Some in Washington would have us believe that immigration reform is politically untenable and economically illogical. However, God is on the move among Christians who care about the immigrants in their midst. This week's gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, demonstrated that they are invested in bringing their voices to the table and are being transformed in the process.
More than 130 people from all across the country joined a "A Day of Witness and Action on Immigration Reform" sponsored by the Christian Community Development Association, Sojourners, and the National Association of Evangelicals. The morning's programming was unabashedly biblical, with solid instruction from Old Testament scholar Dr. Daniel Carroll R. (author of Christians at the Border), a moving testimony from Pastor Ben Tseng, an Asian-American pastor from Chicago who has undocumented Asian youth in his church, and a word from Rev. Dr. Troy Jackson of Cincinnati who brought church engagement on political issues like immigration reform into context with the history of the civil rights movement in the South.
Instead of your standard conference-style lunch in a box, small groups joined Latino immigrant families in their homes for delicious carne asada, rice and beans, and holy conversation. We savored the opportunity to talk to local Phoenix residents about their struggles, their family life, and their faith, and offer our stories as well. One host offered her personal tale of arriving to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and after sharing, turned to the group and asked, "Now that you've heard my story, what are you going to do?" Her guests made concrete commitments and sacred promises to take her story back home and testify to the brokenness of the U.S. immigration system in their congregations and communities.
I've been part of many conferences, training, and meetings on immigration reform, but this one was altogether different. One of the most powerful aspects was the element of individual and corporate lament. Several prominent evangelical leaders shared their regret for the absence of the white evangelical church in the major social struggles in recent U.S. history. They felt like the white evangelical church didn't "show up" during the civil rights movement or even during the last immigration reform debate, but it's clear they are standing up now. We prayed together in at the Civic Park and asked God to forgive us for our "failures to act as the Church when you have called us to do so." It was a powerful confession that allowed us to move forward and heed the call to action.
The story doesn't end in Arizona. This dedicated group of church leaders from across the nation committed not only to preach about God's heart for the sojourner, but to hold discussions about immigration in their congregations and to host prayer services with other Christians and invite their members of Congress to join. Simultaneously, there were five "Evangelical Witness for Immigration Reform" vigils in Miami, Memphis, Denver, Chicago, and Orange County, California, for those who could not travel to the event but who whose hearts were stirred to action by the urgency of the immigration issue. Just one event has inspired a movement bringing evangelical Christians out of their comfort zones into compassion for the stranger and forward to political action on immigration reform.
Join the movement by signing our petition and tell Congress that you're a Christian for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, too.
Allison Johnson is the campaign coordinator of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.