I was in Washington DC May 20-22 during the final days of the Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing of the immigration reform bill (Senate Bill 744, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”). The bill passed out of the committee with a 13 to 5 vote while I was in DC and now will go to the full Senate sometime in June.
I was with two other pastors from Utah–Rev. Steve Klemz of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and Pastor Curtis Price of First Baptist Church–and many other United Methodist pastors from different states. Church World Service and United Methodist General Board of Church and Society were two of the main organizers of faith communities advocating for a comprehensive immigration reform. Many of the meetings took place in the United Methodist Building right by the Capitol.
We met with immigrant families of all stripes, heard their stories, sang and prayed with them, sat with them at the Senate hearing and stood with them as they told their stories to those who were making decisions about the future of their families. We three clergies from Utah visited the offices of the Senators and House Representatives from the State of Utah. We did our best to highlight the fact that real human lives are behind every decision, to “put human faces” to a political issue that can easily be made abstract, and to lift up the voices that have been rendered voiceless.
When the bi-partisan bill finally passed a spontaneous cheer arose in the Senate hearing room. Much hugs and even tears. It was a heavy-hearted moment for me. At the last moment an amendment protecting LGBT families were introduced then withdrawn for the threat of the bi-partisan support being nullified. I thought about the conversation I had had earlier that day with my “gay” clergy friend, who has a family to “protect.”
Coming back to the place of my ministry and worshipping with my church family were wonderfully sobering. I do understand that politics is an art of the possible. Expediency is the rule. But Christ’s call to us is not about advocating specific policies. It is to hold up God’s own vision for God’s own world. Borrowing from UM Bishop Minerva Carcano, our call is to build not a strong nation state but the Kingdom of God. Church is where we taste that reality. Imperfect, yes, but being perfected by the Grace of God. Unconditional love, forgiveness and grace are the norm. Our prayer is always “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I went back to my journal of some years ago after I had come back from my first “lobbying” trip to DC:
“Watching the event, and the debate over immigration, unfolding has been a spiritual experience for me. As the great American soul searching is being exposed, I feel that the landscape of my own soul is also being exposed. I am them, all of them, and they are I. I am the ones who risk so much for a chance of bettering their lives and the lives of their loved ones back home and trek into a strange land. I am the ones who feel the American abundance is limited. I am the ones who affirm that the fundamental human rights transcends national boundaries. I am the ones who want to protect what is lawfully mine, who demand fairness and lawfulness…..
It’s an opportunity for all of us especially those who seek religion. Our soul searching embraces honestly conflicting values and interest claims. What comes out of it will greatly impact what kind of future the human race will have……..Religion opens us up to our best possibilities, as individuals, as communities, and as a human society……. As in a poem of June Jordan, ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’”
As Thic Nhat Hahn has said, to know others is to know me and to know me is to know others. Peace!