Posts Tagged ‘immigration’
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH FROM THE WESTERN METHODIST JUSTICE MOVEMENT
MEETING IN RETREAT AT ZEPHYR COVE, NEVADA
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Sovereign, Jesus Christ:
We are writing to you at this crucial moment in the history of the United States and of the world to urge you to speak a prophetic and pastoral word on behalf of The United Methodist Church. We believe that there are three current crises that demand your timely attention:
1) The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which has galvanized a movement of those who say “No more!” to the criminalization of U.S. minority communities and to the militarization of U.S. police forces;
2) The crisis caused to the U.S. immigration system by the recent surge of children crossing into the country without documentation, which has started to open our eyes to the violence, poverty and injustice that lead to the creation of unhealthy and unsustainable patterns of global migration; and
3) The continuing violence in Gaza that has led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians, many of them children, and caused untold damage to homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and places of worship, which has helped us to find clarity about the brutal nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and U.S. complicity in it.
In the face of these crises, we believe the Church of Jesus Christ needs to speak with a witness that is both prophetic and pastoral. We are writing to you, because we believe that it is your role, as the Council of Bishops, to lead The United Methodist Church in addressing the crucial issues of our time. The Book of Discipline states:
The role of the bishop is to be a prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world through the tradition of social holiness. The bishop encourages and models the mission of witness and service in the world through proclamation of the gospel and alleviation of human suffering. [¶ 403.d)]
The people for whom you have been elected to provide temporal and spiritual oversight need to hear from you. They need to know that their bishops are engaged with the critical issues of justice and injustice, violence and peace, wealth and poverty that are roiling the U.S. and the world. They need to receive a prophetic and pastoral word from you that is grounded in our legacy of Wesleyan theology and praxis.
We are dismayed that the Council of Bishops has yet to speak out publicly on the events that we have described above. We are thankful that individual bishops have written and spoken boldly. But, we are also aware that individual bishops cannot speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church as a whole to interpret stands already taken by the General Conference. As indicated in Division Three, Article III of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, responsibility for “the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church” resides with the Council as a whole.
We therefore implore you, as a Council, to do the important and prayerful work of leading the Church in addressing the injustice, oppression and violence that are confronting us through the events taking place in Ferguson, on our U.S. national borders, and in Gaza. The people of The United Methodist Church around the globe are yearning for your leadership on these critical matters. Now is the time!
We look forward to hearing back from you soon.
May the grace of Jesus Christ be with you now and always.
Cc: Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops of The United Methodist Church
The Western Methodist Justice Movement is a movement of United Methodists in the annual conferences of the Western Jurisdiction who are committed to carry out the prophetic statements and actions of the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. Their work focuses on diverse action areas, including: increasing the inclusiveness and justice focus of churches, planning ministries to fully include GLBT persons, immigration justice, reproductive justice, justice in the Philippines, education and advocacy for justice in Israel-Palestine, planning extravagant hospitality in our churches, and addressing the worldwide nature and future of the UMC. This open letter to United Methodist episcopal leaders was signed at their Labor Day retreat on September 1, 2014 by almost 100 concerned clergy and laity.
WASHINGTON, DC – July 31, 2014 – Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) executive director, Chett Pritchett, has been detained by the United States Park Police for an act of civil disobedience in front of The White House. Pritchett, along with Love Your Neighbor Coalition Coordinator, Rev. Steve Clunn, joined with other United Methodist clergy and laity, as well as ecumenical leaders, to witness to The White House from across the street in Lafayette Park. All involved expect to be released by early evening.
“If this act of civil disobedience can raise public awareness that children and families are being harmed by current government policies and practices, then we will have been successful,” stated Pritchett prior to his detainment. “Our United Methodist Social Principles call us to recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin. To not stand for the safety and welfare of our Christian siblings is equivalent to ignoring John Wesley’s first general rule of ‘do no harm.’”
This act of civil disobedience outside The White House developed as a way to bring moral clarity to the injustice of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies. Those gathered prayed for affirmative relief and expansion of deferred action from deportation for immigrant families, so that families might be kept together.
Teams of organizers from across the United States joined their hearts and voices with those arrested today. Some of those teams are from local chapters of MFSA, while others are from annual (regional) conference groups organized by The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, working to advocate for local, grassroots welcome of immigrant families. Tomorrow, those teams will gather with ecumenical partners for movement mapping, new media organizing, and spokesperson trainings to heighten the effectiveness of today’s witness and civil disobedience.
