(Sonny Dawsey) "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I amthe Lord your God." - Leviticus 19:33-34, NIV
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” - Emma Lazarus', New Colossus, - Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The presence of undocumented immigrants has received a lot of press coverage over the past decades. It is a hot political topic that has fostered anxiety, sympathy, animosity, and hatred within our society. It is also the source of fear-based cliches such as "secure our borders" or "deport all illegals," which are often used to gain political advantage or boost ratings. As some of our leaders grapple with alternative legal solutions (the proposed amnesty program was a positive effort), what role should the United Methodist Church play? What is our role as followers of Christ?
The United Methodist Church is an organization of faith and not a political entity. Its Book of Discipline includes a clear statement on the rights of immigrants
We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, health care, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all. (Book of Discipline - 162-H)
The above paragraph does not differentiate between those who do or do not possess legalized documentary status. It affirms the unity of all people as children of God, deserving of respect and civil treatment as fellow human beings.
Other Church documents include even stronger language. The Book of Resolutions includes at least five comprehensive statements dealing directly with Immigration and Immigration Reform:
1.Call for Immigration Reform (Book of Resolutions # 5081, approved in 2008).
2.Call for Immigration Family Unity (Book of Resolutions # 3283, approved in 2008).
3.Welcoming Migrants to the US (Book of Resolutions # 4381, approved in 2008).
4.Global Migration and Justice (Book of Resolutions # 6028, approved in 2008).
5.Conditions on the US-Mexican Border (Book of Resolutions # 6052, reapproved in 2008).
Full statements and commentary are available at: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-the-united-methodist-stance-on-immigration-reform
In addition to Church documents, we are guided by the Biblical imperative to reach out to others. Statements in the Old Testament (as the one from Leviticus quoted above) affirm the importance of hospitality and fair treatment of foreigners. More importantly, the teachings of Christ as reported in the New Testament Gospels could not be clearer. His whole ministry was focused on bringing dignity and relief to the downtrodden and oppressed. Over and over we are commanded to honor God by loving his children, those around us.
So what are we to do as United Methodists and as Christians? I believe we must seriously commit to the following:
1.Support politicians who refrain from the language of hate and exclusion. Engage in meaningful and civil dialogue that seeks to identify rational and humanitarian solutions.
2.Recognize the broad pattern of causality. Undocumented aliens are usually victims, not villains. They are fleeing oppression by governments or oligarchies that in some cases were fostered by economic interests and past foreign policy of the United States. They are fleeing local violence that is fueled by the drug wars related to trafficking to satisfy a demand originating in this country.
3.Keep in mind the brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind. These are people like us but for whom the random fortune of birth condition has not been as favorable. They experience the same needs and desires that we do: to earn a living, maintain a family, educate their children, live in safety, and experience peace.
4.Engage in group and individual action that promotes justice and support. This may involve public demonstrations or individual acts of kindness. Support the efforts of people of all cultures who desire to engage in honest work and to participate actively as members of the community.
5.Always recall the life and teachings of Jesus. Though it has become a cliche, the questions "What would Jesus do" should be on our minds. He would not turn away from anyone regardless of their national origin, cultural heritage, or documentary status.
The topic of immigration and immigration reform deserves a fair and honest treatment. It also deserves our personal attention as Christians. We cannot ignore the plight of people among us who live in constant fear of losing their employment or being separated from their families. We are currently experiencing an influx of children from Central America. They come motivated by fear of violence in their neighborhoods back home. They also come seeking reunion with parents and other relatives currently in the US. Let us keep a tender heart and seek to address their fears and needs. In this nation we are all are descendents of people who immigrated at one time or another (American Indians arrived from Asia 20,000 to 30,000 years ago), each one looking for a better life. Let us recall the inscription on our Statue of Liberty and commit to a better reception and understanding of those arriving on our shores today.