The national debate (or is it an argument?) about immigration has provided a huge opportunity for churches to proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel to an anxious country. However, rather than responding with courage and grace, many of us have either kept silent or responded in fear, nervous about an unknown future. Three recent stories reveal the weight of this cultural moment and show why churches need to engage the issue with increased wisdom, mercy, and justice.
On April 23, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law the broadest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country. The legislation has been celebrated by some and strongly opposed by others, because it instructs police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Also in April, Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James released a television ad that quickly propelled him from YouTube sensation to a guest on The O'Reilly Factor. The ad promises to administer driver's license exams only in English. "This is Alabama, we speak English," the candidate says. "If you want to live here, learn it." James claims his ad is not about immigration, but many are wondering who the "you" in the ad is if not non-English speaking immigrants.
Finally, on May Day, thousands of people—50,000 in LA, 25,000 in Dallas, and 10,000 in Chicago—gathered for rallies and marches calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Protestors carried signs like, "Fight Ignorance, Not Immigrants," "I am not an alien," and "Reform Not Raids." Many of these protestors know well the hazards of even appearing to be an undocumented immigrant in America these days.
As the percentage of non-white people in America continues to grow, stories like these will only become more common. Many people accustomed to life in the majority are looking for ways to protect their "values" and "way of life." Their reactions have been exceedingly painful and personal for many immigrants.
In a recent Time article, "The White Anxiety Crisis," Gregory Rodriquez traces this current fearful upheaval to America's history of privileging some and oppressing others based on race and ethnicity.
As much as Americans pride themselves on the notion that their national identity is premised on a set of ideals rather than a single race, ethnicity or religion, we all know that for most of our history, white supremacy was the law of the land. In every naturalization act from 1790 to 1952, Congress included language stating that the aspiring citizen should be a "white person." And not surprisingly, despite the extraordinary progress of the past 50 years, the sense of white proprietorship—"this is our country and our culture"—still has not been completely eradicated.
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