Since 1907, the Methodist Federation for Social Action has worked to mobilize, lead, and sustain a progressive movement, energizing people to be agents of God’s justice, peace, and reconciliation. As an independent, faith-based organization, MFSA leads both Church and society on issues of peace, poverty, people’s rights, progressive issues, and justice within The United Methodist Church.
A few weeks ago, on President’s Day, two Bishops, a General Secretary and several of us from The United Methodist Church were arrested, handcuffed and thrown in jail as we sang songs and knelt in prayer for immigrants’ rights before the White House. Nine others and I were put in a 6’ X 9’ cell with nothing but our clothes on our bodies.
As an active member of the Task Force set up by the action of the General Conference and Council of Bishops, I have heard many horror stories about the despondent plight of undocumented immigrants. The tipping point came to me recently from two fronts: No abatement in the forceful deportation of 1100 people every day which splits children and families, and the monetary and sexual exploitation of some immigrants who want to stay in the country in order to place food on their family’s table.
As National President of the Asian Federation, I keep my ears on the rail to listen to the stories of Asian immigrants. Not too long ago, a parent of two children was forced to offer sexual favor in order to stay for a little more time in the country. Upon further investigation, I found out that it was not an isolated case. Undocumented immigrants are extremely vulnerable and targets of exploitation and criminalization.
The issue of Immigration is an area fraught with complexity. Many factors contribute to human migration. They are broadly summarized under two categories: pull-factor and push-factor. Pull factor involves migration to a new place or a region on account of better jobs and for economic reasons available there. The push factor involves an escape from poverty, oppression and persecution. Walls and harsh policies could not keep people from seeking better opportunities or a way out of cruelty.
Since 1990s, the onset of globalization, fast travel and advanced technology have transformed not only the quality of life but also shattered self-enclosed boundaries. Mass migration ceaselessly continues from multiple access points – air, land and sea. For the first time in the history of humanity, a world-community without a world-state is being formed. Consequently, we are compelled to re-orient our lives, our world-view and missional engagements along a “local-global axis.”
In the U.S. there is a vast population of undocumented immigrants living among us. The people we might once have called the Other are now in our neighborhood, maybe in our home, in our bed or maybe in ourselves. In this context, what our church needs today is not necessarily brilliant minds but compassionate hearts. It is the relationship with the Other, which makes us properly human, and that is open minded and kindhearted.
We need a comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes the hardships and contributions of people moving here, that keeps families together here in this country, and creates a rational process of citizenship for new Americans. That will do more for the United States than expensive and impractical approaches like trying to deport millions of people, or trying to wall off a 2,000-mile border.
Our broken immigration system has spawned a thriving market for smugglers and exploiters, has generated chaos. A seemingly random enforcement policy targets ordinary immigrant workers and families, which wreaks havoc among children and youth who were born and raised in the US.
Well-meaning Christians often say that undocumented workers are breaking the law by either overstaying their visa or entering “illegally.” They quote fuzzy statistics, cite drunk or criminal immigrants, and display negative portraits of them. They often paint with a broad brush, that many of the immigrants are violent and criminals.
In the book Such is Life the writer brilliantly presents a tension between the law of society and a more universal sense of right and wrong, very much like the tension which exists in our society today, especially in matters of immigration policy. Steve Thompson, one of the lead characters, describes the injustice of his situation. “I’m sick and tired of studying why some people should be in a position where they have to go out of their way to do wrong, and other people are cornered to that extent that they can’t live without doing wrong, and can't suicide without jumping out of the frying-pan into the fire.”
Many immigrants are here primarily to provide food for their families very much like Joseph’s brothers who crossed borders to Egypt to fill their sacks with grain in order to feed those at home. Some among us have become accustomed to the cruelties and injustices surrounding us and are untroubled by them unless they trouble us directly. Trapped in the closed circles around sameness, some among us still fail to explore the mysteries of pain, death and loss.
As members of the Immigration Task Force, we are engaged in justice ministries neither to win nor defeat. Not even to make a difference, albeit it would be good. We stand for our Christian conviction and mission principle even as we are daunted by the enormity of the immigrants’ grief. As a faith community, we live in justice and mercy, compassion and righteousness, commitment and charity. Therefore, we commit ourselves to a proposition that reason and persuasion are the only acceptable ways through this impasse.
