Our guest blogger is Allison Johnson, Campaign Coordinator for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) at Sojourners.
Earlier this week, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released two reports, one titled “A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy” and another “No ‘Progress by Pesach’: The Jewish Establishment’s Usurpation of American-Jewish Opinion on Immigration.” It is clear that the anti-immigrant group which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as having “never found any aspect of immigration it likes” is deeply concerned about an emerging trend: people of faith seeking guidance from their respective traditions in grappling with the issue of immigration reform. CIS’ lengthy reports seem to have one goal in mind: to delegitimize the role faith plays for millions of Americans who see their moral values in alignment with just and humane immigration reform.
The author of “A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy” describes the proactive advocacy and involvement of national denominations in the immigration debate, naming the Catholic Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Convention as being “out of touch” with people in the pews. It states:
“Yet such self-described ‘compassion’ among religious elites differs from the perspective of most rank-and-file Christians. The laity generally opposes legalization and supports enforcement of immigration laws.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Steinlight berates “American Jewish leaders” for waging a “counterfeit ‘civil rights’ campaign for illegal aliens,” and proceeds to scold them for not being “better educated, or at least chastened, contemporaries.” Steinlight focuses on criticizing “Progress by Pesach,” a campaign for humane immigration reform launched on behalf of a coalition of Jewish organizations from “various Jewish traditions” which includes the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism. Though Steinlight himself admits that “every constituent part of the American-Jewish Establishment engaged in domestic public policy signed onto this effort,” he refers to the alliance as “politically correct McCarthyists” with a “a putatively moral premise” that doesn’t resonate with most American Jews.
Quite the contrary, a new report released yesterday by the Center for American Progress points out that “the plight of an immigrant is as old as humanity” and “the response of people of faith remains constant.” The report documents grassroots-led social activism on behalf of faith communities that are neither “coordinated or part of one network.” “They are people who have just become fed up and have reached out to undocumented immigrants because of their faith commitments to caring for the neighbor,” explains former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite. Between January and July of this year more than 25,000 mostly “rank-and-file Christians” gathered in churches to call for immigration reform and an end to the separation of immigrant families as part of the Families United Tour. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a network of religious groups working on immigration reform, gathered people of faith at 167 events in 133 cities for prayer vigils to protect immigrants and their families and to persuade congressional members to enact comprehensive reform in February alone.
Each person interprets scripture through a particular cultural, historical and social context. It is ingrained in the overarching narrative of the Judeo-Christian story that God’s people are to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. The actions of a growing faith-driven movement should demonstrate to the rest of the country that not only are people of faith preaching from the pulpit but are living out the call in Hebrew scriptures:
“The stranger who resides with you shall be as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34)