The Common Good

So Much Is At Stake: Reform and Race

The battles over immigration reform and race have weighed heavily on me this summer. They have each become a symbol and a test, for me, of whether we can resurrect “the common good” in this nation.

 Brandon Hook / Sojourners
Evangelical Immigration Table leads day of prayer and action for immigration reform. Brandon Hook / Sojourners

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I say that having just met with virtually all the key decision makers on when, how, and even if our nation’s politicians have the capacity to reform our terribly broken immigration system and help heal the nation from all the pain it has caused. Almost two-thirds of the country — both Democrat and Republican — is for reform, but this ideological impasse is now the greatest threat to our 11 million undocumented friends and neighbors in this country. I have met with both Republican and Democrat senators and members of Congress, including their leaders, the president and his leadership team, law enforcement officials, business leaders, and hundreds of pastors and Christians across denominations and backgrounds — all of whom want to repair this deeply flawed and cruel system.

There is so little substance to oppose reform. It’s good for the economy, for law enforcement, for families, communities, and congregations, and for the moral fabric of our nation — as a place of diversity, growth, and welcoming.

You see, politics really isn’t the problem here. Nobody wants to talk about what is at the very heart of the problem: race.

When I asked political leaders why such obvious reform hasn’t yet passed, they responded: “misinformation.” But misinformation is used to support other agendas, so I pressed for a deeper answer.

“Fear,” they said.

Politicians are afraid of constituencies — especially in overwhelmingly white, gerrymandered districts with only a fraction of ethnic minorities. As a former aide to Sen. Rand Paul, said clearly a mere five years ago: “A non-white majority America would simply cease to be America for reasons that are as numerous as they are obvious – whether we are supposed to mention them or not.”

That's fear.

Evangelical faith communities are being convicted and converted on these very issues when they read their Bibles and worship with their brothers and sisters from other ethnic communities — just like we did before meeting with our elected officials last week. When white parents come to understand what their black parent friends have been saying to their children in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, or when white Christians listen to what their black and Hispanic fellow Christians are feeling — that is when the deepest change happens.  

This month begins a crucial time for immigration reform — a time of congressional town hall meetings and roundtables in districts across the country as members are home for August Recess. And these are crucial weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington — where he expressed the hope that his children would one day be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

It is also a time when millions of people, like my family, finally break away and get some needed vacation. This August, in light of the momentous events that have shaken our country and the critical choices soon before us, we must enter a time of reflection and prayer.

If you are home and are able, try to show up for those town hall meetings; make yourself and your faith heard (Sojourners will soon send out more information how to do just that). Participate in local events around the King anniversary or even come to Washington on Aug. 24 to participate in the memorial events.

But also take some time away to rest, think, pray, and talk with those closest to you about the significant moral issues of race that are still with us 50 years after the famous March on Washington.

I'll even offer some summer reading suggestions to provide some foundations for understanding the events occurring in our nation and the crucial decisions up ahead. One book is Welcoming the Stranger by Mathew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, which clearly describes the conversion many people of faith are going through on the moral issue of immigration. Another is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which powerfully and prophetically reveals the deep racial divisions in our criminal justice system — painfully resurrected in the Trayvon Martin story. My own new book, On God’s Sidelays out the biblical foundations of “the beloved community” we must become, the ways to restore economic trust to a world of inequality, and the moral imperative of redeeming democracy if America is to have a hopeful future. Frankly, the travels I have just finished and the political quagmire we see in Washington have both shown me how seriously uncommon the common good has become in America, and why this message will be mine far beyond a book tour.

So show up — at town halls or memorials. Speak out — in your churches and communities from the racial reconciliation we find in the Gospel and for a more inclusive American future. Then spend time — to read, think, pray, and make ready for the challenges we, as a nation, will soon be confronting. I will be doing the same. See you in September.

Jim would like to offer a special deal to our SojoMail readers to purchase On God’s Side, so the SojoStore is offering a summer reading discount of 25% off PLUS free shipping for On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.

Enter code OGS813 at checkout to receive an additional 25% off PLUS free shipping.

Buying the book from Sojourners also gives us a little summer support! Thank you.

This offer is valid through August 31.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis

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