Leviticus 19: On Loving the Alien

“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” -Leviticus 19:34

The whole 19th chapter of Leviticus sets standards for how Jewish people are supposed to treat each other in certain everyday dealings. The chapter starts with reminders about following the basic commandments. Then we move into readings dealing with ethics around slander, community justice, treatment of older people and hired laborers. Once we’re all nodding our heads in agreement about the rightness of being just to our neighbors, verse 34 “lowers the boom” on us! We are reminded in no uncertain terms that it is not God’s way to treat people worse because they’re not like us.

In fact, we are specifically told to remember that we have also been treated badly, most likely to give us pause before we unleash harshness on someone who we call “other” or “them” or “those people”. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it seems to be one of the biggest themes that runs through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Unfortunately to me, it feels all but forgotten by the religious people who oppose full equality for same gender loving/gay lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The continued, unprincipled verbal and legislative attacks we see playing out across the country send a very clear message: “You’re different from us, we don’t like it at all, and you don’t deserve to be treated the same as me because you’re NOT!” Apparently these folks have never been aliens in Egypt.

But before we throw our own rocks at the Pat Robertsons and Fred Phelps of the world, lets think about the double standards in our own communities. Do we really practice justice among us?

Where are the marriage equality papers that talk about how civil unions will affect queer folks on welfare or public assistance? Do us white LGBT folks really listen to our cousins of color about their needs, or is racism “something we’ll get to” as soon as we take care of a few other things? If your organizations annual fundraisers are held in wheelchair accessible buildings, can those same people you want to open their wallets make it into your office to participate as day to day staff or volunteers? Do you and your friends “just know” that SGL/LGBT folks who don’t live in big cities are missing out, and have nothing available to them?

Who are the “aliens among you” that you have just not bothered to make citizens?

As we fight for the right to be heard, respected, and seen as equals in the dominant culture, are we making sure that others in our communities are granted that same respect and right?

One implication I see reading the chapter this verse comes from is that you have to know what it means to be a citizen of your community before you can make the “aliens among you” full members.

Maybe if we actively practice equality in our own communities, the blessings will move outward and create equality for us among the larger culture.