In high school I once wrote an article for the school newspaper on immigration. My mom was always one to write articles for the local newspaper so she encouraged me to write this article for my school paper. It started with, “They’re illegal, not American. They raise crime rates and lower statistics on education. They’re stealing our jobs and destroying our country.” Let’s just say it didn’t go over very well.
VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 3/30/15)—American Baptist Women’s Ministries hosted a virtual mission encounter, “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” from March 2-6, 2015. “Crisis at the Border,” an online educational event for women, offered the opportunity for participants to delve into issues around immigration and the unaccompanied minors arriving at the southern borders of the United States.
This virtual mission encounter, the ninth such event hosted by American Baptist Women’s Ministries since 2010, had the highest registration to date, indicating a strong interest in the topic among American Baptist women. Women from across the United States joined together in learning about many facets of the crisis of unaccompanied minors and encouraged one another to involvement and advocacy. Guest speakers for the event were Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rae, director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries with Disciples of Christ Home Missions; Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Congdon-Martin, retired director of Supervised Ministries at Palmer Theological Seminary, who recently traveled to Guatemala with a group from her church to live and serve among families there; Mary Clark, Esq., executive director of Esperanza Immigration Legal Services; and Jen Smyers, associate director for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service.
From the American Baptist Home Mission Societies website:
American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) was represented at a July 31 immigration reform rally in Washington, D.C. While emphasizing the plight of unaccompanied children crossing the border between the United States and Central America, the rally advocated for an end to deportation and an extension of deferred action to all immigrants currently in the United States.
Participating in the rally was the Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esquire, ABHMS national coordinator of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services, who stresses the long overdue need to reform the broken U.S. immigration system because it cannot address the backlog of approximately 10 million undocumented individuals—many of whom have lived in the United States for decades.
“They have established lifestyles here. They work, they may own property. They are actively involved in their churches,” she says. “In many cases, they’re serving in leadership positions in their church—maybe they’re even pastors.”
In addition, ABHMS sponsored round-trip transportation to the rally for nine members of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) of Philadelphia, an ecumenical immigration advocacy organization. The nine were arrested at the rally for an act of civil disobedience—specifically, close proximity to the White House. Two of them—Marcus Pomeroy and Caroline Cargo—are also members of the Immigration Justice Group at Central Baptist Church (CBC), Wayne, Pa.
In commenting on the Easter texts for this year, David Lose writes, “…when God raised Jesus from the dead God was creating a new reality; overthrowing death, sin, and all that would oppress us; and declaring once and for all that life is more powerful than death and love more enduring that tragedy.” A new way of seeing things, a new reality, a new creation, a new thing – God’s realm, God’s reality, God’s creation, God’s thing. Sunday we used Isaiah 65 as the text for the Easter sermon – “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people…” (Isaiah 65:17-19b).
This text is consonant with our theme for this year, “God’s new Thing” – “Look! I am doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:17). Sunday I said that, among other things, God’s new creation is character-ized by liberating freedom, radical hospitality and amazing grace. These are rea-sons to shout “Alleluia!” and to dedicate ourselves to making God’s new thing instrumental in our lives and in the world around us. Following Barth’s famous reminder that we should carry the gospel in one hand and the newspaper (or internet?) in the other, I want to just touch on four issues currently “in the news” that I believe need to be addressed in making God’s new creation a reality on earth.
The first is marriage equality. Two organizations to which I belong, the Alliance of Baptists and Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists were official participants in a Service of Prayer for Love and Justice held Monday evening, March 25, at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington D.C. in advance of the Supreme Court hearings in regard to California Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. If I had been closer, I would have joined in. It is quite appropriate to pray for wisdom and justice in this matter.
To me, it is absurd for Christians to continue to argue for the sanctity of our cur-rent marriage practices as if they were somehow scripturally ordained and ancient. They are neither. Marriage has rarely been a sacred practice throughout history. If you want to read a trenchant commentary on this absurdity, I refer you to an essay by Christian ethicist, Miguel de la Torre on Christianity’s struggle to correctly interpret the gift of marriage.
