“Many church members are too afraid to come to church anymore.” I was attending a meeting of ministry leaders when the well-respected Hispanic pastor stood to share. He told us how the police had begun parking near their church building on Sunday mornings, watching as church members came to the service. “Some of our members have been deported,” the pastor said plainly. Others, regardless of their immigration status, were afraid to risk an encounter with law enforcement and had begun skipping Sunday worship.
The debate about immigration reform is confusing and there is much about the technicalities that escapes me. Here’s what was not confusing as I listened to this man grieve over those he has been called to pastor: experience matters. The way he thinks about immigration is strongly shaped by his real life experience with it. And if experience has shaped his perspective then it has no less shaped yours and mine.
As a Christian I’d like to think that my practical theology – how I think about real life issues such as immigration through a Biblical lens – comes purely from the scriptures. But is this actually the case? In reality, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” makes for little more than a pithy bumper sticker.
In fact, we each read the Bible and form our opinions within the context of our own experiences. Instead of leading to relativism, acknowledging the significance of our own social location is a very Christian thing to do. Consider that throughout the Bible we see God interacting with humanity not in a universally vague manner but through very specific times, place, cultures, and histories. This is seen most spectacularly and surprisingly in Jesus of Nazareth: the preeminent, eternal Son of God whose incarnation is incredibly specific. So much of Jesus’ life – language, customs, social norms, and history – is utterly foreign to us and yet it is within this particularity that God accomplishes humanity’s salvation.
Studying the Bible together has been one of the ways the church has honored the Holy Spirit’s presence within our experiences. Reading and absorbing God’s word within community allows us a breadth of perspective that we would never see on our own. The Christian life is meant to be lived together, in part so that our own encounters with God can help our sisters and brothers know more of that same God. From the particulars of our individual stories comes a view of God that is greater than any we could see on our own.
Our opinions about immigration must be formed by more than a couple of convenient verses. Belonging to God’s incredibly diverse family allows us to gather around the Bible together, to listen carefully to one another, and to discern together how to follow the narrow way of Jesus in our day.
David Swanson is a pastor on Chicago’s South Side and blogs regularly at davidswanson.wordpress.com.
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