Current Events

Trump, Immigration & The New Colossus

“Give me your tired, your poor…”

-Emma Lazarus, inscribed on Statue of Liberty

Tweeting this past week, President Trump fears immigration policy where the United States “would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly.” Instead, Trump says, “I want a merit based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level.”

The New Colossus (1883), a sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, is an intentional contrast to the “storied pomp” of the Ancient Greek cities and their own Colossi of well-endowed men exhibiting invincible might and heroic strength, boasting of their superiority over weaker peoples and conquered nations.

The most famous was the Colossus of Rhodes (see photo), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Constructed in 292 BC., the statue of the Greek titan-god of the sun Helios stood one hundred and ten feet high and stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbor entrance perhaps on a breakwater.

The Colossus stood proudly at the harbor entrance for some fifty-six years. Each morning the sun must have caught its polished bronze surface and made the god’s figure shine. Then an earthquake hit Rhodes in 226 BC and the statue collapsed. Huge pieces of the figure lay along the harbor for centuries (Source).

Trump seems to desire an immigration plan that echoes the “brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land”, welcoming the strong, the healthy, and the well-to-do — in his words “the people who will help take our country to the next level.” He wants to be spared less-qualified or meritless immigrants trying to escape “countries which are doing badly” in search of a better life for their children.

8876eb9b308bd84eed68e2543953cfe1The American Dream, as captured by the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, sought a more compassionate and welcoming Colossus on our shores — “a mighty woman with a torch…and her name Mother of Exiles.”

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Before Jesus Christ turned ancient virtues on their head, humility and meekness were scorned by the philosophers of the day. “Pride” and “strength” were celebrated virtues while  “humility” and “meekness” were reprehensible qualities only worthy of a slave.

Then Jesus came and inaugurated a Kingdom where “the one who wants to be first, must be the last of all and the servant/slave of all” (Mark 9:35). His mother sang over his cradle the Magnificat, “He has scattered the proud…He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:51-52). In a world that believed “Blessed are the rich, the strong, and the self-sufficient”, Jesus raised eye brows when he announced, “Blessed are the poor”and “the meek” (Matt. 5:3, 5) and so on.

Like Lady Liberty, the Mother of Exiles, guarding our shores and shining an irresistible light “from her beacon-hand”, so Jesus stood by the shores of Galilee as the “light of the world” announcing good news to all exiles, literally and figuratively, urging his followers to Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). 

Bronze-plaque-of-New-ColossusThe United States is not and never will be the vanguard of the Kingdom of God on earth. That is the task of the Church, God’s worldwide family of Jesus’ followers from every tribe, tongue and nation — yes, even the ones Trump despises. But this doesn’t mean our nation shouldn’t strive to manifest on our shores and in our nation’s capital some of the qualities and Christian instincts that bring Jesus’ Kingdom a little bit closer to earth.

Emma Lazarus’ sonnet crescendos to those memorable words calling out to all would-be immigrants. But she prefaces her plea with a mocking jab at all the ancient kingdoms of old led by the all-too-familiar pompous and power hungry kings famous for their tough-guy images and “storied pomp”:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

President Trump’s recent tweets and alleged comments about other peoples are inexcusable and reprehensible. He was elected to lead a nation built on the backs of immigrants who in their own day were fleeing “countries doing badly.” By virtue of his office, he is called to preserve this cherished history and represent our nation’s core values.

Based on his repeated sentiments, should we ever expect to see “the glow of world-wide welcome” shining from this president’s face? Can we imagine him ever tweeting the following words?

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

May all people of Christian faith embrace the vision of Miss Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus, and obey the words of Jesus toward all exiles and immigrants of goodwill:

Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21). 

“Do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matt 19:14).

Shall we, as the sonnet concludes, “lift high the lamp” of freedom and opportunity “beside the golden door?” Or shall we lift high signs warning “Keep Out” beside an impenetrable border wall? Choose your king and your kingdom. Jesus said we could can only serve one (Matt 6:24).

Finally, a disclaimer: I’m a pastor and preacher of the gospel. Politics are complex, and I don’t pretend to know how best to run the country, secure borders, bolster the economy, etc. My writings aim to call followers of Jesus to think about these complex issues from a unique, Jesus-shaped perspective. If our nation’s best interests ever conflict with our Christian calling, followers of Jesus must advance his Kingdom. Christians are not called to be pragmatic or patriotic, but rather faithful witnesses to another King and Kingdom not of this world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE NEW COLOSSUS

by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

1 reply »

  1. Well done, Jeremy. I wish our president could be touched by your words in combination with the words of Emma Lazarus. I wish that his heart would soften and see the value of all people of all places and conditions. Judy

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