This is part of a larger synchroblog, which is when many bloggers write on the same issue. This month, the topic is immigration. This is a tough, complicated issue. In our extremely fragmented and polarized nation there are loud voices on all sides. Some are angry that people are entering our country illegally, thus breaking our laws. Some are voices of fear, particularly when immigrants bring in unfamiliar religious or political thought. Some are voices of resentment, especially when it comes to added taxpayer burdens and the scarcity of available jobs and resources. Still others speak out for compassion and human rights.
I felt I needed to seek a wiser, more informed voice to address all this. Wisdom is so often found in recalling our larger stories. So, I called dad. He is almost 82 years old. He has served in public offices for years. His grandparents immigrated to America though Ellis Island.
Dad reflected on the system that was in place to receive and process the massive influx of people coming from Europe and Asia during the earlier decades of the 20th century. These were people who were searching for safety, political asylum, religious freedom, hope and opportunity. Thousands and thousands poured in on huge ships. As is common to our fallen human condition, preference was given to more affluent passengers. Those from “steerage” class were put through the most rigorous testing to be allowed admission. There was a hospital on or near Ellis Island in which passengers sick from their long journeys could recover, though some were ultimately refused and sent back. Often, their rejection was due to a diagnosis of tuberculosis, yellow fever or other diseases against which there was little effective treatment at the time. Also, if a person was deemed unable to support themselves and likely to end up on welfare, they also would be excluded. It was a system with considerable flaws and strengths but in the end most people were admitted. The question is, what is the system in place now, particularly when it comes to our struggling Mexican neighbors?
I am not sure why our recent government administrations (of either flavor) have not done much to create a system of fairness, welcome and safety at our southern border. To do so is essential because the issue is much, much larger than the problems inherent in the influx of undocumented people. The lack of such a system can bring much harm to those who are least able to protect themselves. There is the harsh reality of human trafficking, which imprisons and exploits thousands or perhaps millions of men, women and children. The incidence of this modern day slavery is at an all time high. There is also the dodgy demand for cheap labor. It seems that those who use the cheap and often unprotected labor that undocumented peoples provide have more power and influence on border issues than those who don’t. And I wonder too, about the influence of the drug cartels. They are powerful and malicious and they can threaten or buy elected officials on both sides of the border. Are these types of perpetrators the ones who are really calling the shots when it comes to immigration on our southern border?
Despite our economic woes and internal splits, we are still the land of opportunity, the land of hope. And of course we are NOT the Kingdom of God, but we are a place where, at least in theory, everyone has a voice and certain inalienable rights. Of course people would want to come here. My heart aches for those who have been maimed or killed in their efforts to cross the border and find a new life and new opportunities in the United States. Those of us who have never felt so desperate are fortunate indeed. We need a reasonable and compassionate system in place to facilitate the immigration of struggling people into the United States. Without that, Dad says, people will continue to die in the desert. They will continue to fall prey to unscrupulous opportunists. The powerful and greedy will continue to control their lives and ours.
So how does the Church respond? In a recent gathering of friends we shared the Bread and Wine together and reflected on the surprise of the gospel. There were stories such as that of a man who heard a piece of gossip – a sex scandal- of a rival of his who was a fellow pastor with a large ministry. He felt enraged at the hypocrisy, and felt quite smug about the information, knowing it would take down this guy and put an end to his ministry. But then he heard Jesus say, why would you do that? Why destroy him? He felt compelled by Jesus to seek the man’s friendship. As trust was built, confessions were made and healing was started. The gospel is so often a surprise; it’s so different from the letter of the law. It always has in its center the heart of a person, the immeasurable value and preciousness of another. It has a passion for rescue and restoration. We have too often become sin managers and are so easily offended at the idea that someone has broken the law that we forget the larger purpose of our call. We indeed are our brothers’ keeper.
I have talked to some kind hearts who leave water bottles and other supplies in the desert and provide places of respite for the travelers who are crossing into the US. They believe they are obeying God through these acts of civil disobedience. I love their compassion and I do believe they are obeying a higher law. But these acts alone are not enough. Let’s remember the reason our grandparents and great-grandparents came here. Let’s remember the compassion and cruelties of the past. It is up to the government to establish a reasonable and compassionate immigration policy as is fitting to the history of the United States, a nation of immigrants. It is up to the Church to preach the welcome of God. The radical and undeserved hospitality of God is the scandal of the gospel. May we live it well. After all, we are exiles too.
Links to other bloggers will be added as they come in.
Steve Hayes Christians and the Immigration Issue
Matt Stone - Glocal Christianity Is Xenophobia Ever Christlike?
Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – Being The Flag
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Together We Can
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – Immigration Stories
Bethany Stedman – Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – Of Rape and Refuge
Joshua Seek – Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – Christians and Immigration
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – You’re Right
Kathy Escobar at Carnival in My Head – It’s a lot easier to be against immigration reform when you have papers
Jonathan Brink – Immigration
Peter Walker at Emerging Christian – Immigration Reform
K.W. Leslie – the Evening of Kent – American Immigration
Christine Sine – Godspace – Immigration Reform- Yes, No, Don’t care