Tag Archives: Immigration

Clarifying some statements on immigrants

OK, so last week’s post about hurting people drew a lot of attention. It was primarily directed to my home church and has led to some very healthy discussion within that church. Our leadership has stepped up in amazing ways.

But I also know that what I’ve written has created some misconceptions, and I take responsibility for that. Let me try and address some things:

  • The vast majority of the church members that attend our bilingual service at the University church in Abilene are in the United States legally.
  • The hurt felt within the Hispanic community extends far beyond the subset that doesn’t have proper immigration status. Much goes to the climate around what’s going on; see my post about the border wall to get a feel for that.
  • In a comment, I stated that illegal immigration is not a crime. I should have said that being here without proper status is not a crime. The act of crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, which is considered a crime. A large percentage of those who are here illegally entered on a legal basis. During the campaign for the G.O.P. nomination, Marco Rubio put the figure at 40%; surprisingly, there are no good numbers available to confirm or contradict that. Rubio’s guess seems to reflect a good approximation.
  • I have never suggested to a Christian that they enter the U.S. illegally. I personally don’t know any Christians that have done so. I do know many who became Christians after entering the country.
  • About two-thirds of those who reside in the U.S. illegally have been here for more than 10 years. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/) Most Christians that I’ve known who are here illegally are not border hoppers; they fall into this category of people who have come to establish a new life.
  • Someone having broken the law does not preclude our extending compassion toward them. I wrote this in a comment on Facebook the other day: “If someone who is texting hits someone and kills them, can I not feel compassion for them even if they are suffering for their own mistake? What if they drive drunk and kill themselves; should I not feel for their families even though the loss was based on a broken law?”

I’ve written lots about the justice and injustice of our current immigration system. There’s nothing black and white about this situation; anyone who tries to reduce this issue to a phrase or two is on the wrong path.

But one thing is black and white: we are called to show compassion to our brothers and sisters who are hurting. A lot of people quoted Romans 13 to me; few quoted Matthew 25. The first one is about them; the second about us. It’s always easier to point out what they’ve done wrong.

I don’t have brown skin

Skin Brown Skin Brown Skin Up Close Skin Up Close

As we’ve talked about showing compassion for immigrants, a number of people have wondered why people who are here legally would be anxious about an uptick in immigration enforcement.

I’d bet most of those people don’t have brown skin.

“Aha! I knew you’d play the race card sometime.”

When discussing immigrants, even Latino immigrants, there shouldn’t be a race card to play. “Latino” or “Hispanic” aren’t races; they are ethnicities. That is, there are white Latinos, black Latinos, yellow Latinos, and brown Latinos. And there are plenty of people with brown skin who are neither Latino nor are they immigrants.

But we know who the brunt of this enforcement will fall on. When my friend Carlos was arrested for not having papers with him, he was merely the passenger in a car driven by someone who committed a violation (a U.S. citizen). Yet Carlos “looks Mexican” and was asked to prove his legal status. Unable to do so, he was arrested.

What documentation do you carry with you to prove your legal status? Ever been out with a friend when you weren’t driving? Did you worry about carrying your “papers” with you? Do you often carry your passport or other documentation showing your citizenship?

If you don’t have brown skin, probably not. If you’re one of the 2/3 of Hispanics that live here that were born in this country, you probably haven’t thought about that either. Yet I’ve had Hispanic friends who were asked to show their green card, even though they were born here. Why? They are Hispanic… and look like what most people think Hispanics look like.

My son probably doesn’t have to worry about it, even though he was born in Argentina and identifies as Hispanic. He doesn’t have brown skin. He’s okay.

Let me use an example from Argentina. Different country. Different laws. But maybe the illustration will help some. We had two young men in our congregation who regularly got around on motorcycles. One was stopped several times a week by the police to have his papers checked and his backpack searched. One was rarely stopped and never searched.

Can you guess the difference? The first young man was from the north of Argentina and looked “Bolivian” to most Argentine eyes. The other was also from a different Argentine province, but he and his family looked very European.

I don’t expect things to reach those levels here, but I do know if police are tasked with looking for illegal immigrants, they won’t be tapping me on the shoulder and asking for my papers.

I don’t have brown skin.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today

Everyone in our congregation should be concerned right now. Everyone. The same probably goes for your congregation.

I don’t really care what your thoughts are on immigration policy, at least not today. Today is a day to think as a Christian, not a Republican or a Democrat.

The Hispanic community in Abilene is upset. Nervous. Both those who are here legally and those who aren’t. They are uncertain about what the coming days bring for them and their loved ones. They know they are in for a time of distrust and suspicion, no matter their status. They are hurting right now.

This is true for Hispanic members of the church. They are scared. They are nervous. They are hurting.

We should be too.

But I agree with Trump’s immigration policy! (you say)

OK. That’s not the point of this post. This post is about weeping with those who weep. This is about compassion.

