The Common Good

Feast with Your Family this Thanksgiving; Then Fast with Us Next Week -- for Families in Great Distress

The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.

Mementos in the fasting tent in remembrance of those who have come before us. Photo: Sojourners/Brandon Hook

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Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.

However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.

But such a bill, or even a succession of incremental bills as some would prefer, has not been put up for a vote. It is being blocked by those who want to prevent the reform of our broken system, those who show no concern for the 11 million undocumented immigrants whose lives and families are being shattered. These lawmakers are blocking democracy in our nation, and they are literally vetoing the will of the majority of the people in the U.S. — including those who form traditional constituencies within the Republican party such as evangelical Christians, business leaders, and law enforcement officials. All want to repair and heal a broken system that is bad for families, bad for businesses and the economy, and bad for just and safe law enforcement.

There are really few policy debates left on immigration, except about details. There is no real substance behind the opposition to reforming what mostly everyone agrees is a broken and brutal system. Rather it is politics: angry politics, fearful politics, and, sadly, racially-based politics, with institutional political practices and rules that can avoid democratic accountability. That is just wrong. Democracy is being vetoed by corrupt and racial politics. It’s not just our immigration system that is broken; our politics are too.

The faith-based movement to fix and heal the brutal immigration system has preached and protested, mobilized and organized, written and spoken to their members of Congress, visited Washington on many occasions to meet with their legislators, written letters to the editor and columns in their local newspapers, and reached out with great compassion to immigrant families who live in such jeopardy and fear. In fact, we have done everything you are supposed to do to change hearts and minds in a democracy and we have changed the hearts and minds of a vast majority of the people of the U.S. But democracy has been obstructed again and again by dysfunctional politics.

So it is time to fast and pray.

The Bible calls corrupt political institutions that fail to serve people “principalities and powers.” The apostle Paul says we are in “spiritual warfare” with such principalities and powers. And he says that one of the key spiritual weapons against them is prayer. Fasting has also long been a way for biblical characters and social movement leaders to focus their spiritual energy, power, and prayer.

Two weeks ago, a small and brave group of immigrants, some of them undocumented, began a fast — the Fast for Families — on the National Mall, right across from the Capitol. Led by Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and disciple of Cesar Chavez, the fasters are taking only water and their prophetic witness has grown each day, attracting a growing number of people, including faith and community leaders and some Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have come to visit.

Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing at Sojourners, has been a leading faster who continued to work outside of the fasting tent since it began. Lisa has blogged about her experience on our website and is spending her Thanksgiving holiday inside the tent right now. Vice President Joe Biden came to see the fasters this weekend and President Barack Obama spoke about them on Monday saying, “We hear you.”

The Fast for Families, begun by immigrants themselves, is creating a moral force which could make the politically impossible possible. On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the fast started by immigrants will be offered to the nation, with thousands joining all across the country. A group of faith leaders, including Rev. Gabriel Salguero from the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and myself, will pick up the water fast from the immigrant leaders who will pass the baton to us in the faith community. Many faith leaders and pastors will be coming to join us in the tent across from the Capitol to fast and pray, building on what our brothers and sisters began 17 days ago. We will build on what they have done.

It is more than symbolic that the religious communities’ fast begins the first week of Advent. We Christians wait expectantly for Christ, in the deepest tradition of Advent, as we also wait for the healing of our broken immigration system. We await the Christ who tells us to “welcome the stranger,” which is what our fast will do. We wait expectantly for God to hear our prayers and “to act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24b).

Each day, we will fast and pray in the Capitol Hill tent, welcome visitors and companions who wish to join us, and make the pilgrimage across the street to pray and fast outside the offices of the Congressional leaders who could unblock our democracy — including the office of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

So please join us wherever you are next Tuesday and next week and pray for the House of Representatives. Pray for Speaker Boehner.  Pray for a vote on immigration reform. Pray for moral courage. Pray for 11 million people and their families. Pray for democracy. Pray for healing in America. Pray for a miracle.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest 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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