The Common Good

Fasting for Families and Immigration Reform

To join Jim Wallis in prayer and fasting, click here.

A Fast 4 Families cross, ribbon and button hang around the neck of each faster for immigration Photo courtesy Fast for Families.

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I was grateful to be at the beginning of the Fast for Families on November 12. Courageous leaders from many communities were making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is really at stake in the fight for immigration reform. It was an honor to commission the core fasters, such as my Sojourners’ colleague Lisa Sharon Harper and Eliseo Medina, a veteran organizer and a disciple of Cesar Chavez, by placing crosses around their necks as they began abstaining from food. 

After 22 days, the core fasters had grown weak, nearing the point of medical danger. When they decided to pass the fast to a new group, I was humbled to join the effort this way. On Tuesday, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, I received the cross from Eliseo that I had given to him three weeks before.  

At Tuesday’s ceremony, each of us shared why we were committing to this discipline and willing to subsist only on water for various lengths of time. 

Personally, this was an invitation to go deeper. This is a prayerful, spiritual fast. The Fast for Families has kept the national conversation on immigration reform alive, gaining national momentum and demonstrating real moral authority. It is not a hunger strike nor a threat, but a witness to the urgency of immigration reform and offering aspiring Americans a way to earn citizenship.

Faith leaders and young Dreamers are joining this historic fast on behalf of immigrant families who suffer because our leaders refuse to address a glaring problem with obvious, common sense solutions. It is politics, and politics only, that stands in the way of progress. 

This spiritual fast reveals a spiritual movement around families and children who are suffering. This is about people, not politics. But this fast and the prayer that comes with it could change our politics. So many people — 11 million immigrants — their families, their friends, their neighbors are stuck in an untenable situation. And our broken political system can’t fix it. Our politics are stuck.

But the broad movement in support of immigration reform has already won the public debate. Two of three Americans support comprehensive and common sense change — including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents, uniting business leaders, law enforcement officials, and galvanizing the faith community across all theological and political boundaries. We have organized, mobilized, repeatedly visited our representatives, senators, and the White House,  written letters to the editor and opinion pieces in our local newspapers, marched, run ads on radio and television, protested, and even been arrested! 

But politics is still stuck. And stuck politics hurts people. So in the tent near the Capitol where I now sit, we pray and fast for them.

When institutions fail to serve their purposes and instead inflict harm on people, the Bible has a term for that: “principalities and powers.”

The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

The scriptures say we are engaged in “spiritual warfare” against the principalities and powers and a principle weapon of our spiritual warfare is prayer.

And fasting in our many Christian traditions is also a spiritual tool. Because politics has failed, we don’t know what else to do but turn this over to God.

Many social movements and leaders have fasted and prayed King, Gandhi, Chavez — and biblical characters too, like Esther and Mordechai among others.

The visual scene at the ceremony that passed on the fast was powerful and revealing. There are two kinds of power represented on the National Mall, so close to each other.

On one side of the street, at the U.S. Capitol is political power.

But across the street, in this tent, which has become a chapel, is spiritual power — and it is growing across the country. 

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and the President and Vice-President of the United States, have come to the fasting tent. They come because there is spiritual power here — spiritual power that can change political power. Many have come this week, and many of them are being moved.

So how does the spiritual power of a prayerful fast change the political power of a broken system?

Prayer and fasting changes those who pray and fast and also those who watch and listen. It draws us — including our lawmakers — to go deeper into our hearts, our souls, and our faith.

Prayer and fasting can even change politics. We believe that.

So we pray to fix a broken immigration system.

We pray to heal our broken and stuck politics.

We pray for the families who are suffering.

We pray for Speaker Boehner, who is the leader who could most make immigration reform possible. We pray that he will go deeper than politics too, into his heart and into his faith, and bring us together for the sake of suffering families and our best American values. We pray and fast because we believe that it will help change things — starting with us.

If you would like to share a prayer of your own, write a word of encouragement to the fasters or join the fast yourself—in Washington or in your own community, click here.

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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