In a time when bipartisanship seems like a forgotten dream, it is important for us to find and celebrate cases of lawmakers coming together, regardless of party and ideology, to address the many real and immediate challenges we face as a country. Especially on issues of importance to the faith community, we should encourage bipartisan cooperation that seeks justice and mercy for families, communities, and those otherwise marginalized across our nation. Recently, there have been two steps forward on this front, especially with regard to the work that Sojourners has been doing on immigration, poverty, and racism.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who wanted to host a meeting with a few senators from both parties to discuss their response to the crisis of the separation and detention of families at the border. They needed advice and, in particular, wanted to know what the faith community needed and wanted in response to the separations, as faith communities are on the front lines of the crisis. The meeting was requested with little notice, but I had the opportunity to speak to other leaders in the faith community, including leaders of large faith-based organizations, in the few days leading up to it. Every leader said the same thing: The most important thing that members of Congress could do in this moment was to ensure that the practice of family separation never happens again. These leaders all also expressed the hope that the faith community would be brought in to help with the reunification of separated families — as many that were already doing the work needed more coordination with the government agencies.
I was surprised when several senators, both Democratic and Republican, joined this private meeting. It was a good and honest discussion. Following this meeting the members decided to put together a bipartisan letter to the president denouncing the separations, clearly stating that they should never happen again, and stating the important role the faith community plays in providing assistance with the reunification of families. To our and their surprise, they received strong bipartisan support — 28 senators, 18 Democrats and 10 Republicans, joined and they were able to release and send the letter quickly.
The letter reads:
“Dear Mr. President:
We write to urge your administration to prioritize the reunification of families and to ensure that, from this point forward, the default position of the United States of America is to keep families together.
While we represent constituents from all faiths and political backgrounds, we have all heard one consistent message—the United States government should not separate children from their families except in extreme circumstances. As we work to find a permanent solution, we urge the administration to use all available resources currently at its disposal to reunite families as soon as possible.
Throughout our history, faith-based organizations have partnered with the federal government to help achieve its humanitarian goals. Faith-based organizations, including groups like Sojourners, Catholic Charities USA, World Vision, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Christian Community Development Association, Church World Service, and World Relief are willing and able to support reunification efforts and provide critical services for children and families in need. We encourage you to partner with the faith community to assist with family reunification and keeping families together in the future.
We remain committed to working together to fix our broken immigration system. Enforcement of our immigration laws should be a high priority, but we must also adhere to our core moral values as Americans.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.”
Moving forward, these senators are interested in exploring the opportunity to meet and partner with faith leaders, which marks important progress in getting Congress to further recognize the role that faith-based organizations can play in providing crucial services to those hurting and in need. True, this is a letter and not a law — but it is one of the few instances of bipartisan agreement and collaboration in a long time.
Following the success of this meeting and the letter, I and other leaders from the Circle of Protection met with several members of Congress over a shared meal to discuss the Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty that we released earlier this year. The Circle of Protection is the broadest group of Christian leaders focused on poverty, and the 80 leaders who signed this statement came from African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, evangelical, Catholic, Pentecostal, and mainline Protestant churches, as well as many national faith-based organizations. The Unity Statement, which is a theological statement signed by these 80 faith leaders, addresses the integral connection between structural and systemic racism and poverty in the United States — something that is too often ignored and too seldom discussed in the halls and hearing rooms on Capitol Hill.
Each of the members of Congress took very seriously the concerns we expressed regarding the inexcusable and well-entrenched links between racism and poverty in our nation. We hope that this discussion, and those to follow, can produce bipartisan and effective legislative action. They expressed their desire and need for the faith community’s help in messaging such things as moral matters and not just political issues, and assisting them in helping to bring lawmakers together across partisan lines on clearly moral choices.
We are faced with many pressing issues, and they should be of concern to people of faith across political or partisan divides. The movement in recent weeks around the role of the faith community in addressing immigration, family reunification, racism, and poverty has been encouraging, and it should pave the way for more active collaboration between our government and faith groups. With the government and faith groups working alongside each other, we should be able to address these issues in a meaningful way. This administration should be engaging a much broader cross-section of faith leaders and not just only its “evangelical advisers,” who so far seem to have be used to provide the White House validation instead of genuine dialogue, wider perspective and, most important, prophetic witness.
At a time when partisan division and mistrust stop almost anything from moving on Capitol Hill, what we need are exceptional and encouraging displays of bipartisanship that we hope can serve as a model moving forward on issues of clear moral and ethical concerns — ones that the faith community can and should help to lead. It is absolutely critical for the faith community to play a role in encouraging bipartisanship in the difficult days ahead. In response to the political crisis that we are in, it is my hope that some critical moral moments of cooperation could help to save the nation’s soul and our very democracy going forward.