As thousands of delegates, elected officials and guests flocked to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) assembled an ecumenical panel in the midst of it all to inject faith into political considerations of immigration.
After the screening of the Baptist-produced, largely Methodist-financed documentary “Gospel Without Borders” at a Catholic church, Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic bishops spoke about faith and immigration.
Later that evening, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina and BCE held another screening at a Baptist church with a different ecumenical panel.
Introducing the afternoon event at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church, BCE Executive Director Robert Parham noted the screening and discussion was “one of the very few autonomous faith events during the Democratic National Convention.”
“We have gathered as faith leaders to speak with political leaders about the moral imperative of addressing the plight of the undocumented,” he told more than 90 DNC delegates, religious leaders and others who attended the event after reciting Luke 4:18-19.
Following the event, three bishops from different denominations led the discussion. Clifford Jones, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, a congregation aligned with the National Baptist Convention, USA, and George Battle, bishop for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, offered the invocation and benediction, respectively.
Minerva Carcaño, the Los Angeles-area bishop for the United Methodist Church, spoke about the responsibility of churches to reach out to immigrants and push for governmental reform. She argued such efforts should include both charity and advocacy.
“I believe that we are at a very perilous moment in the history of this country when it comes to the immigration situation,” Carcaño said. “I do not think that things will be all right for any of us – whether we are immigrants or native-born – unless … people of faith and all people committed to justice continue to work together in compassionate and merciful ways, but also in politically acute ways.”
Carcaño also spoke of the failures of both political parties, offering criticism of Democratic and Republican presidents for their immigration policies. In particular, she noted – without naming – the problematic policies of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“Republicans and Democrats alike have failed our immigrant brothers and sisters and therefore have failed all of us,” she said before noting specific examples from recent decades.
Later in the panel discussion, Carcaño urged attendees to follow the example of the United Methodist Church and stop using the “i-word” (illegal) to describe undocumented immigrants.
Parham, as the panel’s moderator, said politicians of both major parties – including President Obama – use the “i-word.”
Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, talked about economic and moral issues concerning immigration policies.
“This country has stood for welcome in the past,” Gordy said. “We all know the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’ It seems a bit quaint nowadays and sadly ironic.
“Ellis Island has been replaced with a steel fence along our southern border, and ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ has been superseded by laughably low quotas for immigrants, especially those from south of our border.”
During his remarks, Gordy condemned unjust state laws and urged Christians to work to stop similar state-level efforts.
“I believe that, as people who follow Jesus, Christians are called to resist these repressive laws,” Gordy said after noting recent laws in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. “They are mean-spirited and do not succeed in making us safer or in addressing our immigration crisis. What they do succeed in is fostering a spirit of hostility, suspicion and ethnic discrimination. This immigrant nation does not need a hodge-podge of oppressive state immigration laws. The nation needs comprehensive immigration reform.”
Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., discussed the moral responsibilities of nations and churches. He urged a rejection of the language of “amnesty” as an unhelpful and inaccurate narrative.
“I would add that unjust laws, like our current immigration system, undermine respect for the rule of law far more than violating unjust laws does – we learned that in the struggle for civil rights,” Taylor said.
“Therefore, in my opinion the word ‘amnesty’ is an inappropriate term to use when discussing the regularization of the status of undocumented immigrants – amnesty is forgiveness for a wrong done,” said Taylor. “Those who enacted unjust laws and those in government who refuse to correct this injustice are the ones who need forgiveness, not those who incurred unavoidable infractions in the exercise of their intrinsic human right to immigrate when circumstances so required. Welcome is the correct term, not amnesty.”
As Taylor talked about a pastoral letter he wrote on the topic that was given to each attendee at both screenings, he debunked the myth that there is a “line” for immigrants to get in.
On Tuesday evening – just as the first evening session of the DNC started – about 50 people gathered at Park Road Baptist Church for the second faith and immigration event. After the film, an ecumenical panel offered its reflections.
William Gregg, assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, said the “moral imperative” is not to be concerned “about their legal status” but that they are “sons and daughters of God.” Gregg urged Christians to get to know immigrants as people.
Stephen Copley, a United Methodist minister who directs Justice for Our Neighbors in Arkansas, urged attendees to set up their own screenings of “Gospel Without Borders” to continue conversations about faith and immigration.
“This is an issue in our communities that will begin to become resolved when the faith community steps up and with moral clarity speaks,” Copley said.
Copley in particular echoed the call from the earlier panel to avoid the “i-word.”
“We’re talking about children of God,” he said. “It’s so critical the language we use has a huge impact on the narrative of our country and the way we perceive this issue and understand this issue. We are talking about living human beings who are children of God.”
Mauricio Castro, an organizer at the North Carolina Latino Coalition, told his story of immigrating from El Salvador due to persecution and the difficulties as his immigration status changed throughout the years. Castro noted that “migration does not happen in a vacuum” and therefore it is important to look at root causes.
At both events, attendees asked questions and engaged with speakers. This dialogue with others embodied the advice given by panelists to get to know others and to talk about faith and immigration.
For those attending the afternoon session at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church across the street from the Charlotte Convention Center, merely walking to the screening also embodied the message of the film.
Due to extra security fences erected the night before, people had to wind through a short maze of fences and railings to get to the other side of the fence for the event. The trip included walking through the church’s sanctuary as the strong aroma of candle smoke filled the air following the recently completed Mass.
As individuals passed by tall fences and police officers and then through the sanctuary – some genuflecting as they neared the altar – they made their way from a political event to a religious one to hear about the moral implications of immigration.
Visit www.facebook.com/EthicsDaily for photos from the Saint Peter’s event.
Visit vimeo.com/48979171 for audio from the Saint Peter’s event.
Click here for the manuscript of Bishop Taylor’s remarks.
Click here for the manuscript of Bishop Gordy’s remarks.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.