Anna Mow. I am still unsure of who I will cover for my next full-length post, but given the recent actions of President Trump, I felt compelled to share the legends of a Dunker Punk who welcomed foreign refugees of a different nationality, culture, and religion into his country and home. According to legend, it is Aphrodisius who sheltered the Joseph, Mary, and Jesus when they fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod.

According to legend, Aphrodisius was an Egyptian high priest from the city of Heliopolis. (Some version of the story instead name him as a roman prefect from the same city.) When Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod, he sheltered them despite the fact they were foreigners and practitioners of very different religion. Years later he heard of the miracles Jesus was performing in Judea and traveled to Palestine to witness them for himself, eventually becoming a disciple of the boy he had once provided refuge for.  After the resurrection, he traveled to France as a missionary, becoming the first Bishop of Beziers. He was martyred by a mob of angry pagans in Place Saint-Cyr. Beheaded, his head was thrown into a well, but was thrown out by a gush of water. Aprodisius’s body then picked up his head and carried it through the city. He finally settled into his final rest in a hermit cave where he had lived, which eventually became the location of a basilica named in his honor.

I first heard the story of Aprodisius while watching the musical adaption of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the beginning of the second act a statue or stained glass window of Aphrodisius in Notre Dame de Paris comes to life to tell his story to Quasimodo and encourage him to rescue the gypsy Esmerelda from the villainous priest Frollo.

Like many medieval saints,  the accounts we have of Aphrodisius’s life are mostly legendary and are probably not historically accurate. Personally, I am extremely doubtful of the historicity of most if not all of his legend, but in this case I would argue historical accuracy is not the point. Think of this legend like one of Jesus’s parables. You wouldn’t ask whether or not there actually was a good Samaritan that helped a man along a roadside, but what point Jesus was making through the story. Each of us is called to take the role of Aphridisius and welcome Christ in the form of a refugee into our homes and land. In this way, regardless of if it actually happened in history, the story of how Aphrodisius sheltered the Holy Family is indisputably true.


12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

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Syrian Refugees: Let Them In

I’ll be honest: It’s not often that I think the Bible gives crystal clear, uncontradictory, wholly consistent guidance. On just about any topic. As such, it is perfectly possible for people on both sides of most debates to defend their viewpoints using scripture and to make the case that they are acting out of genuine faith principles.

The current debate about Syrian Refugees, and whether the United States and other Western, Christian-majority nations should let them in, is not one of those debates. As I’m about to lay out, from start to finish, the Bible gives clear guidance, time and again, that we are to welcome and love refugees.

I must caution you that what follows is an often sarcastic, satirical look at the way Christians have ignored scripture’s clear guidance on refugees. That said, here’s a list of scriptural references that I’ve borrowed from a United Church of Christ resource page about refugees:

Genesis 12:10 – “Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.” Abraham, considered the father of the Judeo-Christian tradition, was once a refugee.

Genesis 19 – Lot takes his family and flees Sodom.

Genesis 23 – Abraham is a stranger and an alien in the land of Canaan.

Genesis 46:1-7 – Jacob moves his family to Egypt to escape the famine and reunite with Joseph.

Genesis 47: 1-6 – Joseph brings his brothers to Pharaoh and they are welcomed and given jobs

Just in the book of Genesis, we have ample examples of how our spiritual ancestors welcomed refugees, and how many of spiritual ancestors were refugees themselves. At the end of Genesis, several of our refugee ancestors have been welcomed into Egypt.

However, it’s not long before xenophobia sets in:

Exodus 1:8-14 – Joseph’s generation is gone, and the Egyptians oppress the Israelites.  “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.”

It seems like we’re confused on this point. We have a lot more in common with the xenophobic Egypt seen in Exodus than the welcoming one seen in Genesis.

Exodus 12:37-39 – Here again, the Israelites become refugees, running away from persecution in Egypt. It seems that the forerunners of our own faith are Middle Eastern refugees. That’s… inconvenient for those of us who wish to denigrate Middle Eastern refugees today.

