The pastor of a local Catholic church used the weekly bulletin to invite his parishioners to a special dinner at which a number of so-called Dreamers would share their experiences in the United States and their concerns for their futures.
“Dreamers” is a reference to illegal aliens who were sent or brought to the United States while they were children, although many are now adults. By law, they could have been deported, but in 2012, President Obama created a program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). According to the U.S. Immigration Service, these illegals could avoid deportation if they met certain conditions, among them are the following: “They illegally entered the U.S. before the age of 16, were under the age of 31, had continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, were in school or had graduated, or were honorably discharged from the military.” This deferred action was to last for two years but was eventually extended to three.
On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the DACA policy, and President Trump gave Congress six months to figure out what to do with the approximately 800,000 Dreamers.
This is the background that returns us to the church bulletin. The pastor wrote the following:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible.” They told DACA recipients: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”
Dreamers are, for the most part, very bright, hard working, and gifted young people. They love our country and have wonderful gifts to offer us. Dreamers have spent their formative years here. Do we really want to take them away from their families and send them back to a country they do not remember, with a language they do not know?
The Bible is filled with admonitions about treating strangers and aliens justly. In fact, the commandment not to oppress the alien is the most repeated commandment in the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). And we read in Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
The pastor’s invitation troubles me on many levels. First, there is clearly a bias in favor of the Dreamers and an animus toward President Trump. He lifts the word reprehensible from the USCCB statement concerning DACA and Trump’s rescission of the program. Now the pastor has the right to think it’s reprehensible, but he also has a duty to inform his parishioners why the President took the action he did. He could have said that President Obama’s action was unconstitutional because it usurped power from the Congress, which is true. He also could have said that President Trump was restoring the rule of law, which is also true. Or, at a bare minimum, he could have said that good Christian people on both sides of the DACA issue can disagree. Perhaps he will make such statements at the dinner, but I have my doubts.
In addition, the USCCB is not the official voice of the Catholic Church. When it writes, “The Catholic Church supports you (DACA people) and will advocate for you,” it is misleading Catholics. If it wants to write, “The USCCB supports you and will advocate for you,” then at least it would be honest. Sadly, I doubt that the parishioners would be aware of this subterfuge by the USCCB.
Also, the pastor’s description of the Dreamers would lead one to think that they are angels from heaven. I am sure that many of them are wonderful people–but not all of them. Over two thousand have lost their DACA eligibility because they have been convicted of serious crimes or because they have a gang affiliation. Also,the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that nearly 25% of Dreamers are functionally illiterate and less than 50% have completed high school. The pastor did qualify his statement with the words “for the most part,” but he would have been more precise if he had simply written, “The Dreamers I have met …”
But the most disturbing part of the pastor’s invitation is the selective use of scripture to support his position. Laws that specifically applied to the daily activities of Jewish people thousands of years ago rarely apply to political realities in America today. For example, the book of Leviticus declares that a woman during her period is impure for seven days, a leper must be ostracized from the community, a person who curses his mother or father shall be put to death, the daughter of a priest who fornicates shall be burned to death, priests should not trim their beards, and all murderers shall be executed. And there are many other such laws. Does the good father really want his parishioners to follow all the laws in Leviticus?
Furthermore, the pastor’s claim that the directive not to oppress the alien is the most common command in the Torah is patently false. I could only find a handful of such verses, while, at the same time, I counted thirty-five commands to put people to death for various violations of the law. I hope the pastor was simply given wrong information and not purposely deceiving the congregation. And even if his claim were true, the references in the Bible have nothing to do with millions of aliens invading a sovereign nation. Instead, the admonitions deal with individual aliens living among the Israelites, and, in most cases, the word oppress means to defraud or cheat in some financial matter.
So, perhaps there is a lesson here for all pastors. When there is a potentially divisive political topic upon which the Magisterium has taken no official position, it would be wise to make sure that one view is not promoted at the expense of others. In addition, pastors should never cherry-pick scriptures to manipulate parishioners into acting or thinking a certain way. Instead, pastors should treat their flocks as adults capable of making up their own minds. By doing so, it is quite possible that pastors will find themselves both respected and loved. And that is a real blessing.