Magazine article Cross Currents

THE REFUGEE STATUS: Political Ethics and Moral Politics

Magazine article Cross Currents

THE REFUGEE STATUS: Political Ethics and Moral Politics

Article excerpt

What does religion have to do with refugees, immigrants, and migrants? (1) What does Catholic Christianity bring to the discussion of the crisis of today's sixty-five million displaced persons? How would I want my tradition interpreted and understood regarding refugees? What resources of my tradition help to respond to the crisis of so many people in need? These questions guide my contribution in which I want to convey some of the salient points of my tradition explored at the symposium Strangers or Neighbors? Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on Refugees.

If I were asked what religion brings to addressing the refugee crisis, I would quickly say, "Everything," because I err on the side of assuming that religion is a "good." But I also realize that many people accuse religions--for understandable historical and contemporary reasons--of committing evil in the world in the name of their beliefs. Therefore, I return here to a "back-to-basics" approach in order to account for the fact that my initial response, "religion brings everything that is good to the refugee situation," cannot be taken for granted.

I engage these questions as a systematic theologian from a decidedly Roman Catholic perspective. Though I am neither an ethicist nor a political theorist, I hope my theological reflections can inform policymakers. A political ethics and moral politics can be based on ideas borrowed from religion and theology. I will begin with a few vivid images before offering three resources from Catholicism that can inform a Catholic response to the refugee crisis.

Kneeling players, praying nuns

On September 24, 2017, The Washington Post published an opinion editorial by Michael Frost with the headline, "Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A Tale of Two Christians on their Knees." Frost introduced the family origins of each football player, their commitment to Christian faith, and their significant charitable work. The image of two football players on their knees offers two different ways of how to probe the question of what American Christianity can bring to the refugee crisis: Religion can bring everything good to the conversation or it can be a source of the problem when its adherents hold polarized views about its practice.

Frost explains that Kaepernick was born to an interracial couple; his father left before he was born, and his mother gave him up for adoption to a white couple. Tebow, a white man, was born to Christian missionaries. Both men were raised in Protestant denominations. On the field, Tebow's habit of kneeling in prayer between plays as an act of promoting Christian faith garnered wide praise. Kaepernick, also a practicing Christian, knelt on the field during the national anthem as a peaceful protest to promote awareness about unjust acts of deadly violence committed by members of law enforcement against the African American community. Both men's faith commitments inspired them to kneel on the field. Yet, Tebow was lauded as a wholesome role model while Kaepernick was derided as a traitor to his country. Is this because one practice of the faith is considered correct and the other corrupt? (2)

Kaepernick's and Tebow's public expressions of faith connote different emphases in their practice of Christianity. When Tebow takes a knee in a game to pray in thanksgiving for his athletic talent, he makes a public display of private piety. When Kaepernick takes a knee in a posture of prayer to remind us of racial and economic injustice, he expresses a prophetic protest for social justice. Prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of lament crying for justice are both part of the Christian tradition. For some people, however, Christian practice emphasizes a personal one-on-one relationship with God concerned with an individual's salvation, while for others Christian practice must issue in public acts of communal solidarity. In identifying these differences, Frost points to the current polarization in the churches. …

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