FIRST GLIMPSE: "I AM Legal!"
Eric Thomsen is the managing editor of ONE Magazine. Send comments and observations about ONE to email@example.com.
"WHERE ARE YOU FROM?"
My casual question is prompted by her lilting accent and unusual name. I am not prepared for her reaction.
Face darkened, she drops her eyes. “I am—how you say—Islam.”
Thinking she has misunderstood, I try again. “But where are you from?”
Her sudden glare and defensive tone indicate I have gone too far. “I am Kurdish...and I am legal!”
Embarrassed, I hastily complete my transaction and leave the store with smoldering, dark eyes burning holes in my back.
During my walk to the car, I ponder the strange exchange. How many times has she answered similar questions only to receive suspicious looks or demeaning comments? My wounded ego screams, “You should have known better!”
My heart replies, “She needs Jesus.”
THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE RAGES around us. “Racial Profiling” has become a catch phrase since 9-11. “Foreigners” are regarded with suspicion, resentment, even hostility. How should the church react to this hostile social climate? Should she join hands with churches that shelter illegal immigrants, refusing access to immigration authorities? Or should the church take a hard line by condemning them as lawbreakers?
One thing is certain. Today’s congregation cannot ignore the situation, hoping it will “go away.” In the short book of Philemon, the Apostle Paul’s interaction with a runaway slave named Onesimus provides helpful guidelines:
Be color (and class) blind. Onesimus and Paul could not have been more different. On one hand, Paul was an influential religious leader, a Roman citizen with friends among the upper echelon of society. In contrast, Onesimus was a slave—a runaway slave. Yet Paul embraced the unlikely friendship. He referred to Onesimus as an adopted son. His actions reflect his statement to the Galatian church, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” God is not in the business of racial profiling. All human hearts look the same to Him. They all need Jesus.
Inquire about citizenship. Don’t misunderstand. We need not concern ourselves with country of origin. Our concern is eternal citizenship. While the U.S. government grapples with immigration, citizenship, amnesty, and assimilation, the church has been granted a marvelous opportunity to introduce millions to the heavenly kingdom.
Keep it legal. Compassion does not negate Christ’s command to “render to Caesar.” Paul sent the young slave back to his master (although he encouraged Philemon to treat Onesimus as a highly-regarded brother). Today’s church must be kind, caring, compassionate...and legal.
The law tells us that churches can feed, shelter or clothe anyone regardless of his or her legal status. However, the church may not hide, hire, or facilitate the actions of lawbreakers without becoming accessories to the crime. Consider the following positive (and legal) actions:
Provide application assistance. The complex, legal process is intimidating to many immigrants. While most churches will not be able to complete the application, they can develop a network of trustworthy lawyers and specialists who will not cheat or misrepresent their clients.
Offer English Classes. One of the highest hurdles in the immigration process is learning the English language. Offer classes and conversation partners for those who cannot afford formal education.
Educate your church. Today’s congregation is bombarded with opinions about the immigration debate. Develop a plan for reaching out to immigrants and work together to effect positive change in the lives of people who face constant scrutiny by a culture growing ever more hostile.