Cepeda column: What would Jesus do about immigration issues?
CHICAGO — Although we live in a country where organized religion is mostly out of vogue, there are still plenty of people who are familiar with the teachings of Christ — and who can’t square them with how supposedly God-fearing Republicans inhumanely view migrants and refugees at the U.S. border.
“The rejection of Christian teaching on this issue [of immigration] is pretty much a job requirement in the Trump administration,” noted Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson in a piece citing examples of Republican hypocrisy on the issue. “Evangelicals insist on the centrality and inerrancy of scripture and condemn society for refusing to follow biblical norms — and yet, when it comes to verse after verse requiring care for the stranger, they don’t merely ignore this mandate; they oppose it.”
But are we painting Christians with too broad a brush?
That’s certainly the opinion of the Evangelical Immigration Table, which bills itself as a broad coalition of evangelicals who advocate for immigration reform that is consistent with biblical values.
Members include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. They want to make sure their fellow Christians know that it is both possible and practical to use the Bible as a guide in approaching immigrants and immigration policy.
“We have the science and the technology to both have a secure border and to have legal immigration — we can do both,” says Anderson in one of the group’s videos, which is titled “Pro-Security, Pro-Compassion.”
In that same video, Jo Anne Lyon, the global ambassador for the Wesleyan Church, says, “Yes, secure the national borders, but we want borders that are secured, not closed.”
Another of the organization’s videos is titled “Making Things Right: Establishing a Path Toward Legal Status.” It advocates giving citizenship to immigrants who are currently living in the shadows. “[An] earned legalization process, paired with improvements to border security, is supported by more than two-thirds of American Evangelical Christians according to a poll from LifeWay,” Hoogstra said.
Along with the videos, the Evangelical Immigration Table released an e-book titled “Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform.” It suggests that the Bible — which the e-book calls the “ultimate authority” for evangelical Christians — should be a guide not just for policy, but personal encounters:
“While applying biblical principles to public policy inherently requires some prudential determinations, biblical teachings about how to interact with immigrants themselves leave less space for differences of interpretation: We’re called to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27) and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), regardless of where we land on public policy.”
Driving its point home, the e-book starts off by underscoring how many of the most prominent Bible characters were themselves immigrants, forced across borders just to find food. It goes on to cite numerous passages showing that vulnerable groups of people, like immigrants, were “objects of God’s particular concern.”
This would be the precise moment for the cynic to engage in finger-pointing and recriminations about the many ways and times that Bible verses are taken out of context (or not) to delegitimize particular groups, such as gay, lesbian or transgender people.
But to what end?
These evangelical Christians, who feel they’ve been miscast or misrepresented, are clearly trying to extend an olive branch not only to their detractors but to those who might find solace in the Bible and are ambivalent about the immigration issue.
These videos are nicely produced, and the e-book is a fine resource that is also humane. It calls for a “bipartisan solution on immigration that respects the God-given dignity of every person, protects the unity of the immediate family and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”
Ultimately, however, while enlightened evangelical Christians preach about the Bible to fellow Christians, they need to also contact elected lawmakers who dehumanize immigrants or stand with a president who wants to be even harsher to the women, children and men who arrive at our border fleeing political turmoil, violence or economic freefall.
It’s not enough to preach to the choir on the issue of immigration.
Evangelical Christians, please take an outspoken leadership role and help cool the heated rhetoric in far-right, anti-immigrant camps. Especially with those who put the power of their political pulpit toward dehumanizing immigrants and those who care about them.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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