Saturday, July 14, 2007

Create safe, legal way for Immigrants to come to US.

Rev. Laura Westby of the First Congregational Church of Danbury wrote this letter for "Forum on Faith" the weekly religion page of the Danbury News Times Saturday, July 14th edition:

My denomination, the United Church of Christ has sometimes been accused of being too political. The intersection of faith and daily life is clear to us, but we sometimes forget to articulate for others the deep theological roots of our civic engagement.

We understand that the biblical mandate to include radical hospitality and care for all of God's people, especially the poor, the stranger, the homeless, and the oppressed. Since the Devine One has always stood with those on the margins of life, we must do likewise. For us, the real work of ministry takes place in the real world.

Rev. Westby goes on to describe the rich, and long history of Social Action within the US, including very active and groundbreaking roles in the foundation of the American Revolution, Activities in the Abolitionist movement, and the Civil Rights movements in the United States during the Sixties. She even reminds us that we are all originally immigrants to this country.
This commitment reaches back to the settling of our nation by religious refugees, the pilgrims, and puritans, the Forebears of the Congregational Church, a predecessor of the UCC. In 1620, these earliest immigrants were exhorted to be as "a city on a hill"

She continues to explain through examples of historic acts of Civil Disobedience, public demonstration, legal discourse, and in their own decisions as a religious community to support the work of Martin Luther King Jr, electing the first African American Minister here in the US, the first Woman Pastor, and the first Openly Gay Pastor, the UCC has continued its path toward Social Equality, and Justice.
This denominational dedication to issues of Social and Civil Justice have led the UCC to designate Immigration as a primary issue in recent years. Rev. Westby goes on to describe her participation in her denominations discourse on Immigration.
At our most recent biennial meeting, delegates to our national convention continued our historic committment to peace and justice through resolutions dealing with marriage, the environment, workers rights and Immigration. Immigration has been a hot topic in the Greater Danbury area during my three year pastorate here. So I was pleased when I was assigned to the committee of delegates that would take action on three proposed resolutions dealing with Immigration.
One of the key provisions of the resolution calls for churches to engage in dialogue with immigrants, partner with them to support immigrant communities, and end the injustices they suffer in both their home countries, and in the US. This portion of the resolution grew directly out of my experiences in Danbury.

The event of such discourse with Immigrants in the Danbury Community allowed people to feel a connection with the experiences, and hopes of Immigrants. And to reaffirm their common values, beliefs, and aspirations.
As a member of the Association of Religious Community board of Directors, I participated in dialogue with some of the "Danbury 11" We heard their stories of frustrated attempts to enter our country legally. Of having to choose between feeding their families and remaining at home. Of risking their lives for a chance at the blessings we take for granted. Hard questions were asked and answered by both groups. In the process, we began to see one another not as categories like "Illegal Immigrant" or "Anglo" but as fellow human beings.
Looking me straight in the eye, one man said "We want to feed our families, send them to school, and keep them healthy. We want a chance to work, and even pay taxes. We want a better life, just like you

Pastor Westby goes on to exhort members of her specific denomination, but in a larger sense, to all interfaith communities that
Creating a safe, effective, legal way for those seeking a better life in our country which takes into account security issues in our nation, is more than a political dilemma. It is a moral and spiritual one which is best addressed through education, and dialogue, prayer, and service to all Children of the Creator.

I would add that another necessary element toward striving for the "better life" for Immigrants here, would be acts of civil disobedience, and legal actions, similar to those engaged in by the early forefathers of this nation during the era's of the War of Independence, and the era of Abolition. That just as our forefathers did, we must today, take up the cause of our brothers, and march along with them. Defend their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Through discourse, demonstration, and defiance when necessary. And to challenge our government to make brave steps foward in the legalization of all those who come to America seeking a better life.

Kudo's to Rev. Laura Westby for such a well written, and important letter. You can meet, and speak to Rev. Westby at the Interfaith Vigil being organized for August, 12th at 2pm at Kennedy Park in Danbury, as she joins other Area Clergy in Prayer for Tolerance, Peace, and Justice for Immigrants.


UCCtruths said...

If Westby's "radical hospitality and care for all of God's people" were pure and respected as such by other UCC churches, I wouldn't disagree. However, in execution, this radical hospitality is limited to a few.

From my blog at at how one UCC church is responding to the New Sanctuary Movement:

Exploiting the least of these

According to the Ventura County Star, the shelter won't be available to just any illegal immigrant in need, only those "on the verge of deportation, have a strong work history and have children who are U.S. citizens". In other words, only those illegal immigrants who would make a good headline will be afforded shelter.


Why not offer shelter to "for all of God's people" who are in need? Why is just those that will attract media attention?

Anonymous said...

I can see why you would see it that way. I am frustrated too with the lack of a stronger statement from many churches and organizations. However, I try to maintain a hopeful out look, that this is just a small step in the right direction. One of the first steps. I imagine it must be difficult, especially for Congregational churches, due to the structure of being church led, rather than led by heirarchy, to get a concensus on a more strong statement. I do hope the New Sanctuary Movement grows, though, into something more inclusive of all those in need. Incidentally, do you know if Westby has actually advocated the New Sanctuary Movement?