EthicsDaily.com will release its new immigration documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” in late August.
The documentary comes in the fullness of time. Its release occurs on the heels of anti-immigration forces passing punitive laws in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, while too many faith leaders were flat-footed.
The documentary will equip Christian leaders in these states with a needed moral education tool to challenge the political establishment and to contest the negative cultural ethos.
It will help churches debunk myths, rediscover the Bible’s moral message and learn compelling stories about goodwill Christians.
At the same time, the documentary gives other leaders a dynamic resource in states where anti-immigration legislation is expected next year.
Having campaigned on a promise of Arizona-styled anti-immigration legislation, Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has announced that his top priority in 2012 is an immigration bill.
Tennessee state lawmakers have vowed to introduce legislation that will deny benefits to undocumented immigrants and challenge whether American-born children of those without papers should be considered citizens.
Other states will no doubt face anti-immigration bills in 2012.
At the national level, constructive and compassionate reform appears stalled. Efforts to advance the DREAM Act are unlikely. Efforts to crack down on immigrants are under way.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has introduced the HALT Act, a bill that will block the federal government’s “prosecutorial discretion” related to the deportation of immigrants, placing at risk American families of undocumented immigrants and ignoring those with compelling situations. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
The “Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation” Act (HALT Act) is a bill that will split families apart.
In the midst of the crackdown on undocumented immigrants and the national deadlock, one Religious Right leader sees the church impeding the state on immigration reform.
“Religious groups increasingly advocate liberalized immigration policies for the U.S. – ones that pursue a more compassionate alien legalization process,” laments Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“The government’s vocation is very different from the church’s, as fuzzy-thinking religious critics often forget. St. Paul affirmed the state’s police and military responsibilities to protect its people,” contends Tooley.
He writes, “Insisting that the state must behave like the church in offering unlimited hospitality to all people is untenable… It also contradicts traditional Christian understanding of the state’s divinely ordained duties.”
Does it – really? What does traditional Christianity teach about obeying unjust laws?
Listen to what one of our documentary interviewees, Ellin Jimmerson, a Baptist, says: “Segregation was a system of laws. Segregation was thoroughly legal and thoroughly immoral. The deportation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps in World War II was thoroughly legal and thoroughly immoral.”
For Christians, the gospel transcends boundaries, the laws of the state. Although Christians honor the law and respect those in authority, Christians are also called to a higher law: to God’s law to love the neighbor.
The documentary’s title – “Gospel Without Borders” – gets to the tension between the state and the church.
The word “gospel” relates to the good news of faith. The word “borders” relates to political power, national boundaries, state lines.
The documentary begins with footage of a security checkpoint some 20 miles north of the border between the United States and Mexico. Viewers see a Border Patrol vehicle, the golden dome of the Iowa state capital, the Mexican flag, a Mexican matricula card, and Chatham County Sheriff’s cars. These are symbols of political power. They project control, security, protection, order, defined borders.
Viewers also sees faith symbols such as the white church south of Tucson – the San Xavier Mission founded in 1692 – and a Catholic bishop sitting in front of a crucifix. One sees a sign for Trinity United Methodist Church, footage of an evening worship service at Iglesia Bautista La Roca. One hears the wind, a Christian symbol. One listens as a minister announces the good news on an immigrant trail in the desert: “We are from the church.”
“Gospel Without Borders” advocates for no public policy position on immigration reform. It does call Christians to be faithful to the biblical witness.
The documentary will have two versions on a single DVD: (1) the short version for public screenings with panel discussions runs 31 minutes; and (2) the long version for Sunday school classes runs 53 minutes and is designed to be used over a four-week period.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.