We can feel compassion even when we feel that someone is suffering because of something they’ve done wrong or that their family has done wrong. We can hurt for the alcoholic, whether or not we think they are to blame for their condition. We can hurt for families going through divorce, no matter what we see as the cause of their situation.

We don’t have to be pro-enforcement or anti-enforcement to hurt with those who hurt and weep with those who weep.

On Sunday, we had a baby blessing at our church. The father is Hispanic, the mother Anglo. Mom admitted that she would have preferred to do the blessing in the chapel where our bilingual group meets, but agreed to do it in the main auditorium because she had been told it would be encouraging to the main congregation. Everyone wanted to see that our congregation has young families that are growing.

When we have baptisms, we often do them during worship time, even though that’s very disruptive for the bilingual group. Why do we do that? So the whole congregation can rejoice together upon seeing a new birth. (Over the last few years, a disproportionate number of the baptisms at church have come from the bilingual group)

We want to rejoice with our Hispanic brothers. We want their joys and their triumphs to be the joys and triumphs of the whole congregation.

Therefore the whole congregation needs to be hurting today. We need to weep with those who weep. We need to feel the pain of the children who don’t understand legal and illegal; all they know is that Mexicans are being rounded up and sent away… and their parents are Mexicans. Kids don’t understand the difference. Their peers will still taunt them and bully them about being taken away by immigration. You may think that their parents are at fault, but you can still hurt for the children.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim the joy and not claim the hurt. We can’t share the laughter if we aren’t willing to share the tears.

I don’t really care right now what you think about immigration policy. I do very much care what you think about Hispanics today, both those inside the church and out. How we react to them today, how we treat them during these hard times, how we talk about what’s going on… all of that will affect the church’s outreach for decades to come. And will affect our brothers and sisters today.

Weep with those who weep. Hurt with those who hurt.

Talk to school teachers. Hear their stories about the confusion kids are feeling right now. Think about the Hispanics you know who are working in restaurants, doing construction, laboring on farms. Whether or not they are here legally, they are going to face increased scrutiny, increased suspicion, increased discrimination. Feel for them. Embrace their pain as your own.

All of UCC Abilene needs to be upset and hurting today. All of us need to be nervous about what’s coming in the days ahead. Today, I don’t care about your politics; I care about your compassion.

If we are members of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, we should be hurting today. (Those of you in other churches should consider your church’s situation)

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

God-sanctioned borders (?)

One thing I love about the Bible is that there is always more to explore, more to learn, more to make you think. This is especially true when others are involved in the process. Their unique perspectives force us to see the Bible in a new light.

The other day a friend of mine argued in favor of strong national borders using this verse from the book of Acts:

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:26)

It’s a powerful argument, one that deserves to be explored. If God has determined the borders of the different nations, then aren’t his people called to respect those borders?

Of course, there are still lots of questions to be answered. For example, when Iraq “annexed” Kuwait back in the 1990s, was this action ordained by God? Was the old border the divinely sanctioned boundary or did the new boundary immediately enjoy that status?

If the United States feels called to violate another country’s borders in order to defend themselves, does that become a sinful action? What about a bombing run on a country we’re not officially at war with, like when the U.S. bombed Libya in 1986?

These are questions that show how complicated this matter is. As a Texan, let me look at a situation that affects me more directly.

Think about what Mexico looked like in 1835. Its borders included Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming (Correct me if I’m missing any). Let’s discuss the significance of that in light of Acts 17. What are some of the possibilities?

  • The United States violated God’s law in taking land from Mexico. This sin was part of God’s plan, however, and the current borders are now sacrosanct.
  • Those who immigrated to Mexico illegally committed sin, but only they are responsible for that. Countries cannot be held accountable for sin.
  • The violation of God-established borders was sinful and until repentance (and restitution) is made, the sin persists.
  • The shifting of a border from one country to another is always part of God’s determining where people should live; such shifts always have God’s approval. This includes both the actions of governments and individuals.

There are more possibilities. And I’m obviously ignoring the fact that the land which belonged to Mexico had previously belonged to others. But I would point out this: if you feel that this shift in sovereignty was in any way sanctioned by God, can one not argue that the current immigration enjoys the same sanction? If you feel that it was sinful, then are we not hypocritical to criticize others for committing the very same sin we enjoy the benefits of?

If we’re going to use Acts 17 to condemn others, let’s be aware that we are also pointing an accusing finger at our nation and our forefathers. It’s all too convenient to say, “That was then; this is now.” In biblical times, God never hesitated to punish a nation centuries after a sinful act. Use Acts 17 to condemn the immigrant, as long as you are willing to return any land you and your family own to its rightful owners.

Remembering what this country once valued

new-colossusIt’s engraved on the Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Returning America to its former values means making this a country that once again welcomes the oppressed peoples of other lands.