As I have argued before, a Baptist perspective on God’s new creation would not allow us clergy to act as agents of the state (i.e., signing marriage licenses and making proclamations for the state). It would encourage us to bless all sorts of relationships in God’s name. It would challenge us as a community to support and sustain healthy relationships among all God’s children. It is past time for the church to treat all of God’s children equally and fairly, regardless of their God-given sexual orientation or gender identity.
Equally absurd and even more deadly are the specious arguments being used by various firearms advocates to oppose gun control. Twice in Isaiah, the prophet envisions God’s holy mountain, a place where “they shall neither hurt or destroy.” There is simply no room for assault weapons, large magazines of ammunition and the unmonitored sale of firearms in God’s new creation. In fact, “the wolf lies with the lamb” in a sacred image that moves us beyond enmity, the projected need for security and, I suppose even hunting. We may not be ready to become vegetarians and we may feel some need to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our homes from the difficult exigencies of modern living, but reducing the type and amount of weaponry generally available can only move us closer to God’s new creation. It is shameful that a powerful gun lobby can hold the nation’s leadership hostage when a growing majority of our citizens favor gun control and evidence from all over the “first world” testifies to the effectiveness of gun control.
Immigration Reform is in the news because the president has committed himself to this as a legacy issue for this administration. This week the Associated Press has made a (belated) decision to drop the hateful moniker, illegal immigrant, from the repertory for its reportage. Just yesterday, I saw on facebook this pro-vocative quotation from Elie Wiesel, “No human being is illegal. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” Spoken like a true citizen of God’s new creation, Wiesel has long been one of its key prophets for our times.
We do not have the authority to declare any of God’s children illegal, unwanted or unwelcome. I know that immigration reform is complicated but that is not a justification for avoiding it. People who come to our shores looking for relief from oppression or just looking for a better life for themselves and their families need to find a welcome. Without delving into economic injustice and inequity, in God’s new creation (as we find on this planet for which God has given us responsibility,) there is enough resource for everyone to live well, without fear of hunger and homelessness. Hymn writer Brian Wren urges us to “Break the bread of belonging. Welcome the stranger in the land. We have each been a stranger; we can try to understand.”
Finally, there is ongoing news coverage of war and threats of war. As we try to scale back our military operations in Afghanistan, there are new threats in Syria, Iran and Korea. Deep-seated, irrational enmity, ancient and new, threatens to destroy the earth and its people. God’s new creation is a “peaceable kingdom” and as followers of Jesus, we have committed ourselves to the Prince of Peace. It becomes vital for us actively to bear witness to and work for peace on earth and good will among all God’s people. As no one is illegal in God’s new creation, neither is any-one enemy. Jesus, himself, taught us that the one we judge to be enemy is actually our neighbor! Somehow we must gain the perspective, believe it and hold on to it that we are all God’s children…everyone of us, regardless of the differences we may want to emphasize. God’s amazing grace extends to and embraces one and all.
In another commentary on Sunday’s text, biblical scholar, Arland J. Hultgren writes, “Easter…marks the beginning of a new creation. It begins with the resurrection of Jesus, and it continues in the passing of time where the gospel is proclaimed and people come to faith.” In the passing of time and in living out the gospel, the new creation comes closer and becomes more real. Hultgren concludes with a challenge to all of us who would be Easter people, citizens of God’s new creation, the living body of Christ. “The church,” he says, “at its best continues to be the community of the new creation in a world that is too often headed for dissolution by violence, abuse, death, and destruction. Being peo-ple of the resurrected Lord Jesus, the church is in the business of praying for the renewal of the world and seeking to renew it.”
This is God’s new thing for us, ancient and timeless as God’s own being. We are to pray for and to work for the establishment of God’s new creation, of God’s realm (as Jesus kept proclaiming it) on earth, here and now. It is a challenge and it is a gift to be called to such a life. More reasons to join the chorus and shout, “Alleluia!”