This conference takes its name from the 92 references to the Hebrew word ger, or the immigrant, in the Old Testament. The goal of the G92 conference is to challenge evangelical Christians to respond to immigration, and immigrants themselves, in ways consistent with Scripture.
To be very honest, I went to Alabama with some degree of apprehension: I expected to meet the toughest, most xenophobic crowd I’d ever encountered as I speak around the country on immigration issues. The media reports of Alabama’s new immigration law, HB 56, which legislators seem to think has strong popular support amongst the people of Alabama (a majority of whom are Baptists), led me to presume most Alabamian Christians really despise immigrants and agreed with the bill’s authors’ stated goal to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state.
I imagined they would thus not respond well to someone flying in to tell them that, as Bible-believing Christians, they were actually supposed to love immigrants, even those who are undocumented. I’m naturally averse to conflict, so I was nervous about my visit. I psyched myself up by reading Jesus’ words that, if our Lord and the prophets before him were persecuted, his followers should expect to be as well (Matthew 5:12, John 15:20).
After being in Alabama for G92 South, I need to repent. Misinformed by media reports, I prejudged my Alabamian brothers and sisters and expected them to be prejudiced against immigrants. Everyone with whom I interacted on Samford’s campus—about 500 students as well as about 80 local pastors showed up for the one-day symposium (though I of course did not talk to each of them individually)—seemed to prove me wrong. They expressed their love and concern for the immigrants in their community, grounded in their love of God and their opposition to Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation immigration law (so tough one legislator who voted for the bill admitted recently that Jesus himself would “probably not” have voted for it). One young woman, a Samford student, told me how her church reached out to the immigrant community around her and, in the process, how many undocumented immigrants have become her close friends. She wanted me to know folks in Alabama aren’t as cruel as our national news media has portrayed them.
Unfortunately, as Methodist Bishop Will Willimon of Alabama has warned Christian leaders in other states, it’s much easier to stop a bad law from being passed in the first place than to repeal it after the fact. And a lot of good Christian people in Alabama, even many who love the immigrants in their churches and their communities, said nothing as legislators passed H.B. 56 last year.
While Christians in Alabama work to repeal or amend their state’s law, believers in other states should act now to ensure that politicians in their states think twice before supporting copycat legislation. Mississippi has a bill modeled on Alabama’s working its way through the state legislature now, headed toward a governor who has expressed his eagerness to sign the bill. If you’re in Mississippi (or even know anyone in Mississippi whom you could call or email) you should figure out who your state-level legislators are–and call to plead with them not to support this legislation, HB 488. (To find out who your state legislator is, plug in your address at www.votesmart.org). If they received enough telephone calls, emails, and letters to believe the churches in the state were solidly against this legislation, they would almost certainly vote against the bill. Similar legislation has been introduced in dozens of other states—including Missouri, Tennesse, and Virginia—and will likely become law if citizens do not speak out in opposition.
Ultimately, while it is wonderful to minister to and befriend immigrants on an interpersonal level, if we are unwilling to stand and speak with them before our legislators, we’re not really loving our immigrant neighbors effectively. If we refuse to advocate with our immigrant neighbors, as Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote from a Birmingham jail, “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.”
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.
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