Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ecumenical Faith Statement on Immigrants in Artesia

The following is a reprint of a joint ecumenical statement of faith drafted by several clergy. 

                Southeast New Mexico is facing a crisis that cuts at the heart of Christian faith and practice. With the recent notification by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that upwards of 600 Central American refugees would be housed at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center campus in Artesia, it has served as a rallying call for many local citizens as well as local elected officials. Tragically, much of the most vehement response has been exceptionally negative, couched in fear, fueled in highly politicized rhetoric, and grounded in anything but solid Biblical, Christian, moral, and humanitarian concerns. As faith leaders and Christian pastors in Eddy and Lea Counties, this is our call to speak a word of Christian grace, morality, and common sense in regard to the looming crisis.
                Scripture repeatedly, and unapologetically, calls for God’s people to welcome the stranger, the alien, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner. Leviticus 19:33-34 recalls the sacred memory of the time when the people of God were once the unwanted immigrant in Egypt. Central to the Biblical narrative is the call to remember the harsh treatment and slavery inflicted upon the Hebrew people and to live in such a way as to never return such inhumanity upon other aliens. Jesus Christ also emphasized this vital law of God’s grace, compassion, and welcome. Most notably, in Matthew 25 reminds us that our salvation hinges on caring for “the least of these.” Furthermore, James writes that for our religious faith to be genuine and authentic, it must make as priority our call to care for the orphans and widows in their distress. As these immigrant women and children from Central America are brought to our backyard in Eddy County, Christianity demands we respond with compassion.
                Extending hospitality to the stranger and welcoming the alien is not a practice that comes easily and also brings an understandable degree of fear. Naturally, we tend to fear that which we do not fully understand. Accordingly, many in our community have expressed outrage at the decision to house these people at FLETC. At issue for many is the presumed illegal presence. Romans 13 calls for reasonable submission to the sovereign laws of the land and its governing authorities. Therefore, having presumed the immigrant’s guilt for violating the law, Romans 13 is hastily referenced to legitimize swift and decisive punitive measures both in the name of Scriptural authority and legal obligation. This, in spite of the reality that our criminal code both presumes innocence and calls for just and humane treatment of arrestees who are imprisoned.
                Reading further in the same chapter of Romans, Scripture calls for love as the fulfillment of the law rather than legalistic and punitive adherence to the law. Jesus Christ modeled the priority of human compassion over legalistic adherence throughout his ministry. In speaking of loving God and loving neighbor, Jesus told the parable of three men. Two upheld the letter of the law and maintained their ritual holiness and purity by avoiding the stranger in need. Yet it was one who broke the law and crossed the cultural, religious, and moral codes of the day to meet a stranger in need. We remember that lawbreaker as the Good Samaritan. Therefore, even in the midst of the legitimately illegal status of their presence on US soil, the commands of God in Jesus Christ are for love, not fear or punishment.
                Much of the controversy and emotionally-charged outrage over these immigrants is endemic of our own nation’s broken immigration system and the political rancor over how to best address immigration on a comprehensive, defensible, and humanitarian basis. While the current situation raises the issues in very powerful ways, expressing hatred toward, fear of, or anger with the women and children housed at FLETC serves nothing to resolve the national debate. Rather, it only diverts precious energy and engenders a destructive spirit of mistrust that is contrary to Christian love and hospitality. As Jesus Christ calls us to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile, let us not look down on the immigrants for being here until we both understand their real reason for coming and work collaboratively and prayerfully to seek just, reasonable, and defensible immigration reform on a federal level.
                As a matter of faith and Biblical authenticity, it is vital that all Christians approach the immigrants staying at FLETC with utmost compassion. As the prophet Zechariah made clear in the 7th chapter, God does not honor proper religious ritual and sacrifice when the people of God also oppress the widow, orphan, and alien. It is a sentiment echoed in Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:6-8, Isaiah 1:10-20, Hosea 6:6, Hosea 8:11-14, Jeremiah 7:22-23, and Matthew 25:31-46. God has made the command clear. This is no time for fear. In faith, our call is to be the Good News and stand in solidarity with Christ with confidence and love. Our call is perhaps best summarized in the words of Micah 6:8 which reads that we are to love kindness, seek justice, and walk humbly with God.

Rev. Harold Armstrong, First Presbyterian, Hobbs
Mr. Justin Remer-Thamert, New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Rev. Geri Cunningham, St. Peter Lutheran, Carlsbad
Fr. Rod Hurst, Grace Episcopal, Carlsbad
Rev. Nick King, Carlsbad Mennonite
Rev. Ron Collins, Carlsbad Mennonite, Retired
Rev. Betty Collins, Carlsbad Mennonite, Retired
Rev. David Wilson Rogers, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Carlsbad
Rev. Gene Harbaugh, First Presbyterian Church Carlsbad, Retired
Rev. Steven Voris

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