In the book of Joshua, we read about how, after forty years of wandering in the desert, God brought his people into the Promised Land. God stopped the flow of the water so that the children of Israel could cross over the Jordan River on dry ground. When they arrived on the other side, Joshua had them pause, pick up twelve stones, and assemble them as a memorial to what God had done (Joshua 4:1-3). As God works wonders before our eyes, we would be wise to take the time to pause, reflect, and erect some stones of remembrance.
Last week had two such monumental moments for me, which I intend to remember, to look back on as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. The biggest news of the week came on Friday morning. I got the first email as I finished my morning run: the Department of Homeland Security had announced a new policy granting administrative relief to certain young people who came to the United States as children. The policy will allow those who qualify (who came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, who have been present for at least five years, who were 30 years old or younger as of last Friday, who are in school, have finished high school, or have earned a GED, and who do not have serious criminal convictions) to be spared deportation and to apply for employment authorization. While not the DREAM Act—which would require Congressional action, and which would grant permanent legal status and a path to citizenship for these youth—it is a huge step, offering security and opportunity for young immigrants who have already contributed greatly to this country, but who were being blocked from fully thriving.
While I think the bulk of the credit for last Friday’s announcement should go to the young immigrant students (“DREAMers”) who have organized themselves and worked tirelessly for this change, and we should also be grateful to the Obama Administration (whom I’ve also criticized liberally for their dismal deportation record up to this point), I hope that an event I was a part of last Tuesday might also have played a small role in making the political “cover” for Friday’s decision to be possible. At a press conference on Capitol Hill (followed by a meeting at the White House and then with various senators), several prominent evangelical leaders joined together to release an Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform that had been endorsed by more than 150 of the most prominent evangelical leaders nationally. Signatories include executives from almost every major evangelical denomination (including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, and the Church of the Nazarene), presidents of evangelical seminaries and colleges, leaders of parachurch ministries like World Vision, LifeWay Research, and The Navigators, authors like Max Lucado, Eric Metaxas, Shane Claiborne, and Margaret Feinberg, and prominent pastors like Bill Hybels, David Uth, J.D. Greear, Dave Gibbons, and David Fleming. The list reads like a “who’s who” of American evangelicalism. Having worked for years to see the evangelical church come together to stand with the immigrants amongst us, it was as momentous day.
What stole the headlines at Tuesday’s press event was one particular signature: that of Focus on the Family president Jim Daly. Known to many (particularly those who aren’t evangelicals themselves, who don’t know that only a small part of the organization’s budget has ever been spent on public policy) as a stalwart of the Religious Right, I’ve prayed very specifically for years that that Focus on the Family would take up the cause of the immigrant families in our churches and our communities.
I have a personal connection to Focus: my siblings and I joke that we felt like Dr. Dobson (the former president of the organization) was our third parent. My first Bible, with which I developed the discipline of a daily quiet time with God, got carried to and from church in a Bible cover decorated with a picture of McGee (of Focus’ McGee & Me series). I listened to multiple Adventures in Odyssey episodes each day while delivering newspapers (the 1989 episode “The Visitors”—the only episode ever translated into Spanish—illustrates the Christian virtue of hospitality brilliantly). As I hit puberty, my father and I listened together to a cassette tape of Dr. Dobson explaining what was happening to me, and we read through Preparing for Adolescence together (to be honest, I’d found the book on the bookshelf a few months prior to that conversation and had already discreetly read the most interesting parts). To this day, I turn to Plugged In to decide if a particular film or television show would be edifying entertainment for me to consume. I didn’t always appreciate that my parents “dared to discipline,” but as I’ve matured I’ve become very grateful for strong, loving parenting, for the modeling of a loving, committed marriage, and for harboring from the unhealthy elements of our culture—and for the significant role that Focus on the Family played in shaping those parts of my childhood.
As I moved into adulthood, though, I became a bit cynical about Focus on the Family. Everything I read about them was focused on politics, and while I did not necessarily disagree with everything for which the organization stood, I did disagree with some of Dr. Dobson’s statements, and even more so with his tone. I wrote the organization off as hyper-partisan and unhelpful to the evangelical witness.
As I’ve gotten to re-know the organization in the last few years, though, I’ve been incredibly impressed. They’re not just advocating for the life of unborn children as a policy position—though that’s a policy where I personally share their goals—they’re also doing admirable work to encourage adoption. Their counseling services help to save 241 marriages per day from breaking apart last year. And their new President, Jim Daly, has set a distinctly less brash tone, speaking with civility and grace even of those with whom he may have policy disagreements. I was elated by their decision, announced on Tuesday, to call on the church to put biblical values of compassion, hospitality, and the sanctity of the family ahead of partisan politics.
Not surprisingly, the anti-immigration group NumbersUSA is now mobilizing against Focus on the Family, as well as against World Relief (where I work) and World Vision. They’ve mischaracterized our statement on immigration as “amnesty” and our efforts to mobilize support as “indoctrination,” and they’ve encouraged their mailing list to barrage each organization with faxes, threatening to withhold donations. Though most of these threats to “never give again” are coming from individuals who have never given before, and who in most cases probably are not actually familiar with these organizations, receiving hundreds or thousands of these faxes can certainly be intimidating. As a counter-effort of sorts, I’d encourage you to send $10 (or, if you can afford it, $100 or $1,000) to one of these organizations, along with a note (or an online comment) thanking them for standing with immigrant families.
In any case, Tuesday was certainly a momentous day, as was Friday. My hope and prayer is that there will be many more to come: once we’ve crossed over the Jordan, the walls of Jericho won’t be standing for long. And when they fall, let us remember that it is God who has sustained and led us to victory.
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.
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