The Election, Immigration, and the Gospel
In the months leading up to the election, the topic of immigration reform has disappeared from the presidential candidates' conversations. Ironically, during Hispanic Heritage month, Senators Obama and McCain spoke very little on the immigration crisis. Latino Protestants, which are a part of the voting block that will decide elections in states like Florida and New Mexico, say that the position of the candidates on immigration is of extreme importance. The challenge is for both parties, Democrats and Republicans. According to a national survey released by several faith organizations this week, A National Survey on Latino Protestants: Immigration and the 2008 Election, 43.4 percent of Latino Protestants associate negative rhetoric against immigrants with both political parties. The reality and the voices of millions of men, women, and children cannot be ignored. A growing number of Latino evangelicals seek to move beyond the labels of liberal or progressive, Republican or Democratic. This group invites all the political parties to speak in comprehensive and ethical ways to the challenges and realities of the U.S. Latino diversity. In this electoral just over 70 percent of Latino Protestants consider immigration reform one of those essential moral issues and challenges.
Christians everywhere, Latinos, Asians, blacks, whites, West Indians, etc., are looking for a way forward on immigration. Pastor Rich Nathan has challenged Christians to look at this issue not from a right or left perspective, but from a Biblical perspective. As Christians we are challenged to seek in the words of St. Augustine, the summa bonum (the highest good). The issue here is not to advocate for breaking of the laws en masse, we understand Romans 13 very well. Nevertheless, Romans 12 provides a helpful context which reminds us that Christians are not to conform to the "patterns of this world." In so much as governments conform to these patterns, we should advocate for laws to be changed and amended when they are shown to be broken, inefficacious, or worse yet, depriving anyone of their human dignity.
Many people would agree that immigration reform is complicated. So yes, there needs to be an advocacy for nations with large numbers of émigrés to supply for their citizens in more responsible ways. Moreover, we need to address the interstitial nature of trade agreements, agriculture, jobs, and their effects on "developing" countries. We also need to be aware of security issues. Compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform should speak to all of these issues. Still, Christians should also have an unwavering commitment to the least of these. I believe as Christians we can address both issues of law and immigration in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Demonizing rhetoric against immigrants, the recent rise in violent hate crimes against Latinos, and the separation of parents from small children are moral and spiritual issues. I am confident that Christians from every political stripe will continue to denounce any rhetoric or action that contributes to the dehumanizing of any person.
The question then is, "Where do we go from here?" People of faith should call for a reform of policies that is informed by a moral mandate of love of neighbor while ensuring national security and the rule of law. There is a way forward that can do justice and love mercy. I would humbly urge any future administration to remember the stranger, for we were once all strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19). Christians, whom Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon refer to as Resident Aliens (I Peter 2:9-11), should continue to develop a comprehensive immigration theology and ethic for the sake of Christ and our Christian witness. Silence by any party is no longer a responsible response.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb's Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a Sojourners board member.