I realize that often in the church we stay away from having difficult conversations for fear of offending some, upsetting some, or creating a divide in our faith communities. Yet, the fear of such things can cause us to become silent, complacent, and ineffective in taking seriously what it means for us to follow Jesus. Instead of considering the ethical, moral, and spiritual implications of situations which have a claim on our hearts, minds and spirits and are crying out to us as believers, we stake our claim in legalistic views and arguments, camping out in our political affiliations.
For me, immigration in our country is one of those situations. I know for many churches, this has been a difficult conversation that most have avoided, ignored, or in the worst cases caused people to shut down and become angry with each other. Yet, when I consider the Jesus of the Gospels, I see that Jesus did not stay away from difficult conversations.
In the Gospels I see...
The Jesus who stood up for the rights of the child, the stranger, the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the mistreated, the voiceless, the hopeless, the sinner, and the saint.
The Jesus who spoke boldly and definitively against injustice and pain.
The Jesus who often went toe to toe with powerful leaders who had the power to change social policies and practices which were causing harm.
The Jesus who was willing to stand up, speak up and act up (often practicing what we might name today as civil disobedience) for the rights, respect and dignity of others regardless of the cost - even death.
I am confident that if you considered the Jesus depicted in the Gospels (not our culture's depiction of Jesus), you would see this Jesus as well.
Friends, this is the Jesus, my Jesus, and your Jesus, that has been nudging me, challenging me, calling me, and sometimes wrestling with me, to speak up against the inhumane treatment of God's created and beloved people who are considered the "strangers in our land."
I can no longer keep silent about the horrible conditions of detention centers, as well as cruel practices of how immigrant laws are being manipulated and carried out.
I can no longer ignore or turn away from the realities of people being housed in makeshift detention centers without adequate space, bedding, food, or clean water.
I can no longer ignore or turn away from the fact that children (even babies) have been separated from their families.
Nor can I ignore or turn away from the reality that those who came here on medical visas are being forced back into countries where they cannot receive the life saving medical treatment they are receiving in this country and might die as a result.
Yet, I have wondered, perhaps as you have too, "But what can I do?" My honest and humble answer is, "I can do something." And you can too.
With the full support and affirmation of your ISC Conference Council, I will be in Washington, DC from September 24 to September 26 with 22 other Conference Ministers in the UCC to advocate for Immigration Justice. The cost of the trip (other than airfare) will be covered in full for all participating through a generous grant. We will be speaking to members of Congress regarding the ways in which immigration policies have been carried out. On September 25, we will be holding a press conference on Capital Hill calling for policy change.
To bear witness to the Christ imperatives, which we believe should frame immigration practices and polices so that in our country we treat all persons with equal regard, dignity, and respect, I would like to bring letters from you.
I believe this would offer those who have the power to make change to take notice of our concerns.
When I travel to Washington, DC, it is my deepest desire that I could come with LOTS of letters from the Illinois South Conference speaking to our concerns about the inhumane treatment of immigrants.
So dear churches of the Illinois South Conference, I invite you to encourage your members of any age to write letters for me to take to Washington DC. Even the smallest child in your church or family can become involved by drawing pictures to be delivered to Washington DC as well.
Here are some ideas of what you might include in your letter:
How we are informed as people of faith through our sacred texts (both the Old and New Testament) about treating immigrants (please note in the scriptures the terms for immigrant are "stranger" "alien" or "foreigner").
What are your greatest concerns about how we are treating immigrants?
What are some specific practices you would hope would be considered for reform?
Please know your letter does not have to be long and should not be hateful in nature. Speak from your faith; speak from your Christ focused values; and speak from your heart.
All letters and pictures should be dropped off or sent to the Illinois South Conference at 1312 Broadway, Highland, IL 62249 so that I can receive them by no later than Monday, September 23. Please join in doing what Jesus would do on behalf of our siblings in Christ.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister