Pastor's Perspective

Last month, I attended the Interfaith Alliance meeting held at St. Matthew’s Lutheran, Urbana.  Prior to that meeting, Rabbi Alan Cook of Sinai Temple had circulated a draft of the letter printed below, asking members of the Alliance for their comments and suggestions. Over 30 member of the community discussed the letter offering their input and suggestions for change.

A number of members of the Alliance signed the letter, I among them.  (You may view the letter and a partial list of signatures at the Interfaith Alliance C-U Facebook page.)  The letter was sent to media outlets and to public officials. I encourage you to read the letter and, as always, I am open to questions and decision.

We, the undersigned people of faith, are members and leaders of religious communities in Champaign County. We are part of the ongoing debate on the question of how our country will respond to those from other lands who seek to make their home here in pursuit of the American dream. We speak out now, prompted by the misuse of sacred scriptures to justify immoral immigration procedures that are being enforced at our nation’s southern border.

The Executive Order signed on June 20, 2018, purports to address the issue of family separation at our country’s southern border. In fact, it does nothing to restore the more than 2,000 minor children separated from their families to the comfort and protection of their parents. It seeks to criminalize the very act of seeking refuge from oppressive regimes, and it establishes the opportunity for the federal government to indefinitely detain immigrants. Such policies are in violation of core tenets of our faiths, which call upon us to welcome and embrace the stranger, and to provide for those less fortunate than ourselves. Such policies also run counter to American values and ideals.

Abraham was a wanderer, setting out from his birthplace and ancestral home to seek the promise of a better way of life. Moses and the Israelites were homeless wanderers breaking away from a regime that had enslaved them. Jesus and his family were political refugees fleeing Herod’s cruel reign. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) led his followers on the hejira from Mecca to Medina to flee persecution. In our own time, H. H. the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet to India in an effort to prevent further bloodshed among his people. The history of religion is one of wandering, one of standing tall in the face of oppression. This has taught us compassion. We look in the eyes of those who may be different from us and we do not encounter fear; we see the face of God looking back at us.

Reasonable people may differ over immigration policy, but our faiths make clear that any such debate must begin with the central premise that every human being is a child of God. We are all deserving of dignity and respect, no matter where we came from, no matter where we will lay our heads tonight. We call for immigration policy reform in our country that will reinstate DACA and maintain it. We call for maintenance of the lottery and visa programs. We demand that there be no reduction in resources and funding for asylum seekers. We oppose the isolationist approach of a wall along our country’s southern border, and we reject any use of taxpayer dollars or other appropriations for its construction. We call for children not to be separated from their families at the border, and for all children currently in DHS or ICE custody to be returned to their parents immediately. We reject the policy of indefinite detention of immigrants and asylum seekers. We call upon all elected officials to put an end to the blame, dehumanization, name-calling, and denigration of immigrant families, and to reaffirm America as a land where all may know the blessings of liberty.

Furthermore, we call upon other people of faith and good conscience to register to vote and ensure that their voices are heard at the polls. We call for ongoing conversation with our elected officials to make clear that such immoral practices run counter to the will of the people. We affirm peaceful protest and civil disobedience as constitutionally protected rights, and effective tools in the struggle for justice. We pray that fair and humane immigration policy will prevail.

“The stranger in your midst shall be to you as the native, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34)

“Truly I tell you, what you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 40)

“As for those who had settled in the city and embraced the faith before the arrival of the emigrants, they love whoever immigrates to them, never having a desire in their hearts for whatever of the gains is given to the emigrants. They give the emigrants preference over themselves even though they may be in need. And whoever is saved from the selfishness of their own souls, it is they who are truly successful.” (Quran 59:9)

Peace to you, 

Pastor Tom