Do not mistreat foreigners or oppress them, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
This week I received an email with the subject line, Good news on immigration, from the project Bibles, Badges and Business of the National Immigration Forum with whom we have worked since 2012. They forwarded a study that indicates that the anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians is out of line with American views, especially young people. Click here for the study results: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PRRI-AVA-2015-Immigration-Report.pdf. The study found that 52 percent of Republicans support the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship if they meet certain requirements. Among Republicans under 30, 63 percent said they supported the opportunity to earn citizenship, and 51 percent say immigrants make the country stronger.
If you look at the data for Wyoming, our state fares poorly, even compared to neighboring states. Only 38% in Wyoming responded that, In general, the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society, compared to 50% nationally, with only West Virginia and Alabama coming in with lower percentages. So is it, Good news on immigration, except for Wyoming? Is that why Wyoming is the only state without a refugee resettlement plan? At the University of Wyoming Diversity Ball where I spoke in February I was given a t-shirt that says, Differences are our strength, not our similarities. Generally, young people seem to get it.
Do our churches not know that our strength lies in diversity? We also partner with the Evangelical Immigration Table, a Bible-based group advocating for immigration reform. They ask that we pray this month for human dignity to be shown to immigrants. Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief and co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis, wrote, “. . . that (immigration) reform should respect ‘the God-given dignity of every person.’ The Bible teaches that each human being — regardless of their country of origin, ethnicity, gender, religion, legal status or any other qualifier — is made in the image of the Creator God (Genesis 1:27). As such, they inherently possess both dignity and remarkable potential. We deny this basic biblical truth if we speak of immigrants (or anyone) as merely a burden. This month, please join me in praying:
That the language we use to describe immigrants — both within the church and in our political discourse — would reflect the dignity of each person made in the image of God.
That God would help our society to recognize the inherent value and potential within each immigrant.
For candidates campaigning for the presidency, for the U.S. Congress, and for state and local offices, that they would be ever mindful of the dignity of all people and avoid dehumanizing or inflammatory rhetoric or policy positions.
That immigrants, who in some cases have been scapegoated and demeaned in our national political discourse, would know their true worth in the eyes of the God who “fearfully and wonderfully made” each one (Psalm 139:14).”
Last Sunday I went to church in Ovilla, Texas, with my brother Ernie, a retired missionary, where the sermon was in Jorai, a tribal language spoken in Viet Nam. All there, except for my brother and me, were former Vietnamese refugees. That day they were welcoming a new family and took a special collection to support them; former refugees welcoming new ones. The sermon, scripture readings and hymns were in Jorai. The adult choir sang in Jorai. The children and youth choirs each sang in English. A solo was sung in Vietnamese. The church bulletin was in Jorai and English. This is a growing church with many youth and children. They soon will need to remove a wall to make more room for the sanctuary.
Let’s not forget that we were once immigrants. Let us pray that a study a year from now reveals that Wyoming has become transformed through a better understanding of scripture, prayer and love and will know that diversity is our strength. Let us join Matthew Soerens in prayer this month for human dignity for immigrants and all who may be different than we are, for we are all made in the image of God.
Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.