The Common Good

The Christian Face of Immigration

Sojomail - April 26, 2006

Quote of the Week : Peace breaks out in a group of Israeli and Palestinian combatants
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: The Christian face of immigration
Building a Movement : Pentecost 2006
Culture Watch : Excerpt from The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World
Faith in Action : Cover the uninsured
Religion and Society : Jesus and the culture wars
Boomerang : Readers write
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"You hear a man talking about how he shot, killed, damaged your neighbor's house. But you feel empathy for him. You realize that we are all from the same background, but just from different sides. The soldier wanted to protect his people, and so did we. But we've all discovered we were wrong in how we did it."

- Bassam Aramin, one of the creators of Combatants for Peace, a group that brings together Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants for monthly dialogue.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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The Christian face of immigration
by David Batstone

Diana Villanueva-Hoeckley did not take the typical path to Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college in Montecito, California. The 19-year-old sophomore was born in Guatemala, and then smuggled into the United States at the age of 7. Her story makes you want to cry. What the U.S. Congress may do to her makes you want to scream.

Diana's mother came to the United States legally in the mid-1990s. Once she had established some semblance of a life for herself in the Los Angeles area, she tried to obtain a visa for her daughter to come and live with her. The U.S. Embassy turned down her application. Desperate to have her daughter by her side, she paid a "coyote," or migrant smuggler, to deliver Diana to California.

Imagine the fright of being told at age 7 that you must take a long, covert journey with a stranger, all alone. Diana today can only recall snippets: a bus journey, a short plane ride, hanging out at borders waiting for the right moment to cross. "I just kept focused on how great it would be together with my mother again," says Diana.

Not long after her arrival into the U.S., Diana and her now-pregnant mother moved to Santa Barbara. Diana's sister, Estrellita, was born. Earning a meager income from a string of housecleaning jobs, her mother moved the family into a small trailer. Diana attended public schools in the Santa Barbara area starting in the third grade.

During her freshman year in high school, Diana took note that her mother was not looking well. Lacking health insurance, her mother visited a health clinic serving a low-income population. At first she was diagnosed with pneumonia, but slowly it became apparent that something much more serious was going on. She had lung cancer, and died within two years.

Chris Hoeckley and Cheri Larsen Hoeckley are both professors at Westmont College. Their daughter, Mackenzie, was Estrellita's classmate at the local public school. Many there were heartbroken by Diana and Estrellita's loss. The Hoeckleys reached out and embraced the girls into their family.

The Hoeckleys had for some time looked to adoption as an avenue for growing their family. Their desire to parent matched their religious conviction that God calls us to care for the orphans in need. They went through the county process to legally adopt the Villanueva children. In the midst of much tragedy, the Hoeckleys, now 5 in number, patched together a loving connection.

If only the story could move on from there to focus on the life experiences that all families look to create. But most families do not face criminal prosecution. Yet, Diana may one day soon be charged as a felon for illegally immigrating to this country 13 years ago. And her adoptive parents also could be criminally charged for aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant.

Legislation currently being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives actually contains these provisions. Diana cannot believe this is happening in a country she has come to love. "I'm shocked that people don't see me as someone who belongs here; this is my home," she told me sadly. Though Diana was legally adopted by the Hoeckleys, in many renditions of the legislation she would not be protected. And now that she is 19, she would be prosecuted as an adult.

"I look around and see so many immigrants here who are working so hard to make a good life," Diana said. "Why can't people see the big picture?"

Indeed, the big picture tells a different story to the political fear-mongering on immigration. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S. A number of studies demonstrate that they are anything but a "drain" on the U.S. economy as is widely feared. Douglass S. Massey, a Princeton University professor, has documented the contributions of undocumented workers to the government: 62% have taxes withheld from their paychecks, and 66% pay Social Security. Their payments to Social Security totalled $7 bilion in 2004, and in the same year they paid $1.5 billion to Medicare. Ironically, Massey found these workers usually don't take advantage of these programs, fearing the INS will be alerted to their presence in this country, Forbes reported.

All too many Americans do see immigrants as criminals, unfortunately. The New York Times on April 25 cited a Survey USA poll taken in the state of Kansas that shows nearly three-quarters of adults in the sample surveyed agree to the proposal that "the United States should find and deport all illegal immigrants." If only they could meet the Dianas who will suffer from this xenophobic zeal.

