A new law in Arizona that addresses undocumented immigrants is revealing a fault line within Mennonite Church USA. It also provides an opportunity for us to reason and listen together when we disagree with each other.
Because of the decision to hold the 2013 Mennonite Church USA Convention in Phoenix, strong voices are calling for the Executive Board to cancel the contract. Doing so could cost $300,000 or more, according to Executive Leadership. But if people who would normally attend a convention boycott the Phoenix location, then the convention could suffer even greater losses.
However, the money is minor compared with other significant issues among us. Some of us think the only just way to respond is to leave Phoenix, as many of our Hispanic sisters and brothers are asking. Some of us see virtue in Arizona’s new law and will feel like those passionate about justice are once again ignoring a more politically conservative perspective.
Many of us who enjoy white privilege in this culture will be genuinely puzzled why undocumented residents should not be deported. Underrepresented racial/ethnic members of our church —especially Hispanics—will once again be frustrated if many white members decline to immediately stand in solidarity with the wishes of those most affected by the new law.
As Mennonite Church USA begins the debate about whether to pull out of Phoenix, I start with the conviction that we should be willing to lose $300,000 rather than the people who would not or could not attend because it is in Arizona.
But as the calls for a boycott emerge in other denominations and grow across the country, I can already see some important counter-arguments to consider.
“The boycott will only extend our recession by three to five years and hit those who are poorest among us,’ said United Methodist bishop Minerva Carcano of Phoenix, the first Hispanic woman to be elected bishop in her denomination. Carcano was quoted in a May 26 Religion News Service article by Eleanor Goldberg entitled “Churches Tread Carefully on Arizona Boycott.’
Goldberg also reported that a group of Episcopal bishops decided to hold their meeting in Phoenix and “use the opportunity to stand in solidarity with immigrants” there.
There is a second complication to consider. At least 12 other states are considering laws similar to Arizona’s. One of those states is Pennsylvania. Depending on the outcome of the fall election, that state may have a similar immigration law on its books just as many of us head to Pittsburgh for the 2011 Mennonite Church USA Convention.
But for now, all Mennonite Church USA leaders can do is focus on Arizona and whether to pull the 2013 convention from Phoenix. According to a May 5 release, Yvonne Diaz, executive director for Iglesia Menonita Hispana, shared her disappointment in a letter to church leaders.
“I grieve the effects of this law on our Latino congregations and all Latinos in the United States,” Diaz wrote. “At the same time, I also have hope that Mennonite Church USA will rise to the task of supporting immigrant brothers and sisters. Let’s use our creativity to figure out how this can be a teaching moment for the whole church.”
If we apply such creativity to the current question, then the counsel and wishes of those in our church who are immigrants—from any country— should weigh the heaviest as we pray, listen and reason together.