Immigration and Process of Humanity


Many of you have been asking about and praying for the unfolding situation at our nation’s border with Mexico over the past month. Shocking images and audio of children being torn from their parents and left in detention centers have been swirling in the media as our nation struggles with how to deal with the reality of many people from Central America and Mexico travelling to or across our border. Breaking the silence around this situation is difficult for some of us – how can we speak in a way that is clear and faithful, yet does not give into the political polarization of our times?

As people of faith, we all are called to think and pray and act around situations of suffering, knowing that God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus promises to be made known among people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25). This is hard work, but it is the work that gives us true, abiding, abundant life in God.

How can we think and pray and act about this situation at the border from the perspective of our Christian faith?

It’s an odd place to start, but I’ve been thinking about the Small Catechism this week. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism in 1529 to teach ordinary folks the basics of Christianity and how they were to live their lives in light of God’s grace for them. I am struck by Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment, “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. Luther writes “What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

What might it mean to interpret people’s actions in the best possible light here? There is a lot of rhetoric right now that makes it hard for some of us to see these asylum-seekers in the best possible light. We hear about people from these countries “infesting” our nation, or that they are part of gangs and therefor are sub-human animals. Sometimes we even reduce someone’s personhood to one title: “an illegal.” This rhetoric falls short of what God asks of us.

The voice we are called to raise is one that is clear that people who cross our border legally or not are human, and deserve to be treated as such. We can be sensitive to claims about child trafficking and people not telling the truth so that they can live in America. But, as Luther says, our posture must first be to interpret what people do in the best possible light. In this situation, that means showing compassion toward and listening to the people who are arriving to our country. What has prompted them to make the trek? What are their fears? What obstacles have they faced? What needs do they have? Before wising they wouldn’t break a law, we should ask what motivated them to break it. Before we get tough, we should get wise. We miss God when we miss the humanity of people in need.

And as we discuss policy responses with one another and how our government ought to respond, it would be good for us to have Luther’s words ringing in our ears as we engage with people with whom we disagree. What might it look like for us to interpret where they are coming from in the best possible light? What if we made the conscious choice to ask a question of the ones we disagree with before responding to them with our obviously correct answer? We gain nothing if we assign humanity to these asylum seekers by taking it away from somebody else.

Unfortunately, meditating on Luther’s writings does not point to a solution to this crisis, but it does help us understand how we might begin to interpret the things we see, monitor the things we say, and clarify the things we act on. I rejoice that our government has reversed its policy of family separation, but this is only the beginning of enacting a fair and compassionate immigration process which holds at its center the humanity of everyone involved. And whatever lies in the days to come, I pray that we would heed God’s command to see people in the best possible light, and refuse to give in to impulses that strip anyone’s humanity away from them.

To learn more about how the ELCA (our denomination) is thinking and acting around immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and the situation at our border, I commend these resources to you:

-          Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s Statement on Family Separation

-          Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

-          AMMPARO

-          Lutheran Social Message on Immigration (1999)

And as always, we are here to engage you in conversation and prayer. Please reach out to Pastor Beth or myself if you’d like time to process the events of recent weeks.

In God’s great love,

Pastor Joel