Immigrants and Our Faith
Posted on: Sep 11, 2019
Cultural attitudes and government policies have impacted immigrants to the United States for our entire history. The negative aspects of both culture and policy were most recently portrayed when a 21-year-old white supremacist carried out an horrific act at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas to stop a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” His deadly shooting transcends any capacity for human reason and drives openhearted people to soul crushing sadness.
Our biblical faith says a lot about immigrants. One example is in Hebrews. After briefly summarizing the story of a long line of Jewish ancestors, the author of Hebrews describes those faithful people as having “confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth” (Hebrews 11:13, Common English Bible).
“Strangers,” the Greek word (xenoi) from which we derive the term xenophobia, describes people who are understood to be completely “different” from the majority group. “Immigrants” are those who have taken up residence in another land.
Our faith stories tell about a people on the move–immigrant prophets, itinerant preachers and people in need who crossed tribal borders and relied on God’s grace demonstrated in the hospitality of their hosts.
General Synods (GS) of the United Church of Christ (biannual national gatherings of the church) advocated for God-inspired, biblically-based, and humane immigration policies at GS 2013; and resolved that the UCC become an immigrant welcoming church at GS 2017.
At General Synod 32 this past June, delegates passed two more resolutions that speak to the church. The first addresses the world-wide destruction of forced emigration in sub-Sahara Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The second calls on our government to immediately end the practice of separating minor immigrant children from their parents. Both documents illuminating background to the final resolutions.1
Immigration will continue, as it has for millenia, to be the defining issue that shapes how humans live together on this planet. God has long had something to say about that and so must we. Rev. Dr. Russ Mitman, our previous Conference Minister, provides an inspiring account both the biblical heritage and our national history regarding immigrants.2 He links cultural attitudes and government policies this way: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the “pursuit of that which makes life worthwhile.” All people, all God’s children.
1 You can read the resolutions in full at Addressing the State of Formal Migration and Protection of Immigrant Children and Their Families