Diana studies in Westmont's San Francisco Urban Program in this semester. As part of her school work, she interns with a Catholic Charities program that aids immigrants. She is beginning to make a deeper connection between her life story, and that of other immigrants, to the gospel. "It comforts me that Jesus was seen as an outsider, and gathered around him followers who also were considered outsiders," said Diana. "Too many Christians at this moment are too scared and confused to see Jesus in the stranger, and realize how lives would be torn apart by these new laws."

If she is allowed to remain in the U.S., Diana has dreams of going to law school and eventually helping out vulnerable immigrants who cannot afford legal advice.

The Hoeckleys are most frightened to lose their daughter. "I have three daughters, full stop," says Cheri. "Now the government is trying to take away one of them."

From time to time, both professors lead discussions on immigration at church adult education classes. They express dismay that even socially-oriented religious communities have not reflected biblically or theologically to any great extent on immigration.

The Hoeckleys are encouraged by the principled position taken by several Christian churches to support the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner regardless the direction that legislation takes. The high profile stand made by Cardinal Roger Mahony also, they hope, will help Christians evaluate their politics on immigration.

"Our primary obligation as Christians is to embrace the foreigner, the stranger amongst us," said Chris. "I wish American Christians could see that appeals to 'national interest' or 'homeland security' should not lead us to abandon our highest principles."

There are hundreds of Christian colleges, both Protestant and Catholic, operating in the U.S. Imagine the impact these schools could have on the immigration debate if they would rally around families such as the Hoeckleys who find themselves threatened by this legislation. Christian colleges exist to educate young hearts and minds for Christian service. What better moment for faculty and students at Christian colleges to fulfill their vocation and welcome the stranger.

It is a movement waiting to be born. I pray God stirs some hearts.

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The Secret Message of Jesus
by Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, one of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," is back. His latest work, The Secret Message of Jesus, leads readers on a journey as ground-shaking as it is life-changing. The quest: find the essential message of Jesus' life - even if it overturns conventional ideas, priorities, and practices.

"Through the years, I have frequently had an uncomfortable feeling," wrote McLaren, "that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the images of Jesus in the church." Out of that nagging discomfort arose McLaren's most revolutionary book to date.


Pentecost 2006:
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New from Sojourners!

Recently hundreds of thousands of people protested for just immigration reform, while Congress hotly debated the proposed new immigration laws. Sojourners offers a new resource to Christians who want to engage in this important dialogue. Check out our newest discussion guide, "Welcoming the Stranger: Christians and Immigration." It is designed to spark discussion, thought, and action about how to live out God's call for justice for all our neighbors.

Welcoming the Stranger is a four-session, 47-page, electronic discussion guide with both the most current and classic Sojourners articles on the topic. Download it today for $4.95!


Excerpt from The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World
by Rose Marie Berger

availability at:

»Independent book stores in your area
In Monty Python's classic send-up of the life of Jesus (The Life of Brian, 1979), the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are presented with great authenticity and sincerity. The comedy begins when members of the crowd mishear Jesus' statement, "Blessed are the peacemakers ..."

"I think it was, 'Blessed are the cheese makers,'" someone clarifies. "What's so special about the cheese makers?" a woman asks. "Well, obviously, it's not meant to be taken literally," her husband responds. "It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."

This contemporary spoof isn't too far off from the church's history on issues of war and peace. People hear what they want to hear or what someone else interprets for them, and then misapply it to their specific situation. Too often religion has added fuel to an already-enflamed debate and intensified already-polarized arguments between extremes. Churches allow the language of "warmongers" and "hawks" or "peaceniks" and "doves" to divide us down the middle, instead of allowing the gospel to open a path for us in times of crisis.

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William Sloane Coffin Jr.
Prophetic Witness, National Hero, Beloved Friend
June 1, 1924 - April 12, 2006

In his 81 years of life, Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. exuberantly embodied the old church father's phrase he so often quoted: "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." Since the summer of 2003, when he was given only months to live, Coffin's irrepressible spirit and unsurpassed passion for life continued to thrive. In this time, he published his national best-seller Credo, the second edition of his 1993 A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches, and his most recent Letters to a Young Doubter; he also recorded the nationally televised documentary William Sloane Coffin: An American Prophet. We at Westminster John Knox Press are immensely proud to have been his publisher for more than a decade and deeply honored to have called him friend.

Learn more with Westminster John Knox Press


Cover the uninsured

A group of diverse religious leaders are coming together because they believe health care is a basic human right and they are frustrated that addressing the issue of expanding health care coverage is not a national priority. While Cover The Uninsured Week does not endorse any specific legislative or policy solution to the problem of the uninsured, it will continue to shine a spotlight on this important issue until our leaders discuss potential solutions and take action.

