Last night, I had a conversation with some friends over dinner. They were asking questions about our church and the new legal clinic we are starting to serve our immigrant neighbors. As I was explaining the vision and the steps we were taking, my friend, Jeff, asked me how my context (Brooklyn, New York, next to the biggest Chinese neighborhood in New York City with major Arabic and Hispanic communities alongside) had influenced my perspective on the issue of immigration.
I told him that before I moved to this city I was living in the Chicago suburbs in a largely homogeneous community. Immigration was something that I connected with only through the television and media. Given that, I had certain assumptions about the issue and opinions about what should be done. On moving to Brooklyn, those assumptions were shattered. I said something like, Anyone who thinks this is a simple issue with easy answers doesn’t understand the issue and doesn’t have any answers. I know this isn’t revelatory. I’ve heard people say this for years now.
But, for me personally, my neighborhood taught me this lesson. I told Jeff about a young woman I met a month ago who had overstayed a visa because her husband brought her here and she seemingly had little choice. She had broken the law, no doubt, but was the situation as simple as that? Hardly. Her husband was now divorcing her, he evicted her from their home, took away her phone and she had nowhere to go. She had no family or networks of any kind, anywhere, in any country. What’s the right thing to do here?
She had two kids, both American citizens, both in dire need of their undocumented mother to provide for them since their (presumably) undocumented father had thrown them out of the house. Is there a quick fix, an easy answer here? I think not.
The great disappointment of politics these days is that, in an age where people are increasingly distracted and inattentive, real thoughtful solutions are wedged out in favor of sound bites and talking points. The level of our conversation is reduced to partisanship and we de-personalize human beings, through labels and stereotypes, as a way to make our arguments stronger. As a result, real people get lost in generalities. I have come to realize that those very real people, experiencing very real lives make that form of governing and civil ‘dialogue’ deeply flawed and troubling.
But this is precisely where the church has an opportunity. As I continued to share with my friends, I thought this was, in a way, an exciting time, because Christians have the chance to now write and live out some real theology. We can’t be content to think about and write books about God and the gospel divorced from the everyday realities of our life. (Well, we can, but that is the kind of thing that leads to really ‘smart’ Christians who never seem to clothe themselves with the character of Christ, and that’s for another blog.) Our theology must shape us, not for a life of opinions, but for a life of discipleship. It must break into the way we live our lives day to day and call us to surrender our lives to the God who wants to outfit us for life in his Kingdom. If it doesn’t do that, its just, as Eugene Peterson would say, god talk.
Immigration is one of those everyday realities in which we are called to live faithfully. I am certainly willing to admit that practical solutions can be hard to discern and what it looks like to love our neighbor might not always be clear. But the answer is not to retreat into reductionistic, reactionary rhetoric.
Instead of just adding volume to the already deafening partisan fight, can the church extract itself from merely political solutions and engage in a better conversation that leads us into more faithful ways of loving God through the
we love our neighbors? I think that conversation is certainly happening here at g92.org, and I think its being initiated in other places as well. That’s exciting. But will the conversation in the church lead to a way of life for the church? I suppose time will tell.
Adam Gustine lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Ann and two sons. He is a pastor at First Evangelical Free Church and serves on the board of Immigrant Hope-Brooklyn, working to develop a non-profit immigration legal center. You can find him on Twitter @Adam_Gustine.
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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