Exodus 12:49 and Leviticus 24:22 – “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”

Wait, what? We’re not supposed to treat refugees like second-class humans? We’re supposed to treat refugees like they could be… members of our own family? Members of our own communities? How am I supposed to treat all refugees like one massive terrorist cell if I have to acknowledge that they’re image-bearers of God just like me?

Exodus 22:21 – “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that turning away tens of thousands of refugees and forcing them back into a brutal dictatorship, civil war, and terrorist insurgency would qualify as “wronging and oppressing” them.

Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22 – “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien.”

For those of us that think we shouldn’t let in refugees because they’ll take our jobs, and government benefits, and houses from homeless veterans: sorry, this whole notion of “us” and “them” doesn’t really fly in the Kingdom of Heaven. In this, the wealthiest country in human history, we have more than enough to care for our homeless veterans AND show compassion to Syrian refugees.

Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22 – When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”

Man, God just loves to remind us about how we were refugees once, too. It’s almost like we should show gratitude for our relative peace and security not by jealously hoarding the blessings of freedom and prosperity for ourselves, but by widening that circle to more people who desperately need a little peace and security.

Leviticus 24:23 – “With me you are but aliens and tenants.”

It’s a good thing that God isn’t a xenophobe. We’re all refugees in his kingdom, and if he treated refugees like we treat refugees, we’d be in big trouble.

Numbers 9:14 and 15:15-16 – “…you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native.”

Again with the treating refugees like equal human beings!? What do you think we are, God? Christians? Cut us some slack.

Deuteronomy 6: 12 – “Take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

When we forget refugees, we forget the Lord.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

But… but… but God, I don’t want to love the stranger! I’m scared of the stranger. Why did you give food and clothing to the scary strangers, God? How can we justify denying the stranger when you’re always going about loving everyone?

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-13 – These verses describe how tithing exists, in part, to care for refugees. Something tells me a refugee tax wouldn’t go over well here in America. It’s probably just because God doesn’t understand economics, though. Yeah, let’s just go with that.

Deuteronomy 24:17-18 – “You shall not deprive a resident alien…of justice.”

Does sending tens of thousands of refugees back into imminent danger count as justice? I hope so, or we’re going to have to reevaluate our priorities.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 – Leave sheaf, olives, grapes for the alien.

But there are 50,000 homeless veterans that need the sheaf, olives, and grapes! Nevermind that we didn’t really care too much about sticking up for homeless veterans until it was a convenient excuse to hate Syrian Refugees. Or that we’re not actually going to use the funding we would have used to resettle refugees to care for the homeless.

We’re just going off of the Bible: Rhetorics 14: 23 – “Thou shalt use homeless veterans as a political prop to cast a red herring that distracts you from your own xenophobia and callous hearts.” What can we do but follow the Bible? Our hands are tied.

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”

Ouch. Cursed? No need to be so judgemental, God. We’re just trying to keep our homeland safe.

Psalm 137:1-6 – “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Yeah, but we were singing songs for Lord. Clearly, God only wants us to care about Christian refugees. Right?

Psalm 146:9 – “The Lord watches over the strangers…”

To make sure they’re not plotting anything fishy, amiright? We’re with you on this one, God. Increase surveillance on Muslims. That’s what this verse means, right? I can’t think of any other way that God might be watching over refugees. Surely not with eyes of concern and compassion.

Ecclesiastes 4:1 – “Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them.”

But who’s going to comfort us? That’s the real question! We’re really scared. We’re the victims, here. I didn’t read the bible to be challenged to comfort others, I only read the Bible to see how it can comfort me.

Isaiah 16:4 – “Be a refuge to the outcasts of Moab.”

Ok, but too be fair, Moab was in present day Jordan, which is like, hundreds of miles from Syria. Plus, it’s not like the Moabites and the Israelites often warred with one another, so welcoming the Moabites wouldn’t be a national security risk. Oh, wait, it was exactly like that?

