Back in 1649, long before there was a United States, and long before our Founding Fathers created the Bill of Rights, a merchant from Holland arrived in colonial Boston, bringing supplies to Edward Gibbons, the leader of Boston's militia. The merchant's name was Solomon Franco, and he was Jewish. There was no Jewish community in Boston at that time; and in fact, the dominant Puritans who founded the city were not eager to accept anyone who dissented from their version of Christianity-- even some Puritans, including Roger Williams, were accused of having the wrong beliefs, and invited to leave Massachusetts. Needless to say, Solomon Franco did not receive a warm welcome, plus he was involved in a pay dispute with Edward Gibbons. In the end, Franco was not only denied the money he was owed, but he was told to leave Boston.
Fast forward to 1908. My maternal grandfather arrived in the USA, one of a large number of European immigrants, many of whom were escaping dire poverty, or religious persecution (or both). My grandfather was leaving a country where Jews had little future-- forbidden to enter many professions, subjected to constant threats of persecution and even violence; he believed America was a land of opportunity, and while he didn't know a lot about the US Constitution, he had heard that people of all religions were welcome. Over the years, he made a life for himself, married, had kids, and while he never got rich, he also never encountered the kind of brutality and discrimination he had endured in the Old Country.
What got me thinking about all of this was a newspaper article in the Boston Globe about how a mosque in neighboring Providence RI had received a threatening (and anonymous) letter, saying that Muslims were not welcome in America and that Donald Trump was going to rid the country of them. It turned out a number of mosques in other cities had received similar letters, as well as phone messages warning them they'd better leave now. Although I am not a Muslim, when I read the story, it made me sad. I don't for one minute think that Donald Trump personally ordered his followers to contact mosques and make threats; and yet some of his most ardent supporters clearly got the idea that it was time to let Muslims know they don't belong here.
But the truth is, they do. So do Jews, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Sikhs, and Christians (and non-believers too). America was designed to be a melting pot, a country that welcomed immigrants from many places. We may not always see eye to eye, we may not always share the same views or celebrate the same holidays. But at its best, America is a country where we can all have the opportunity to create a better life, the way my grandfather (and many other people's immigrant relatives) did. And yes, I understand that some immigrants come here and for whatever reason, they don't make the adjustment, or they break our laws, or they get into trouble. But studies repeatedly show these folks are the exceptions. Contrary to myth, contrary to political rhetoric, the vast majority of immigrants, including Muslims, are happy to be here. They come to seek the same new life that immigrants from other religions have also sought. They learn English, they find work, they send their kids to school, and they appreciate the freedoms guaranteed to them in the First Amendment.
Both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) are very clear about the commandment to welcome the stranger-- in fact, some verses command us not just to welcome, but to love the stranger. And yet, I know all too many people who have no love whatsoever for those who look or believe or act differently. I know all too many people who claim to be religious but have no problem ignoring those verses about love and kindness. The people sending the hate mail and making the angry phone calls to mosques may be proud of themselves; they may think they're doing God's work, or they may think they're being patriotic. But they're wrong.
Perhaps they should consider an interesting exchange of letters that occurred between Moses Seixas and George Washington back in 1790: Seixas was the leader of the synagogue in Newport RI, and he wrote a letter to President Washington, praising America for having "a Government which to bigotry gives
no sanction, to persecution no assistance." In his response, George Washington not only agreed, but he reassured Seixas that the small Jewish community of that city should never be afraid; nor should anyone of any religious background, because the government will protect its citizens, and guarantee them freedom of worship. This should be as true today as it was in 1790; and it is something all of us, and especially our political leaders, should never forget. Whether the stranger is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or something else, he or she deserves a chance to live in peace, and no-one should make them feel afraid.