Thanksgiving Isn't About Family

It's about treating those who aren't like they are.

Ten years ago, I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home in a small, Chicago apartment with people I didn't know. Having just moved from New Jersey for college, all of my family lived twelve hours from campus and I didn't have a lot of money. So my wife and I decided to stay put and celebrate alone.

It was weird being without family, but to our surprise, we received an invitation from a classmate who was hosting Thanksgiving for stranded students like us. I still remember the five different kinds of pies, the awkward but fun game of Cranium with complete strangers, and the broad smiles that our presence gave our classmate and his wife. They were overjoyed to welcome us into their home.

Ten years later, we're talking about immigration bans, internment camps, and registries of foreigners.

Last year, Donald Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Two weeks ago, Kansas Secretary of State and possible Attorney General candidate, Kris Kobach, discussed reinstating a national registry for immigrants from certain countries. And just last week, former Navy SEAL and Trump supporter, Carl Higbie, said regarding internment camps, "There is historical, factual precedent to do things that are not politically popular and sometimes not right, in the interest of national security."

Thank God that he has no interest in national security.

The Mosaic law frequently reminded the Israelites to be kind to the foreigners in their land because they, too, were once foreigners in Egypt. In fact, the law made specific provisions for foreigners to be treated just like the rest of the community. The apostle Paul took this further when he told Jews to welcome non-Jews into their faith not as foreigners but as fellow citizens.

In other words, according to the Bible, family is not more important than foreigners. Our comfort and perceived security is not more important than anyone else's, regardless of class, race, or religion.

In fact, the first Thanksgiving in America is about indigenous peoples welcoming immigrants into their land and helping them thrive there--a far cry from the rhetoric of many Christians today. The family first and giving thanks narrative is convenient enough, but it not only ignores history, it ignores Scripture.

Most Americans are foreigners and, according to Hebrews, all Christians are foreigners sojourning here on earth. We may not be in a position to change our nation's posture of self-interest, but we don't need it to change to behave like Christians. All we have to do open our homes to those who don't feel like they have one.

A few years ago when we lived in Chicago, my wife and I tried this with the local Streetwise guy (a magazine for the homeless to sell) who worked a corner near our apartment. We invited him over for Thanksgiving and a big, home-cooked meal. Then, for reasons I can't recall, we watched Tron: Legacy together.

But it got weird quick. He didn't want to leave. I couldn't blame him considering his description of the shelter in which he lived. If I were him, I would try to wear out my welcome too. And wear it out he did as we eventually asked him to leave. A stranger was in our home who clearly didn't want to leave which made us both slightly fearful and anxious.

The first-century Jewish Christians were also fearful of the non-Jews infiltrating their churches. So much so that a number of them tried to convince the non-Jews to look and act like Jews, not unlike how many Americans treat immigrants today. But the apostles quickly put a stop to such cultural eugenics, and we need to as well.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that unwittingly celebrates the Christian life of immigration and adoption. Thanks to Squanto, we have a real-life, historical example of how God expects us to treat foreigners. Not with suspicion and assumption, but with the same unconditional love we extend to family. Because in God's economy, there is no difference in how we treat family and how we treat foreigners.

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photo credit: Tom Gill. Thanksgiving is for Family via photopin (license)