Last week, I joined a conservative talk show in Cincinnati to talk about Bernard Pastor, the 18-year-old undocumented immigrant facing imminent deportation. The host started out in a very cordial manner.
But about half way through the interview, he started asking if I would allow 500 people to enter my house tonight uninvited and stay with my family permanently. He then said that if I were not willing to allow 500 people into my house tonight, I had no business advocating for Bernard Pastor or the DREAM Act. To do so was the height of hypocrisy, according to the moral arbiter that is a 700WLW radio host.
At the end of the interview, the host said, "You are wrong about this one, pastor. You are a hypocrite. You had better pray on this one tonight."
And why was I a hypocrite? Because I didn't have a pat answer to an analogy.
I have come up with several responses since:
- Undocumented immigrants make up around four percent of our nation's population (11.1 million). To use the house analogy, there would be an average of 1 undocumented "house guest" for every 25 people -- hardly 500 people. Yes, my family has housed a foster child and is currently housing an international student. We would be more than willing to add an undocumented person to our home in obedience to Jesus' call for hospitality, although we would be unable to accommodate 500 unless Jesus did a loaves and fishes miracle on our resources!
- Undocumented immigrants like Bernard Pastor are not showing up tonight at our doorsteps. No, they have been living in our homes, helping with the dishes and laundry, and cleaning for years and sometimes decades. They have been working in the service industries, food industries, and construction among others. The analogy of folks showing up at our doorstep might relate somewhat to the question of our border security, but is an absurd analogy for the undocumented immigrants who are already here contributing to our society.
- At the end of the day, what bothers me the most is the desire for people to value an absurd analogy over the life of a young man like Bernard Pastor. If caring more about a person created in the image of God than about a hypothetical 500 people trying to get in my house tonight makes me a hypocrite, I am just fine with that.
The bottom line is that if Congress had shown any moral courage over the past decade on immigration, Bernard Pastor would be finishing up his first semester of college, having survived his first final exams, rather then sitting in a prison cell on the verge of deportation.
This week, I urge the Department of Homeland Security to set Bernard free, and I urge the Senate to have the courage to pass the DREAM Act, so we will never have another Bernard Pastor filling up our jail cells rather than preparing to be future leaders and contributors.
In the end, analogies don't matter. People do. Bernard Pastor matters to me, to his friends and family, and ultimately to God.
Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio. To stay connected with Bernard Pastor's situation, visit the Free Bernard Pastor Facebook page.