Jeremiah 22:3-5 – “Do no wrong or violence to the alien.”

Right, but we’re not directly doing any violence to the Syrian refugees. We’re just casting them back to Syria, where  many of them will undoubtedly be subjected to violence. Loophole! We’re off the hook. That’s how you’re supposed to read the Bible, right? Ever vigilant of loopholes that absolve you of responsibility?

Ezekiel 47:21-22 – “The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.”

Sigh. Ok, but can’t they at least be like second-class citizens? They are scary, after all.

Malachi 3:5 – “The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.”

Something to look forward to in the December issue of the Messanger, apparently.

Ok, ok, ok. I get it. God cares about refugees and show should we. Blah, blah, blah. But all that crap was from the Old Testament. Conveniently for us, we don’t have to worry about the Old Testament at all, right? Everyone knows that God portrayed in the Old Testament is just a big old softy. Thankfully, God gets a whole lot less forgiving and merciful and grace-giving in the new testament, right?

Matthew 2:13-15 – Jesus and parents flee to Egypt as Herod tries to murder their child.

Oh, right. I forgot about that whole Jesus fella. You’re telling me that Jesus was a refugee? That when we put little porcelain nativity scenes on our altars, we welcoming a Middle Eastern refugee family into our home? How well vetted are these nativity scenes?

Matthew 5:10-11 –“Blessed are those who are persecuted.”

Something tells me Jesus isn’t talking about Christians being persecuted by red Starbucks cups.

Matthew 25:35-40 – “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.'”

I chose to quote this whole passage because I think these words from Christ, the refugee that we worship, are so vital to understanding what we Christians should be doing in regards to Syrian Refugees. Jesus isn’t just speaking figuratively. He really was a stranger. He really was a hungry baby lying in a manger. He and his family really were in need of love, and compassion, and mercy, and grace, and generosity. There really were people who showed that measure of care to him and his family. When we encounter “the least of these” in our lives: in our communities, in our churches, in our schools, in our political discussions, we would do well to remember that the same nativist, know-nothing rhetoric coming from some people in the United States today would have delivered the baby Jesus straight to the genocidal tyrant seeking his death.

Romans 12:13 – “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”

Silly Paul, always using that no-true-Scotsman fallacy. You’re saying that if Christians don’t welcome refugees, they’re not really acting like Christians at all?

II Corinthians 8:13-15 – “It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need…”

Ok, but to be fair, who really has the abundance, and who really has the need? We’re the richest country in human history, true. But doesn’t anyone consider our needs? Like how we need to be coddled about our irrational fears?

Ephesians 2:11-22 – “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Hmm. Until we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we too are refugees. It’s such as shame that 31 of the Governors in God’s Kingdom decided that they don’t want to bring in refugees anymore.

Hebrews 13:1-2 – “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…”

You mean, not every Syrian refugee is a terrorist? Some of them might be good people? Some of them might go on to do great things? No! Surely not.

James 2:14-17 – “What good is it…if you say you have faith but do not have works?”

If we say we’re Christians, but we don’t act like Christ, what good is that?

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…”  We love because God first loved us.”

And this is really the point. Our spiritual ancestry is full of refugees. Abraham was a refugee. The Israelites were refugees coming out of Egypt. Jesus was a refugee. Yet, through God’s mercy and blessing, we have found peace and security, prosperity and joy. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love Syrian Refugees because they haven’t been blessed like we have. To the contrary, God is desperately seeking to use us to bless the Syrian refugees that need our help. Just as God has shown us mercy, so must we be merciful.

And remember, we’re all refugees of a broken world seeking asylum in God’s Kingdom. What if there were nativists and racists and xenophobes there, who didn’t want to let us in? What if there were people there who were concerned about national security and the vetting process who didn’t want to let us in? What if there were people there jealous of their own prosperity and fearful that we might dilute the wealth and security that they had grown to love?

