Having trouble reading this email? View it in your browser
Interfaith Inform: September 21, 2021
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute
Loving the stranger in today’s world
“Do not ill-treat a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20)

In a time of increasing xenophobia and polarization, we need to be reminded of the religious call for not only love of neighbor but also love of the stranger. Refugees from Afghanistan are also presenting us with the opportunity to respond to this call expressed in our various scriptures.

We are familiar with the summary of the law given by Jesus when asked what must we do to inherit eternal life.  He responded, “Love God and love your neighbor,” quoting the passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). That same chapter also deals with how to treat the stranger: “When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:33-34)

The rabbis have counted over 30 references to loving the stranger in their scripture.  In a column by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he discusses two aspects of this command. “The first is the relative powerlessness of the stranger. He or she is not surrounded by family, friends, neighbors, a community of those ready to come to their defense. Therefore, the Torah warns against wronging them because God has made Himself protector of those who have no one else to protect them.”

The second aspect is what Sacks calls the “psychological vulnerability of the stranger. … The stranger is one who lives outside the normal securities of home and belonging. He or she is, or feels, alone -- and, throughout the Torah, God is especially sensitive to the sigh of the oppressed, the feelings of the rejected, the cry of the unheard. That is the emotive dimension of the command.” Care for others is an important theme in his recent book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.

The dislike of those who seem different is an old phenomenon and often the source of racial and ethnic conflict.  It is an increasing phenomenon in our own country as well as throughout the world.  In times of uncertainty we often find comfort by affiliating with our own people, to those who look or think like we do, by returning to our separate tribes.  All of our religious traditions, however, teach us to respect and provide help to the stranger. 

Not only did the Torah teach that we should not ill-treat or oppress the stranger, but Jesus also tells of those who would be blessed because, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. …Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

The same can be found in the letter from the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:1-2) In addition, the letter from John says, “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers.” (3 John 1:5)

We find similar admonishments in Islamic, Hindu and other religious texts.  The Qur’an says, “Do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbor from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger” (from Surah 4:36).  In the Hindu tradition we read, “Let a person never turn away a stranger from his house, that is the rule.  Therefore a man should, by all means, acquire much food, for good people say to the stranger: ‘There is enough food for you’” (from Taitiriya Upanishad 1.11.2).

The religious traditions promote this approach to caring for the stranger, but also studies show that diversity and inclusion lead to more vibrant communities.

The Jewish and Christian Scriptures recognize another reason to treat everyone with respect, with the concept of all persons being created in God’s image.  Rabbi Sacks writes, “What is revolutionary in this declaration is not that a human being could be in the image of God. That is precisely how kings of Mesopotamian city-states and pharaohs of Egypt were regarded. They were seen as the representatives, the living images, of the gods. That is how they derived their authority. The Torah’s revolution is the statement that not some, but all, humans share this dignity. Regardless of class, color, culture, or creed, we are all in the image and likeness of God.”

It was also reflected in the acceptance speech given by Elie Wiesel when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  He said, “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

In today’s environment, will we allow fear of the stranger or the immigrant, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other types of discrimination grow?  Or, will we heed the lessons of our various faith traditions to respect all persons, love our neighbor and even the stranger?  This is “that moment,” the “center of the universe,” calling for all persons of goodwill to affirm human dignity and do the right thing.   

Interfaith Book Group - Morality
Our fall book discussion group will begin meeting on alternate Wednesdays beginning tomorrow, September 22 from 2 - 3:30 pm via Zoom. We will be discussing the book by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times.
If you would like to join our discussion, please complete the form here. 

Young Adult Interfaith Voices

Catholic Information Center Panel "Interfaith Voices" on Wednesday, September 22. Hear young adults from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions share what they learned navigating the pandemic and reflect on their spiritual journey thus far.

Information is available on the Catholic Information Center website: https://www.catholicinformationcenter.org/event/young-adults-interfaith-voices-in-west-michigan/

Interfaith ArtPrize Walking Tour

Interfaith Imaginations: Have you ever wondered what others think about art at Art Prize? Do they experience it the way you do? Do you crave authentic conversation over a shared experience? Join us for a Walking Tour of Art Prize on Wednesday, September 29, at 6 pm

Sign up here!

For an archive of previous articles
click here.
For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see this week's Ethics and Religion Talk column hosted on The Rapidian.