Last week Christian Churches Together in the USA gathered in Austin, Texas for its 7th Annual Meeting. CCT represents the breadth of Christian denominations in the United States, including historic Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical Protestant, and historic black church denominations. In subsequent years CCT focused on issues of poverty and racism. This year leaders of this diverse body of Christian denominations focused on the need for broad reform within the U.S. immigration system.
Over the course of four days, this broad coalition of heads of communion and ecumenical officers learned the history of Immigration Reform in the U.S., sought biblical counsel, watched films about life along America’s southern border, and listened to the testimonies of “DREAMers," undocumented domestic workers, and asylum-seekers. In the end the five families of the church in the United States reached consensus on a statement calling for just and humane immigration reform that includes an “earned path to citizenship."
Many statements have been issued by individual denominations and by particular arms of the American church. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement November, and the Evangelical Immigration Table released one in June. Likewise, individual historic Protestant denominations have released statements in the past. This is the first time that this broad band of the church has reached consensus on a single statement that calls for comprehensive immigration reform.
The CCT statement calls “people of faith, people of good will, elected officials in Congress and the President of the United States to work together to enact just and humane immigration reform legislation in 2013.”
A particular spiritual call for immigration reform, CCT reminds us: “While immigration is often viewed as an economic, social, or legal issue, it is ultimately a humanitarian and spiritual issue that directly impacts millions of unauthorized immigrants and the entire fabric of our society.”
It then goes on to demand “comprehensive reform now.”
In one passage, the statement reflects on the significance of America’s current moment in light of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation:
The timing of our statement on immigration is ever more poignant given that our country is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. We are reminded that there are those in our nation whose forebears were brought here involuntarily through the unjust institution of slavery. There are also those who lived here long before others arrived who experienced the denial of their basic human rights. Each day in our congregations and communities, we bear witness to the effects of a system that continues this legacy of separation of families and the exploitation, abuse, and deaths of migrants. This suffering must end.
The statement continues: “Therefore, in our relentless effort to achieve a more perfect union, we urge our elected officials to enact immigration reform consistent with the following principles and policies …” Over the next page the CCT statement outlines five principles to guide U.S. immigration reform legislation:
- An earned path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the United States without authorization.
- The priority of family reunification in any immigration reform.
- Protecting the integrity of our borders and protecting due process for immigrants and their families.
- Improving refugee protection laws and asylum laws.
- Reviewing international economic policies to address the root causes of unauthorized immigration.
A press release issued by CCT explains that the statement will be followed by advocacy to members of Congress from the membership of denominations and groups represented at the Austin meeting.
Within hours of the issuing of the CCT statement the advocacy began, with many denominations committing to take the “I Was a Stranger Challenge,” a grassroots initiative of the Evangelical Immigration Table urging congregations to read 40 biblical passages about immigration over 40 days and ask their legislators to do the same.
Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author ofLeft, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politicsand author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat