Written by Daniel Hazard
'In scripture, so many of our great heroes are immigrants'
Lately, demonstrations have been taking place across the country as immigrants stand up to show what a force they are in this country. I am reminded that my own ancestors were at one time immigrants, which is the case for almost all of us.
I am named after my great grandmother, whose people moved from Ireland to Texas to make a new life. On that same maternal side of the family are my Scottish ancestors who came to South Carolina much earlier, and had acquired some wealth by the time my father's side of the family made their way across the ocean to Georgia, to barely eke out a living working on other people's farms. In reading that history it was a noteworthy event when, after a couple of generations, they were finally able to purchase a mule. My husband's last name tells another story of immigration. His family was called "Weeks," because that was the name given to Welsh migrant workers who moved from one place to another, week by week, in search of work.
These stories of immigration are a vital piece of our nation's social fabric, and yet they are not to be romanticized. As we recall the horror of slavery, or the terror of being forced to leave one's land due to political or religious oppression, we must take a moment to stand awestruck at the courage required to begin a new life here.
In scripture, so many of our great heroes are immigrants. From Moses leading his people out of slavery and into economic freedom in the promised land, to the nativity story, in which Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus take off for Egypt, as refugees, on the run from political forces that were beyond their control. Economic, pragmatic and spiritual motivations run throughout the immigration stories of scripture, as they run through the stories of our global community today.
So bear all this in mind as you hear some of the loud talk about immigration legislation these days. Remember that our Bible would have few interesting characters at all if we excluded the immigrants. And doesn't talk of "documented" and "undocumented" seem rather arbitrary in light of the extreme circumstances people faced? Paul himself was a migrant worker for God, spreading the gospel tirelessly in one land and then another, without the sanction of governments, but clearly with the blessing of God.
Laws that would seek to make someone like me, a clergy person, report undocumented immigrants are laws that would place me in conflict with my own faith. They would call upon me to renounce my Christian commitment to welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to the traveler, and would ask me to betray people who are very much like the people I lift up as heroes in my Sunday sermons. And since I believe that we are all related to one another as children of God, here are two things I know: I will not act as an agent for the state over and against the gospel, and I will never refer to another human being as an "alien." For my faith teaches me that my citizenship in God's realm is more important than the shifting national borders of human struggles.
Our denomination is made up of immigrant stories, of pilgrims and reformers who left their homelands to come here, in search of religious freedom and new life. Those immigration stories continue to this day, as congregations grow more diverse, and we in the body of Christ are blessed by new traditions, customs and the gifts of many nations.
Look around your worshipping congregation, and imagine the wealth of immigration stories that are knit together in that holy place. Let's share these wonderful stories with one another, not just because they are interesting, but because they draw us closer to our biblical family, and remind us that there are always new people God is leading from one land to another.
The Rev. Lillian Daniel is the senior minister of First Congregational UCC in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and the author of "Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony" (Alban Institute, 2006).