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Jesus and the culture wars
by Megan Stewart

"To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep'" (Luke 7:31-32).

My Episcopalian mother used to quote Jesus' words, "Wisdom is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7:35 NAB). To me, it's long been one of the most enigmatic verses in the Bible. Never content to not understand the Bible, I meditated on this passage off and on for years before it occurred to me that Jesus was expressing his opposition to cultural warfare.

The religious people of Jesus' day believed they could take over the marketplace of ideas, that they could stand apart from culture and dictate how that culture behaved, only to be frustrated and angry when that culture didn't conform to their expectations.

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Love, Love, Love and Other Essays: Light Reflections on Love, Life, and Death by Charles Taliaferro. ISBN 10: 1-56101-242-4 In 43 brief essays, Charles Taliaferro guides us toward the heart of being human in all of its absurdity and joy. Hilarious and sobering, the book investigates what we need most to live humanely, humorously, faithfully, and well.

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Readers write

Sharon Jung writes from Tacoma, Washington:

Before I even understood what a prophet was, I saw that there was something unique and wonderful about William Sloane Coffin ["Remembering William Sloane Coffin," SojoMail 6/20/2006]. I heard him preach at Riverside Church, and read his books. His books and sermons enhanced my understanding of God's sacrificial love perhaps more than any other author. There was nothing incongruous about him. He stood for peace and justice. His behaviors never wavered from his core beliefs, even after his son tragically died. He has definitely shaped my opinions on social issues. He has helped me understand justice at a much deeper level, and how vitally important it is to find peaceful solutions. I am deeply saddened by his death, but like Jim, I am so thankful to God that such a man was created.


Robin Chambers writes from Iowa City, Iowa:

At the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in the late 1990s, my husband and I served as the hospitality suite coordinators for More Light Presbyterians, one of the organizations in the denomination which supports full rights for LGBT folk in the church. Every evening, a charming elderly man came to the suite to enjoy the fellowship, share the trials of the day, and offer encouragement and comfort. On the name tag we provided, he wrote "Bill." He came several times before we realized that this was William Sloane Coffin. We had read much of his work, but didn't recognize his face. Perhaps he thought we knew, but more likely he didn't care whether we knew - he was Bill, and he was there to rejoice, commiserate, and fellowship with us. I don't know the story of his coming to acceptance of LGBT folk, but I would love to hear it. He became an even greater hero of faith to us after that, and we are sorry that he no longer walks among us.


Rev. Charles writes from Fort Collins, Colorado:

While it is great to remember these fine things about Bill Sloane Coffin, something tears at my heart. As a hero in the liberal church where I first learned about Jesus, I can't but wonder if all Rev. Coffin's actions will really impress our Lord. My liberal pastors lowered the person of Christ to a mere prophet and kept my fellow churchgoers from experiencing the uniqueness and power of God found in Christ. The social activism of our church seemed impressive but their was no undergirding of the Holy Spirit and we were left with a liberal activist legalism - energised more by the newspaper than God's word and strength. Legalism is hardly motivating and thus while there was big talk about engaging the world, there was little money to pay either the mortgage or the pastor. Hostilitity to my powerful conversion experience eventially forced me out of my home church. Sadly most of the kids in my youth group ended up turning their back on Christ entirely.


Elder Art Troutman writes from Cambria, California:

At first, I was "bothered" by Deanna Murshed's unorthodox approach to her being "bothered" ["Bothered by the cross," SojoMail 4/17/2006]. Then, my curiosity aroused, I had to confess that the nature of her "botherment" started to resemble, if not match, my own. She won me over with her unique and incisive approach to this most bothersome dilemma that us Christians find ourselves in, if we dare to be honest with ourselves, if not others. What a relief to learn that others have come across these very same potholes in their pathways. Thanks, Deanna, for helping me dodge them and bridge them! I believe! (Help Thou my unbelief!)


Mike Solvie writes from Spokane, Washington:

I would just like to thank Deanna for her insightful article. I plan to share it with all four of my daughters, who are believers and young adults (14-24 years of age). I found her article very helpful - especially her inclusion of the Message translation of that very challenging passage about "losing" one's life. For on the one hand, we know that God has created and shaped us for a specific purpose - gifted us as it were to serve him, and others in our society (some are good at math, some at art, etc.) The challenge is to live that life, and also exercise our giftedness within the context of the local congregation - for not all of us are equipped for "full-time ministry" in the normal sense of the word. Thanks again Deanna and to all of you at Sojourners. Your newsletter is a lifeline of sanity in today's American culture.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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