It was the worst of times…

Yesterday I opened my twitter feed to see news of a “mock immigration sting” that was being planned for UT Austin, the campus less than 5 miles from my home. A student group on campus, the Young Conservatives of Texas, had planned the event as a way to educate students about the issue of illegal immigration.

My gut reaction was one of anger on behalf of the undocumented students I know and love. They already live in fear of being deported, of losing the only country they’ve ever known, of not being able to have a future. They experience life as a political scapegoat, easy targets for politicians trying to get ahead. And just when they’re trying to study and improve their education, this happens.

It was the best of times…

Later in the evening I was again checking twitter to see more of the news of the day (maybe I’m on there too much). Imagine my surprise to see the newly installed president of Fuller Seminary, Mark Labberton, helping to lead a march for immigration reform in Pasadena, CA (the home of Fuller’s main campus).

The event started on the campus of the seminary and led to the stops of city hall where undocumented students at Fuller and other leaders advocated for reform of our immigration system. On a day where one campus painted such an ugly picture of response to immigrants, what a beautiful redemptive picture of the body of Christ.

We Have at Least Five Choices

When it comes to the current state of our immigration system in this country, we as believers have at least five possible responses. We can:

  • 1. Marginalize and Dehumanize.We can choose to join in the chorus of student groups who marginalize and dehumanize undocumented immigrants. At the two largest universities in Texas student groups or the student senate have sought ways to marginalize the few (less than 500 out of 50,000 total) undocumented students on campus.
    Nationally, politicians have suggested we “shoot illegal immigrants like pigs”, “that they’re all drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes”, or have dehumanized them in other ways. In fear we can choose to join along and marginalize and already marginalized group.
  • 2. Stay Silent Silence is tricky. Often it comes from well meaning Christians who simply don’t know much about the issues (other than they are politically charged). Ignorance is not a sin. But because of the marginalization and dehumanization of immigrants that occurs in political rhetoric today, silence can often be implicit acceptance. By not speaking out against something so public, we can give our tacit agreement with it, even if we don’t mean to.
  • 3. Get Informed. So what is a Christian to do who doesn’t know much? As I was writing this post a friend reached out to me via twitter and asked for resources to learn more about the issue. What a beautiful response. Instead of remaining silent or joining with the harmful rhetoric, they sought to understand more. I was able to point them to sites like http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/ and http://g92.org/ where they can learn more. For further reading I also recommended “Christians at the Border” by Daniel Carroll.
  • 4. Advocate Against Undocumented Immigrants. Some of my best friends are strong Christians who are opposed to any kind of immigration reform. For their conscience, they believe that all “illegal immigrants” (their term, not mine) should be deported back to their country of origin. Many would cite scripture to back up their views.
    I myself might have fallen into this camp for the first 25 years of my life if I had ever really thought about the issue (it wasn’t often on my radar). What changed things for me was getting to know and love undocumented immigrants. Hearing their stories changed me and changed my views on the complex issues.
    While it is certainly within a Christian’s right to advocate against immigration reform, the question I would ask is: “Do you actually know any undocumented immigrants?” How might your answer to that question affect your views on the need for reform? How might the Bible’s emphasis on welcoming the stranger affect your response? Both sides of the debate within the Christian community are thinking about this issue theologically.
  • 5. Pray and Advocate for Reform For me, as I read Scripture and listened to Godly people share their belief and the need for immigration reform, I became convinced this was the civil rights issue of our day. As a white Evangelical who inherits a history of silence and support of the status quo during the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. (the Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written for people exactly like me), I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes again.
    So what has advocacy looked like for me? I think it is different for everyone, but it starts with getting informed. Then it moves to making friends with undocumented immigrants. For me it involved speaking up with them, whether at community meetings, on twitter, or in water cooler conversations. Lastly, it will involve prayer. Prayer that the power brokers elected to server our nation will seek to serve even those who are not considered people under our laws. (Under current U.S law, a corporation has the right of personhood, while an undocumented immigrant does not.)

As the rhetoric around immigration reform continues to intensify, we in the church are presented with options. We can be like the campus that marginalizes and dehumanizes, or we can join the campus in prayer and advocacy for reform. In large part the future of Evangelical influence in our ever diversifying country hangs in the balance. Which will we choose?

image credit: sea-turtle