A reflection from Dr. Owen Ross and Rev. Eric Folkerth:
Tomorrow, the two of us will travel to Washington DC to take part in a non-violent action to support just treatment of immigrants by our government and people. More than 150 clergy will join us from across the United States, as we make our witness, and potentially face arrest at the White House gates.
The “border crisis,” and the lack of action on comprehensive immigration reform have compelled us to witness to our faith and to declare that our nation has not lived up to its calling as a nation of immigrants. But the specific goal of this “action” is to end the separation of families by our immigration policies and enforcement.
Each of us sees these issues in our own ministries. Owen pastors a church whose members are predominantly first-generation immigrants. He has seen the anguish of separated families and the lack of a reasonable process for most persons desiring to immigrate to the US, especially for applicants from Mexico and Central America. Eric’s congregation has a long-term mission with people in El Salvador and Guatemala. He has seen the desperate poverty and the effects of violence there first hand, and understands why parents might make the same painful choice as Moses’ mother—to place their children on a perilous journey rather than face imminent violence.
We understand that political solutions are challenging. But the border “crisis” we now see was brought on by the failure of all of our elected leaders to work together and pass true comprehensive immigration reform. While we are not politicians, we are preachers, following the calling of the Bible. And, the Bible is clear that we should love and welcome the immigrant.
No other contemporary political issue is addressed more frequently and consistently in Judeo-Christian Scripture than the issue of immigration. The Hebrew Scriptures state:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33).
Time and time again, this same theme repeats. God instructs God’s holy people to care for the foreigners living among them through designating crop gleanings to them (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:19), through giving them food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18-19), through paying them fair wages (Deuteronomy 24:14-15), and even through sharing the tithe with them (Deuteronomy 26:12). And please note, there is no distinction in the Bible between “legal” and “illegal.” That is our modern construct. God’s Biblical call is for God’s holy people to welcome the stranger, foreigner, or sojourner, regardless of status. And the reason is clear: “because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Recently, a Christian minister in town claimed on national news that the most compassionate response to the border crisis was to build a fence. Far from building walls (or fences) between nations, Jesus was constantly breaking them down. Jesus personally was forced to flee as a child to another nation “by night” because the threat of violence (Matthew 2:14). As an adult, when Jesus visited his own hometown, he reminded them how God called the great prophets to assist foreigners (Luke 4: 24-30). His hometown crowd got very angry with him that day for speaking the truth that God calls us to show true compassion to foreigners. It seems to be the same in our day too.
Almost all of us in the US came from other lands. We are a nation of immigrants. Therefore, our faith, and a simple sense of justice, call us to stand up for immigrants, and to call our nation to do better.
Dr. Owen Ross is pastor of Christ’s Foundry United Methodist Mission in Dallas.
Rev. Eric Folkerth is pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas.
(The General Board of Church and Society of the UMC will attempt to live stream the Thursday July 31st action here.
Scheduled start time is Noon Eastern.)