The members of the Task Force are aware that we are not obligated to complete the task but neither are we to free to abandon it. Collectively, we as a group have developed the art of hanging-in-there by standing in solidarity with the weak and vulnerable when their future is in the balance and press on until no family is broken without fair hearing or disrupted by forceful deportation.
The members of the Task Force are committed to playing a creative and responsible role in these changing times. This involves a change of heart, a repositioning of what we consider valuable, and an appreciation of now as an inner moment, a moment that can inspire change.
Finally, we acknowledge that we cannot achieve our goal alone. It is a collective endeavor. Hence we join hands with all Kingdom workers to celebrate life, not death. For many immigrants can cope with death but not life in the current form. It is not death that defeats them but life in limbo that disgraces them. We are convinced that a community is a home we build together.
Jacob Dharmaraj, Ph.D. is Vice President for Advocacy of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. He authors books and lectures on the topics of faith, colonialism, and ministry across cultures.
(Photo by UMNS, 2014)
While most of Washington, DC was reveling in a federal holiday and hoping no more snow would come before the start of the work week, the Holy Spirit was moving faith leaders to action yesterday. A group of about 60-70 people (the largest I’d seen for a strictly faith-based gathering in front of The White House) gathered in Lafayette Park to witness to the Executive Office, calling for President Obama to use his authority to expand the deferred action for childhood arrivals and end deportation of immigrants who have sought safety and stability in the United States.
The current administration will soon reach 2 million deportations of undocumented persons. Those who have been detained and deported are separated from their families. These families, now separated, continue to struggle for economic survival.
Immigration, deportation, and economic self-sufficiency are concerns of faith leaders because people of faith are affected by these concerns. Congressional call-in campaigns, face-to-face meetings with elected officials in their home areas, and talks to President Obama and his administration have not led to ending deportations. And so yesterday more than 30 faith leaders knelt in prayer in front of The White House in an act of civil disobedience and a witness to the world.
I wasn’t part of those 30. I can’t speak for their experience of kneeling in front of The White House, singing and praying. I stood with another 30-40 people who were moved away from the “postcard zone” by US Park Police. We were separated from those who chose to be arrested by barricades and police tape. A horseback unit flanked one side of the area; containment vans flanked the other side. Separated from our courageous siblings in faith, we sang and we chanted and we prayed. Some of those who were eventually arrested are leaders in The United Methodist Church, clergy and laity working for just immigration reform: Bill Medford from the General Board of Church and Society, Carol Barton and Harriett Jane Olson of United Methodist Women to name a few. Kneeling front and center were two bishops of our Church: Bishop Julius Trimble of the Iowa Annual Conference and Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
Those thirty minutes, while arrests were being made, while praying and chanting and singing abounded – those thirty minutes provided a glimpse of what God’s world could be. Clergy and laity were engaged in action together. The documented and undocumented were taking a risk for one another. Queer and non-queer recognized that LGBT rights expand beyond the realm of marriage equality and that marriage equality opens our eyes to the need for immigration reform. The young and the old were in solidarity: When the chanting died down and we couldn’t figure out what to sing fast enough, one 5 year old girl atop a mound of snow led us by shouting “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like!” Indeed, a little child shall lead them.
In those thirty minutes, I not only gave thanks for those who were arrested, but I gave thanks for grace that stirs our hearts and minds and hands and feet. I gave thanks for a Church that, though we sometimes get it wrong, was getting it right.
We can continue to get it right again, you know? United Methodists in the United States can continue to put pressure on The White House through emails and phone calls, and our Congressional representatives by visiting them in their offices every time they’re home on break. United Methodists around the world can continue to ask that our Book of Discipline reflect God’s love for all people, not just some. And United Methodists can write, call, and email their bishops (yes, friends we can and should do that) to let them know that we are proud of the Methodist tradition which requires our Episcopal leaders to be a prophetic voice for justice in a suffering world through the tradition of social holiness (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶404).
As one friend stated yesterday, “I was proud to be a United Methodist again.”
It’s true, you know, because we were being the Church at our best. Let us continue to be our best as we live into God’s call to love our neighbors, to welcome the stranger, and to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.