Loving the Immigrant
By taylor bell
March 13, 2012
My personal faith is filled with narratives of a God who calls His people to be a community of love, justice and mercy. And in regards to the immigrant, also known as the sojourner, I believe we are given explicit direction not only to provide hospitality, but also to treat him as our own, because we recognize our love extends beyond the borders of our nation.
Samford University recently hosted the G92 South Immigration Conference to discuss immigration within a scriptural and faith-based context. As a college student in Alabama, I realize that being informed on an issue as complex as immigration is important to being a responsible citizen. Living in the state with the strictest immigration policy further magnifies this responsibility. So does my faith.
When HB56, Alabama’s anti-immigrant enforcement law, passed, I was anything but happy. I simply cannot support legislation that seeks to make the state in which I live as inhospitable to immigrants as possible, no matter the justification.
The law’s passage helped me realize how ignorant I truly was about immigration. G92 South provided a place for national and local evangelical leaders to shed light on the many injustices of Alabama’s HB56, and how as Christians we should respond in a manner that is rooted in God and Scripture. This conference provided a time and place to better understand my faith as the foundation for my stance and actions regarding immigration.
The first session I attended, led by the Rev. Gabriel Salguero (president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition), spoke from a biblical ethics perspective, consistently asking: “Is this law a good law? Is this law a moral law?” Salguero reaffirmed for me that when the laws of our state impede the spirit of God in this world, it is our role as Christians to begin questioning these laws and ultimately to be at the forefront of advocating for change.
In Alabama, I consistently hear that, because undocumented immigrants are here illegally, they are breaking the law and therefore are punishable under our law. What I hear much less often, though, is the question Salguero raises: Is the law just in the first place? He explained that this question is imperative for Christians to ask, for it launches the journey to uncovering how God’s love is or is not present within the structure of our state. And if God’s love is not present, we are led to ask: What can we do to fix it?
A session led by Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper had perhaps the greatest impact for me of any during G92 South. She used Nehemiah 1:1-11 as a framework for understanding how we as a people are guilty and in need of grace for our inaction. She explained that perhaps the sin Nehemiah repented for was a sin of inaction to step in for the suffering of his people. She then posed the question, “What are the core lies we have believed as a people that have caused us to turn our backs on God’s truth?”
She was not beating around the bush with this question. Rather, she sought to have us each dive deeply into our own souls and reconcile our own injustices toward people who have been deemed “illegal” and the “alien.”
I had several convictions that needed forgiveness, starting with the simple categorization of the immigrant as the “other,” as someone else who is not with me. Yes, I saw them as loved by God, yet I still saw them as the other. This realization struck me to the core. I began to ask how the work of God’s reconciliation can begin if we continue to see each other as “the other.”
I don’t believe it can, so addressing this internally was the first step to righting the wrongs of which I am guilty, the first step on the path toward reconciliation.
G92 South did not significantly alter my stance on immigration. But I had a much-needed deepening of my personal faith as the foundation for my position and response to immigration policy. I left G92 South realizing that I have much personal reflection and reconciling that I need to do in terms of just how I express my faith in my actions toward those who are “undocumented,” who are sojourners.
I thank Salguero, Harper and everyone else who came out to contribute wisdom and knowledge on a biblical response to laws such as HB56. I conclude with a passage of Scripture that I feel properly summarizes the conference: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19: 34, NIV).
Taylor Bell is a junior at Samford University, an Alabama Baptist-affiliated university located in Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.