This past Tuesday, a group of Alabama religious leaders gathered in the Archives building in Montgomery and called for the repeal of Alabama’s infamous immigration law.
Passed as HB 56, the law has been variously identified and vilified as one of the toughest state immigration laws, if not the toughest, in the country.
Almost immediately state legislators became aware of many unintended consequences of the law that affected local business and licensing practices.
But beyond these bureaucratic inconveniences there exists a host of other problems, not the least of which is a total lack of compassion built into the bill.
This is where religious leaders felt compelled to speak. For a state as overtly religious as Alabama, it doesn’t make sense for us to support and defend such a regressive approach to immigration.
One poll from a few years back suggests that something like 95 percent of Alabamians subscribe to some form of Christianity or Judaism.
If that number is correct, the Scriptures of our faith ought to have some bearing on the sort of laws we pass and the way those laws treat certain groups of human beings in our midst.
For instance, we read in the Hebrew Bible the consistent call for Israel to show kindness to the stranger and the alien in their midst.
Writer after writer reminds Israel to recall their own time as aliens in a foreign land and what the oppression of Pharaoh did to them.
We also read the words of Jesus in his powerful parable of end-time judgment. In that parable he praises those nations that were kind to the stranger who found their way into a foreign environment.
“I was a stranger,” Jesus said, “and you welcomed me.”
Our current law in Alabama is not very welcoming.
We need to be careful here. The action of the ministers in Montgomery this past week was not a call for legislators to enact Christian or biblical teaching as the law of the land.
What we seek as people of faith living in the land is not an establishment of religion but rather a call to reasoned justice and fairness. We seek to repeal this harsh law as an effort to pull our state in the direction of justice and compassion.
Nearly 75 religious leaders from around the state signed a statement Tuesday calling for the law to be repealed. In part, the letter reads:
“We call on our legislators, who are people of faith, to search their hearts and minds through prayer and to repeal this law that not only unfairly targets a very vulnerable segment of our society, but also is contrary to our faith teachings to welcome the stranger in our midst and to love our neighbor regardless of race, country of origin, or immigration status. For religious leaders this is not a matter of Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, documented or undocumented, but a deep matter of our faith.
“When HB 56 passed, many legislators could not have imagined the widespread harm that this law would cause. Now they know,” the letter continues. “Every person in Alabama has been harmed by this law. There is no shame in taking action to stop the ongoing damage. Repeal is the most honorable and noble action that our legislators can take.”
Read those words again – honorable and noble. What better virtues might we expect from elected officials but to embody honor and nobility?
To do less is to embrace the lowest common denominator of social prejudice. We can do better than this, and we should. We must.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).