Last week, we officially launched the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, which simply asks evangelical Christians who profess that Scripture is their ultimate authority to read the Bible—particularly forty of the many passages that relate to God’s heart for immigrants—as they form their opinions about immigrants and immigration policy. Apparently, this was big news for the Challenge was featured everywhere from the Associated Press to Univision, from Christianity Today and the Christian Broadcasting Network to CNN and Politico.
For us that’s mostly good news. The media has been a huge help in getting the word out about our Challenge for we’ve had an overwhelming response of people visiting the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge website, downloading or ordering bookmarks, and deciding to participate in the Challenge, both as individuals and as local churches and campus communities. It also helps convince Members of Congress that white evangelical views on this topic have really shifted in recent years. Now these sorts of immigration reform principles are being endorsed by everyone from Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Luis Gutierrez on the left to Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity on the right. They are now probably helping themselves in a Republican primary election, not hurting themselves as they might have been a few years ago.
Press attention also has the effect, however, of upsetting people who strongly disagree with our efforts. The online comments section on most of the articles about the Challenge filled quickly with people who loathe Christians, immigrants, or both. (One friend, observing the vitriol and lack of civility in the comments section of one of the articles suggested that this should settle once and for all the debate over the Christian doctrine of total depravity).
The reality is that it only takes a small number of prolific, loquacious individuals to write enough nasty things on the Internet to give the impression that most people share their opinions. The reality,of course, is that most of us do not take the time to write comments on blogs—but we do still have opinions. Polls have consistently found that most white evangelical Christians, most Republicans, most Democrats, and most Americans all support policies consistent with the balanced immigration reform principles that the evangelical leaders behind the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge have said they believe would benefit our country and be consistent with biblical values. It’s just that most of that majority keeps their opinions to themselves if not asked specifically by a pollster.
That dynamic has dramatic consequences in a democracy. In 2006, poll after poll found that between 70% and 80% of American voters supported the core elements of the immigration reform bill that President George W. Bush tried to push through Congress; however, my friends who were working on Capitol Hill during that time reported that the calls coming into Congress were often between ten- and twenty-to-one against. Congressmen and women tend to fixate on their ability to win re-election or to avoid a primary election challenge, causing them to ultimately oppose the bill, passing the responsibility to reform our nation’s dysfunctional immigration policies on to future Congresses. A few loud voices ultimately controlled the debate, while the majority was silent.
That silence is not a virtue. As Christians, we are called to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” (Proverbs 31:8). Of course, immigrants do have voices, and one of the most important ways we can develop an informed view of this complex issue is to listen to them—particularly as Christians we must listen to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. On a political level, though, most politicians will not listen to or take into account the concerns of non-citizens who are ineligible to vote. If the Church as a whole—and each of the eligible voters within it—will not speak up on behalf of our vulnerable members whose voices get ignored in our political system, who will?
“You are not your own, for you were bought at a price,” Scripture teaches (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Absolutely everything that we are belongs to God, including our voices. We are instructed to be good stewards not just of our money, but also of our influence. One way that we can do so is by speaking up for immigrants and others whose circumstances make them vulnerable, such as orphans, the poor, the unborn, and victims of human trafficking. That could be as simple as placing a phone call or writing a letter to your Representative and Senators (find out who they are and their contact information at www.votesmart.org). It might mean sending a note—ideally with a donation if you’d like to amplify your voice—thanking the leader of a church or parachurch ministry that has spoken up for immigrants (I can guarantee you they have received some ungracious correspondence and, in some cases, even threats as a result of their courage). It might mean replying with a gracious, fact-filled response to the relative who forwards you a slanderous email about “illegal aliens” and their alleged responsibility for any number of social problems. Perhaps it means asking the leadership of your church for a meeting where you can ask if they would allow you to coordinate an “I Was a Stranger” Challenge at your church. Maybe it is as simple as using Facebook, Twitter, or other social media to share this or other blogs or articles about immigration. There are many ways to raise our voices, but silence is not an option. Silence is sin.
This week, our nation remembered the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each year I take the time to re-read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which challenges me anew each time I read it. This stuck out to me this year: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God.”
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92, or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.