By Jim Wallis 2-22-2017

Many people in our nation, and indeed around the world, are scared by the things happening in Washington. Those most affected by the actions of this administration are especially afraid. But today, we announce a plan of action in response.

Immigrant families are faced with an administration crackdown on undocumented people. Children are afraid to go to school, families are avoiding medical facilities, and some people have expressed their fears of even going to church where they might be targeted and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — whose numbers President Donald Trump and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have promised to increase by at least 10,000 as part of a deportation force.

Here in our own city of Washington, D.C., a church shelter was targeted. As Sojourners documented last week, ICE officials surrounded, questioned, and detained six Latino men who had just left Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church’s hypothermia shelter. As of this writing, their whereabouts were still unknown, despite the attempts of area activists, faith leaders, and the church’s pastor, Rev. Keary Kincannon to obtain information from ICE.

Keary was part of the Sojourners community back when he was a seminarian — and, coincidentally, had just preached at Sojourners’ monthly chapel service a few days before. He spoke powerfully of the role we all play in the task of creating God’s Kingdom on earth “as it is in heaven,” as the Lord Prayer calls us to do. Keary felt both devastated and outraged that their church shelter for the homeless was targeted by the government to locate and detain undocumented immigrants.

“In the 21 years that we’ve been doing this ministry of sheltering the homeless, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he told us. “… God makes no distinctions between us whether we’re undocumented or documented. Our role is to love people the way Jesus loves people regardless of their immigration status, regardless of their faith, regardless of their political affiliation; we are just to love all people.”

But loving people in that way may now be against the law under the new administration. Amid these threats, people of faith are pledging to protect and defend undocumented immigrants under attack.

Many others are afraid too. Every black parent I know is afraid for their children — and that is just a fact that white Christians, many of whom voted for Donald Trump, must understand. Black pastors are concerned about the young people in their communities and their interactions with police. Racial policing is obviously not a new problem in America and Trump didn’t start it, but both the racial rhetoric of his campaign and the appointments he has made have struck fear into the hearts of many. The new president promotes “law and order” and “stop and frisk” in familiar coded language that racial minorities understand.

If there is no accountability from the administration or the Justice Department, for those who would use excessive force against citizens of color — and especially young people — local churches and clergy pledge to hold their police departments accountable.

Muslims are also feeling afraid in light of travel bans they feel are directed at them (understandable, given Trump’s past statements). Their fears also stem from increasing incidents of hate speech and threats against them, and the elevation of newly appointed White House officials with records of Islamophobia. Many American Muslims fear that the government will use terrorism as a pretext to attack their civil society organizations in the U.S., ascribing sinister motives to non-profit organizations that do good and important work. But when Muslims are threatened by religious discrimination and persecution, many other people of faith pledge to stand with them.

Because of such widespread fear from so many people — thousands of people of faith have decided to act. We have created the Matthew 25 Pledge— just one sentence that simply says: I pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.

Matthew 25 is the Gospel text where Jesus says: As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me. At an early morning prayer vigil in front of ICE headquarters in Alexandria, Va., I heard Pastor Keary Kincannon lift up those words from Matthew 25, “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.” Their Rising Hope Mission Church has signed the pledge.

The Matthew 25 Movement is a broad coalition of national faith-based groups, local churches, clergy associations, grassroots activists, heads of denominations, seminaries, Christian colleges, and more. We are focusing on these three groups of people who are especially at risk right now under a Trump administration: undocumented immigrants threatened with mass deportation, as well as refugees who are being banned despite rigorous vetting; African Americans and other people of color threatened by racial policing; and Muslims, threatened with banning, monitoring, and even registration.

Before the resource site even launched, more than 15,000 people throughout the country signed the pledge.

Our new website, matthew25pledge.com, is a place not just to declare your intent to join this movement, but also a resource to tell you how you can act in defense of vulnerable people. You will find toolkits filled with information and resources on how to support individuals and communities at the local, state, and federal level, including information on the specific legal, policy, and political threats to these groups and how to respond to them — information rooted in theological grounding and not partisan politics, and case studies of successful work in these areas.

New political policies and practices are creating a direct conflict between church and state. Some of the commands from the White House are directly at odds with the commands of Christ. If the government tells churches that they can’t help, assist, harbor, or welcome immigrants and refugees, they will be putting themselves in direct conflict with Christian ministries and preventing our religious liberty to express obedience to Christ.

A gospel text will be the foundation of our actions, not political or partisan motivations. And while our text is from the Christian New Testament, already many rabbis, imams, and people of other faith traditions, or none at all, are seeing the value in the words of Matthew 25 and want to collaborate with the pledge.

I don’t normally issue “altar calls” at the end of my columns (though they are sometimes implied!). But in this one I'll do it directly:

I appeal to all the readers, friends, allies, and partners of Sojourners to take the Matthew 25 Pledge to “protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.” You can sign up right here with Sojourners and/or go directly to matthew25pledge.com for more information. And then ACT in the ways suggested. It’s time for people of faith to speak out and act on behalf of those who are afraid because they are the most vulnerable. This is an act of faith for such a time as this.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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