Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Should We Consider Immigrants "Wretched Refuse"?

    Last week I went with my wife to Chicago for a week to attend the annual CCDA conference.  CCDA stands for the Christian Community Development Association.  Simply, this is an organization that seeks to address and deal with the causes of poverty.  Charity is nice and feels good, but it often leaves the receiver in the same situation they were always in.  The CCDA encourages Christians to move into poor neighborhoods and make the issues there their own and to work hand in hand with their neighbors to do community development so that the cycles of injustice and poverty can be broken.  Check out their website, read some of the books, and see how God may use you to join in Jesus' ministry of preaching good news to the poor (see Luke 4:18-19).

   This year the CCDA had the courage to make as one of their major topics the challenge that is the immigration debate in our country.  It would have been easier and more PC to avoid it altogether, but they walked into the complexity and difficulty of this matter because it involves justice, equality, and human rights - the basics of following Jesus.  There are no easy answers.  Many arguments made from all sides of this have validity.  What can be agreed upon, though, is that something is wrong.

  The CCDA sought to encourage us as followers of Jesus to speak up and get involved to offer a distinctly Christian voice in the matter.  This, I think, is an interesting, though it should be obvious, idea. I am troubled at how easily our Christian voice gets co-opted by political parties - liberal, conservative, and everything in between.  I am troubled at how many who claim to follow Jesus have bought into the heated arguments, blanket statements, and unfair judgements so rampant in the media.  I am troubled that  we who follow Jesus have seemed to have so little to say that would bring about justice, hope, redemption, and love.  One famous conservative voice made the claim that to be against Arizona law was to be on the side of "the lawless, the smugglers, and the drug coyotes."  This is senseless.  And if a person who does not know Jesus wants to think that way, it is sad but understandable.  There is no reason, though, for a Jesus-follower to think this way about a race of made-in-the-image-of-God human beings.

  I struggle with where to go with this post because I think there are two very valid things that need to be addressed.  One is - regardless of the immigration issue - that we as believers cannot let the world teach us how to tell the story.  How we treat others, how laws are to be made, who matters, who does not matter, what is right, and what is wrong has to be filtered through the lens of Jesus - not the lens of conservative or liberal America, not the lens of the media, not the lens of our own personal opinion, not the lens of our own personal gain or loss on an issue.  One major issue here is that Christians are allowing their hearts, minds, passions, emotions to be stirred, formed, and used by the voice of the world around us.  We need a unique voice - a voice that honors the way of Jesus.  What would Jesus say to the undocumented immigrant?  I don't know the answer to that question, and it is painfully complex.  BUT I can start from no other point than that if I am His disciple.

  The other issue here is the actual issue - immigration.  I plan to pick up on this more at later posts, but I will at least say this: we are a nation of immigrants.  That "we" refers to Christians first.  We belong to no land, to no government, to no flag, to no constitution but that of the Kingdom of God.  Whatever land we happen to live in at any give time cannot be allowed to co-opt our identity.  We must honor it and obey it in as much as it does not call us to act against the purposes of God.  We must speak as those whose citizenship is in heaven, who are immigrants in all lands, and who follow a God whose heart beats for the poor and whose Son identifies Himself with them (see Matt 25).  The other meaning of "we" is the "legal" citizens of this country.  We are a land of immigrants.  At the conference I spent time listening to a Native American man reflect on this issue.  To him this debate is simply one group of immigrants trying to figure out how to handle the next group of immigrants.  Good point.  This certainly nuances this conversation a bit, doesn't it?  Remembering our history - those parts that are honorable and those parts that are horrific - changes this dialogue.  We have to remember that we are guests in this land who have laid claim to that which was not ours.  For both "we's" I would offer these words by Emma Lazarus:

"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!"

   You know, of course, that these words are emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty.  This is one place where an American sentiment is a Kingdom sentiment. Can we (both we's) be a place that welcomes those "yearning to breathe free"?  (That phrase is stunning, isn't it?!) I know the issue is complex and frustrating and difficult, but we have to keep before our eyes at all times - both Americans and Christians - that we are immigrants commissioned to welcome the "wretched refuse" of the world in whatever form they come to us.  Otherwise this wealth of ours that remains walled up and sealed off for our own use will speak judgment against us.

  Can we, Christians, discover a unique, creative, just, and hopeful response to this complex concern that embodies the heart and mission of the Homeless One?

  I would offer these suggestions:

*Read Christians at the Border by Old Testament scholar Daniel Carroll R.

*Don't say "Illegal alien"; they are undocumented immigrants not to be demonized and criminalized, feared and stood apart from; more, they are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers

*Get involved at offering a Jesus-informed voice in this matter.  See:
1. Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
2. Esperanza for America

*Dialogue - don't fight or debate, listen, converse and seek justice and redemption together

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