This House of Bishops began with Bp. Ian Douglas of Connecticut pointing out that we would be dealing with a seemingly wide array of issues from immigration to gay inclusion. But he suggested they are all tied together in that they are part of the changing context in which we do ministry. So he invited us to ask the basic missiological question of contextual theology. Let me unpack that church jargon. Contextual theology is the study of how doctrines are shaped by the situation in which they arise. Missiology is the part of theology that deals with the mission.
So what is the basic question of mission in our context? Someone (I forget who) made the profoundly important observation that “The church does not have a mission. God has a mission in which the Church participates.” The question then is not what our mission is in this new cultural context. The question is “What is God up to?” We are not the ones changing the context. God is. So what is God doing and how can we cooperate?
Yesterday, we dealt with evangelism in general. Today we dealt the Immigration Reform and evangelism with Latino/ Hispanic people. So immigration:
We all have our stories. One of our Nevada Episcopalians who supports Arizona Bill 1070 tells the story of an American citizen rancher who was killed by a drug dealer who came here illegally from Mexico. My story is different. When I was 25, an undocumented worker, at risk to herself and her family, saved my life from two American citizens who had just robbed me and were bent on killing me. Our stories are bound to shape our attitude.
We did not deal with the issue as theologically as I would wish. The Bible Study was not well focused. The texts were not well chosen. We do not do as good a job as we ought in developing the theology behind our social justice stands. This may be why a the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just reported that a very large percentage of Americans say their political convictions on abortion and same sex relationships are shaped by their religious convictions, but hardly any base their views on Immigration on their religion. Yet, the only references to same sex relationships in the entire Jewish law are in 2 verses of Leviticus (actually one verse repeated) while Leviticus alone commands the welcoming of the alien 37 times. The alien seeking asylum and opportunity is a central theme – going from the wandering Abraham, to his descendants indentured in Egypt, to their escape into Canaan – all the way to the Holy Family – Jesus born in Judah instead of his native Galilee, the flight into Egypt, and so on. We did hear one theological statement that is central. I forget who said it. The alien, the sojourner is the “other” who we must dare to know and befriend if we are to befriend ourselves and know ourselves in Christ. The alien spiritually completes us. We needed to develop that much further.
We noted that no one worries much about immigration during times of prosperity, but during hard times we look for someone to scapegoat. That is a major theological issue. Rene Girard argues that Judaism and Christianity are the great spiritual voices speaking against the human impulse to violent blame shifting. That needed more reflection.
What we did learn were some practical and economic considerations. We have 12 million undocumented workers in the US. The cost of deporting them would be $240 billion dollars. That is the deportation alone. The states would then lose most of the $2.4 billion these people pay in taxes, thereby compounding the fiscal crisis in state government. The cost to state government occasioned by the presence of undocumented workers is less than the taxes they pay; so deportation is a net loss to state governments. Undocumented workers have paid $520 billion dollars into the Social Security system which they will never get back. It goes to support us. Economically, the contributions of undocumented workers are a benefit to middle class citizens with high school degrees, and a detriment only to those who have not completed high school. The HOB media brief for today reported:
“Joe Rubio, senior organizer of the Valley Interfaith Program presented an overview of political and economic issues. ‘This country deals with this issue every 25-30 years,’ he said. ‘The last time was 1986 with the Immigration Control act signed by President Reagan.’ While it provided amnesty, it did not provide a means for people to come into this country. Arizona is the main way into this country from Mexico and noted that frustration is on all sides. Arizona Bill 1070 was the flashpoint and he predicts the situation will get more dangerous. He pointed out: ‘There is no way we are going to be able to deport 12 million people’. . . .Immigrants work mainly in construction, hospitality, and agricultural industries. Underscoring the complexity of the issue of immigration, he pointed out, is that there is a benefit to a younger immigrant population balancing the aging population of the United States. His suggestions for the future: ‘We need to work on comprehensive immigration reform. We need to bring 12 million people out of the shadows. It needs to be bipartisan.’ He said the passage of the Dream Act would be significant if it passed. The story needs to be changed to show that ‘people are willing to come here, work hard and educate their children. Immigration has always changed the way this country worked, but in a positive way.’”
The last time we reformed the Immigration System with the 1986 Amnesty, it was a substantial boost to the economy and was part of the prosperity of the late 1980s. Economists project that comprehensive immigration reform would add $180 billion to our Gross Domestic Product.
The Dream Act is far short of comprehensive immigration reform. It is just a chance for children. The Dream Act offers the undocumented workers’ children who have learned English, graduated from high school, and kept clean records the chance to become citizens so they will be eligible to attend college and receive financial aid. That way they can become more productive citizens, earning more money and contributing more to society.
There is no legislative proposal for “open borders;” nor is anyone in the House of Bishops advocating that. But there are more human and less humane ways to enforce the immigration laws. The call for comprehensive immigration reform is largely an appeal for more humane enforcement and a chance for 12 million people already here to come out from shadows. A basic consequence for the Church is that since the passage of Arizona Bill 1070, church attendance has dropped dramatically because the undocumented workers are afraid to drive. Children live in fear that when they come home from school, their parents will be gone. Such fear presents a moral and spiritual issue for the church to address.
So, back to Bp. Douglas’s question: “What is God up to?” What is God saying to us with the presence of undocumented workers? What is God inviting us to do?