Luckily for us, it doesn’t seem like the Kingdom of Heaven would act that way. Why, then, should Christians here in the United States act any different? Let them in. It’s what we were made to do.


 

Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.

Thoughts inspired by a Jarrod McKenna Facebook Post

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Those of you who follow Jarrod McKenna probably know about his recent encounter with law enforcement in Australia as he protested for the rights of refugees mistreated by the Australian government. During one of their many protests, Jarrod and other church leaders were arrested and strip searched. While the officials claimed to strip search Jarrod and the others because they suspected the clearly nonviolent protestors of carrying drugs or weapons, it’s pretty obvious that their real intent was to humiliate and discourage them.

In Jarrod’s Facebook status above, Jarrod relays the final words of his testimony in a hearing about the incident. You can read it for yourself, but essentially, Jarrod was asked why he felt it necessary to pursue the incident in court. Instead of speaking to how he had been the personal victim of police abuse, Jarrod instead affirmed this as another step in his ministry to stand up for the voiceless and oppressed. If Jarrod and other church leaders, who are middle class and carry some degree of voice and influence, can be treated in this way, imagine the harms suffered by those in police custody who have no voice to speak out against it.

Jarrod references Matthew 25:40 – “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” These words from Jesus are just one of many instances throughout the Bible in which God aligns and identifies with the poor and oppressed. As we strive to follow Jesus, we cannot do so without also aligning ourselves with the poor and oppressed, speaking out for “the least of these” as we work to bring about justice.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was telling his disciples about what God’s Kingdom would look like, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Just imagine, a kingdom in which its citizens didn’t tread upon each other to secure their own blessings and comfort, but a kingdom in which all people gave voice to one another, in which the suffering of any one person was felt by all people, even the King. Jesus gave us a blueprint for how to help build a world that looks more like God’s kingdom: by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, empowering the oppressed, and standing with, and standing up for, the humiliated.

This is what Jarrod is trying to do in Australia as he fights for the rights of the many voiceless refugees detained by the Australian government in off-shore detention facilities. I hope we find ways in America to do the same, to speak up for the poor, oppressed, and voiceless in our communities, in our nation, and also by understanding the way that the United States impacts the world’s poor and oppressed and seeking to create better systems that affirm and support all human dignity.

One last point. Recent surveys have indicated that white protestant Christians in the US believe that they are more persecuted than any other group of people. More than black victims of police brutality and countless other racist structures built into our criminal justice system. More than Muslim victims of hate crimes and discrimination. More than LGBTQ victims of bullying, harassment, and astronomical suicide rates. More than the poor and disabled, who are subjected to condescending laws meant to humiliate and punish them for daring to need government assistance. And more than immigrants and their children, who are denied basic government services, who are detained in brutal detention centers, who live as fugitives in their own homes, in constant fear of arrest, attack, or deportation, who work for poverty wages just for a chance to make a better life for themselves and for their children.

When Jesus spoke the words in Matthew 25, he was a poor Jewish Rabbi speaking to his poor Jewish disciples, in the midst of brutal and oppressive Roman occupation. Even then, when many could say that he and his followers were among “the least of these,” he said that following him meant speaking out for people with even less of a voice, and standing up for those in ever more dire straits.

How much more of a challenge are Jesus’ words, then, to us, the middle class, white protestant Christians of the United States, who carry far more than our fair share of power and influence, both in our country and across the world? Instead of searching out the ways in which we might be considered the victims, what if instead we sought to identify the true victims and fought for them the way Jesus has taught us to?

I hope we take a lesson from Jarrod, who experienced police abuse himself, but has the perspective to remember how much worse the police abuse suffered by “the least of these” must be, and refuses to stop speaking out until things are made right, not for him, but for all the voiceless victims of injustice in Australia.


Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA District

Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at dunkerpunks2014@gmail.com.