As Congress now begins their 113th legislative session, they have many difficult and divisive issues to confront. The issue of how we fix our broken immigration system is certainly at or near the top of the list of priorities that Congress must grappling with.
The immigration issue has vexed our nation for a long time. Many difficult and complex choices will have to be made as our nation decides how we proceed on this issue. Legislators and their constituents will certainly weigh in with many different points of view, as they indeed should. As we sort this problem out, we hope and trust that all people of good will not only offer their opinions, but will listen to the opinions of others with open minds and open hearts. This issue offers few black or white options. The final solutions will almost certainly emerge as murky shades of gray. However, I would suggest that as a starting point, many people of faith should look to the Bible to see what it teaches us on the issue of immigration
For several years now, our group, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, has been discussing the moral imperative that our nation faces as we struggle to fix our broken immigration system. In a recent article, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the incoming Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary, said, “In my district, what’s said from the pulpit carries a lot of weight in terms of how we define morality.” Therefore, we want to help connect the dots, and discuss exactly how the Bible teaches us to look at the issue of immigration, and why, exactly, so many of our nation’s religious leaders are so concerned about finding a just, reasonable and compassionate solution to the immigration problems that our country is facing today.
One of the members of our CfCIR coalition, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, offered the following perspective; “In the 60s, the evangelical community stood on the sidelines as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched for justice. In the 21st century, Evangelicals refuse to repeat history and stand committed to contextualizing the moral imperative behind immigration reform. Driven by Matthew 25 and a commitment to reconcile conviction with compassion, the followers of Christ lead the charge for immigration reform that protects our values, borders and more importantly, the image of God in every human being.”
Building on Rev. Rodriguez’s thoughts, perhaps a good place to start this conversation would be a new initiative called “I Was a Stranger...,” which takes its name directly from Matthew 25:35, where Jesus says that by welcoming a stranger, we may be welcoming him. This is an effort sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table, of which CfCIR is a founding member. Every day for 40 days, we ask that people read one short Scripture passage that relates to God’s heart for immigrants in some way. Some verses deal with having respect for the law; others relate to the way God says immigrants should be incorporated into a society. We provide you with a bookmark that lists the references to these 40 passages. We don’t analyze the passages for you or tell you how we think they should be interpreted - all we do is direct you to the verses and ask that you commit to reading them, praying about them, and reflecting on them.
As Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and a fellow member of CfCIR has stated, “Immigration reform is first and foremost a moral issue. How we treat the vulnerable among us speaks volumes about the kind of people we are. We must do right by the undocumented among us for the sake of our nation’s moral standing in the world, for our children, and for God, who will hold us accountable.”
Members of our coalition have recently met with many members of Congress to discuss the issue of immigration reform, as well as the “I was a Stranger” initiative. We note that every Congressional leader that we’ve discussed this initiative with has agreed to participate. We appreciate their sincerity, and their strong faith, as we hope and pray that many other leaders, and perhaps even more importantly their constituents, will also agree to participate in this simple and prayerful initiative. The issue of immigration reform is complex, but the word of God offers clarity and comfort to people of faith as they work through this difficult problem, and seek just solutions.
In closing, Rev. James Tolle, who is also a member of CfCIR, and is the Senior Pastor of El Camino Churches, summed up the true value of the “I Was a Stranger...”initiative with these thoughtful comments; “The immigration reform topic is a very emotional and politicized one today. We all know that we live in an imperfect world, among imperfect people. Some types of immigration reveal these imperfections rather readily. Yet, for those of us who are Christians, we also know firsthand that God has applied his grace to the many imperfections of our own personal lives. Consequently, we are called upon to move beyond our own preferences and traditions and offer to others in need, this same grace which we have received.”
Pastor Tolle concluded his remarks by stating, “Because the Lord’s words remain true for today’s world, I exuberantly recommend the “I Was A Stranger” challenge. Without any type of political bias, the challenge seeks to lead the participant through the Holy Scriptures showing God’s heart regarding the immigrant, as well as his viewpoint regarding the contextualizing of the many civil laws which seek to maximize our well being. I am encouraging my friends and the congregation and churches which I lead to participate in this challenge. I am convinced it will lead us into a much wiser and thoroughgoing solution regarding the emotional volatility of today’s immigration reform debate.”
Robert Gittelson is president of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He is also Senior Advisor on Immigration at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.