Welcoming the stranger: South Dakota faith leaders speak out against Gov. Kristi Noem’s anti-immigrant statements

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two South Dakota faith leaders have sent a letter to Governor Kristi Noem, criticizing her refusal to allow migrant children to be settled in South Dakota.

This refusal was most publicly on display in the form of a tweet made by Noem, stating “My message to illegal immigrants… call me when you’re an American.”

Tweet from Gov. Kristi Noem

In the letter sent Thursday, co-signed by Bishop Constanze Hagmaier of the ELCA South Dakota Synod and Bishop Jonathan Folts of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota, the pair admonish the Governor, saying that her ‘harsh rebuke’ of Biden’s proposal ‘is not congruent with Christ’s commandment.’

Page 1 of April_22_2021_Joint_Letter_from_Bishops_to_Gov_Noem
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Jacob Newton (KELO-TV) • View document or read text

The letter goes on to urge Noem to engage in healthy public discourse with the Biden administration, along with South Dakota’s Congressional delegation. They Bishops also invite Noem to join them and other clergy for a conversation about how to seek a resolution to the migration crisis. So far, the Bishops have not received a response.

KELOLAND News spoke with both Bishop Hagmaier and Foltz on Friday about their letter, and they say the core message that’s needed is one of acceptance.

Asked about their reasoning for speaking out on a political manner as religious figures, both Bishops indicated that this matter goes beyond simple political differences.

“Because we are Christians and we live in this world,” says Hagmaier, “we are part of this world, but we also receive what we call our vocation and our calling. Our calling and our vocation come from God. It’s something that’s given to us, and we are given a voice and we are to use this voice to speak out on behalf of God and our neighbors.”

Bishop Folts also invoked the idea of the neighbor.

“Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, and of course where that story came from was when the person asked Jesus, ‘Well, who is my neighbor? Who am I responsible for?'” he says. “Based on the Governor’s statement, especially her most recent statement of, ‘When you’re an American, call me’ she would define my neighbor as being an American, and I would argue that Jesus had a much larger concept of neighbor than just nationality.”

Folts also agrees that Jesus himself was notably not an American.

Asked about the likelihood of having a conversation with the Governor, both stuck a positive, if realistic note. “One can always hope,” said Hagmaier wryly. Folts for his part, elaborated a bit more.

“No response is still a response,” he said. “Even if a response is silence or no response, it’s still a response, so we’re hoping to receive a verbal response or written response, some sort of reaction, but silence is also.”

Considering Noem’s very public embrace of Christianity, in looking at some of Noem’s policies and statements relating to the marginalized communities such as the LBBTQIA+, Hagmaier says this is not the first time the religious community has felt a need to reach out to the Governor due to her actions.

The Bishops end the letter with passage from Leviticus, writing, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress 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.”

KELOLAND News reached out to the Governor’s office for comment on this letter, but we have not received a response.

The Bishops’ invite for dialogue with the Governor remains open.

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