My previous post laid some of the theological framework for the issue of immigration reform. This post will lift up some of what the United Methodist Church has to say on the issue.
The Social Principles of our denomination say, “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons.
“We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.”
Interpretation of this principle hinges in part on what is meant by “those who comprise [a society].” If “those who comprise” the United States are only legal citizens, then this principle does not apply to undocumented immigrants. But if the phrase, “those who comprise it” is an inclusive phrase that takes into consideration all people who are living in the society regardless of official status, then we must conclude that no consideration of legal status ought to be made when affirming a person’s inherent value in God’s eyes, and therefore in ours. We cannot accept policies that deny rights to a particular group of people and devalue them based solely on whether or not they have jumped through all the necessary hoops, themselves flawed, of becoming legal citizens.
Every four years, the United Methodist General Conference passes resolutions, which “state the policy of The United Methodist Church on many current social issues and concerns,” including immigration. These resolutions get more specific and kind of give flesh and blood to the Social Principles. Here is some interesting stuff about immigration legislation from that book:
Paraphrasing from Resolution #266 of the 2004 Book of Resolutions (p. 686), the UMC is opposed to any legislation that 1) requires school districts to verify legal status of first-time enrollees, or 2) bars undocumented immigrants from public colleges and universities, or 3) makes immigrants ineligible for public health services, or 4) eliminates child-welfare and foster care benefits for immigrants, or 5) requires law enforcement agencies to verify residency status of people who are arrested.
Unfortunately, our Book of Resolutions doesn’t give us any guidance on the specific issue of building a gigantic wall around our country to keep people out. But if I had to guess, I would think they would be opposed.
I am proud to be a part of a denomination that takes a stand like this. It is clearly grounded in the particular scriptural concern for the sojourner. It is built upon the Wesleyan tradition of social justice. And it is in tune with Jesus’ own special preference for the stranger and the outcast. The UMC has offered a plumb line by which to measure immigration policy in our nation.
Further, the resolution calls for action. Among other things, United Methodists are to back legislation that defends the poor and oppressed in the “quest for survival and peace,” to “advocate human rights (political, economic, and civil) for all people, including the strangers who sojourn in our land,” provide for community forums for dialogue and education on immigration issues, and to offer “church-based immigration clinics” that would support the legal needs of immigrants.
This is good stuff, the grass roots kind of efforts that rarely get noticed, but can be a powerful testimony to the gospel of Christ Jesus. A congregation engaged in this kind of ministry is a healthy one, indeed. But how many are? How many immigration forums have United Methodist churches hosted? How many congregations run immigration clinics? Maybe more in Texas, New Mexico, Florida?
I really would like to hear of some. If any of you know of such ministries, could you provide a link we could follow? Yes, all over the place there are “Hispanic Ministries” doing some of this. And while that is great, I don’t think that is what this resolution has in mind. Principles and resolutions are wonderful up to a point; what really matters is how they are lived out in the real world.
I hope to write part 3 in this little series about Senate Bill 1033, sponsored by John McCain and cosponsored by Sam Brownback, Lindsey Graham, Edward Kennedy, Joseph Lieberman, Mel Martinez, Barack Obama, and Ken Salazar. More to come…