There is an ancient Greek concept called xenia, and it very much exemplifies the idea of modern immigration. It is a reciprocal concept, as the host should provide food, shelter, and gifts, and the guest should be kind, respectful, and offer something in return. Examples of xenia appears in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and it serves as a lesson for how to treat visitors, whether foreign or domestic. Greeks were taught this practice because a stranger may very well be a god in disguise, and to disrespect a god would surely summon his or her wrath.
The United States has a history of giving individuals who have very little an opportunity to define themselves, grow, and participate in a country whose European founders were at one time immigrants themselves. And just as the US can offer food, shelter, and benefits, new immigrants can provide us with the gift of their dedication to our existing ideals, and a reminder of the sacrifices it takes to get here.
Recently, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border, fomenting a “barbarians at the gate” philosophy. Despite Congress’s consistent denial of funding, Trump insists on fulfilling his campaign promise of building a wall through any means necessary. The declaration is as controversial as the TV personality/businessman himself, as it perpetuates the xenophobia of him and his supporters.
In response, the last couple of years have seen over 20 Unitarian Universalist organizations declare themselves sanctuary churches. In 2017, The UU Church of Columbia, MO offered “to provide shelter, food and legal counsel with the assistance of other community organizations.”
In July of last year, NPR reported on a woman named Sandra Lopez, who had been provided sanctuary by Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist church in Colorado for the previous eight months. And as recently as two months ago, Rosa Gutierrez Lopez began receiving sanctuary in Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda.
These are just a few examples of the ways Unitarian Universalists have recognized the inherent worth and dignity of every person, sought justice & compassion, and promoted the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Becoming a sanctuary for immigrants and refugees epitomizes the ancient Greek concept of xenia. Whether or not these individuals are gods in disguise, or just fellow human beings seeking solace from a nation of abundance, it is clear to our organization that no wall or gate will separate us from the web of existence of which we are all an integral part.