I have written a good deal about the present immigration debate. I will continue to write about it because it resonates so deeply with faith and Christian mission. I would be willing to argue that no issue, at least one that presently concerns so many American Christians, has more direct bearing on missional-ecumenism than this one. I further believe that the polarization we know in the church regarding this issue is real and it is deeply felt. Some of you have been directly hurt by illegal immigrants in your own personal lives. I respect these painful realities but I also believe that unless we get beyond the political debate, and the anger and deep hurt, we will never get to the question of what it means to “love our neighbors” regardless of whether those neighbors are here legally or illegally.
Pastor David Moorhead serves as the pastor of a new church plant (CRC and RCA) in Shafter, California. David is my long-time friend, a member of the ACT 3 Advisory Board. He ministers in a community where the legal and illegal Mexican population is large and still growing. He wrote a column about mission, and the heritage of Americans and Mexicans, in his local newspaper. When I read his May article I asked him to allow me to re-publish it here. Without any editing on my part here is his column as originally published in the local Shafter Press. I think he shows incredible grace and wisdom, especially given the demographics of his town and his desire to plant a vibrant multi-ethnic church. Frankly, David is one of my heroes and I think you will see why after your read his column.
The Pastor’s Corner
Just over three weeks ago our community celebrated Cinco de Mayo in Mannel Park. I live on Mannel Avenue, just a few houses south of the park. I took the opportunity to go over to the celebration several times throughout the day to watch the dancing, listen to the music, and enjoy being with my neighbors and fellow citizens of Shafter. It was a delightful day that honored the Mexican heritage of the majority of our community and I loved all of it.
At the same time there was a tempest brewing as a result of a law passed in our neighboring state of Arizona; the controversial immigration law. This law will allow the police to stop and search people on the basis of the mere “suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien. Without the necessary papers this person can be arrested.
This column is called “Pastor’s Corner.” It is not a political column and I am not a politician; obviously, I am a pastor. And what I want to say is not intended to be political. The Arizona law has become very controversial and that controversy has come into the churches of America. I have read heated discussions on the internet between Christians and those discussions have often degenerated into name-calling arguments. Some Christians argue that we are to support the laws of our land no matter what and people who are here illegally need to be summarily deported. Other Christians are arguing for a more compassionate approach and prefer some kind of amnesty. These arguments are not limited to Anglo church members; even Latino Christians are divided over what ought to be done.
This is the question in my mind and heart: “Is there a Christian approach to this issue?” I don’t want to argue Republican versus Democrat nor Conservative versus Liberal. In fact, I don’t want to argue at all! I think the Christian church faces a potentially very divisive issue and one thing that is unacceptable is continued or increased division in the church!
When we read the book of Acts and the letters of St. Paul we realize that the first century church faced the danger of division on many fronts. There were Gentiles and Jews who had come to faith in Christ and were in the same church. There were slaves and slave-owners in the same church. There were people who spoke many different languages in the same church. Confronted with all of these potentially divisive situations, the apostle Paul consistently called for an attitude of love and mutual submission. In his letters he strongly commanded the young Christians to protect the unity of the church in the name of Jesus Christ. He reminded them that the best witness they could have to their world was to maintain Christian love and unity. Members of the church were told to live in peace with one another, to forgive one another, and to treat one another with gentleness and compassion.
The teaching of the New Testament leads me to arrive at certain conclusions for myself and for the church. We Christians have been called to do the work of the kingdom of heaven in the name of Jesus. Above all, we proclaim the gospel of Christ and call on people to come to faith and believe the good news. At the same time we are called to demonstrate the love of God by ministering to and serving those who are weak and suffering, sick and needy, and those who are in trouble. I consider myself blessed that I don’t have to ask anyone if he or she has papers of documentation. I am simply free to serve in the name of Christ.
There is only one church. All Christians are members of that church. We don’t have to do any racial profiling and we don’t discriminate on the bases of ethnicity or language. We should not let the debate on immigration affect the ministries of our churches and we should never allow it to divide us. However this issue may be worked out by the politicians, let’s covenant to act in love and demonstrate grace and acceptance for one another.