“Change Gonna Come” was one of the staple songs during the Civil Rights era. Immigrants who came to America found the change they were looking for. Now newly arriving immigrants are discovering our society is not as welcoming as they had believed. They wonder when that change will come.
We are in this boat together. Descendants of immigrants from way back — that would be most of us — and recent arrivals are bound together in a common destiny.
Worldwide, more than 200 million people are migrating from one place to another in search for a better life. About a third of them are journeying under severe duress. Newly arrived immigrants are being uprooted because of politics, calamity and violence in their homelands. The current conditions at the U.S. southern border amplify the situation for us.
Our lives are rooted in the history of immigration. Scripture gives an account of the beginning of our faith. God tells Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). He and his household leave, looking for a better place to be.
Like Abram, the current immigrant story is a spiritual and political pilgrimage of humanity faithfully seeking God’s preferred future. People in unsafe and inhumane circumstances leave everything behind. It’s not easy to leave beloved people and familiar places. Migrants move not sure of the present but hopeful for the future.
Many Americans don’t know how to deal with recent immigrants in our midst. Many of us believe immigrants threaten our wealth and good life. Many of us feel a high degree of ownership of who’s allowed access to our community resources.
A government has every right to determine who comes into the country. Yet everyone has the right to migrate to a place of safety.
We often frame immigration issues in terms of partisan politics. I contend it is not a partisan issue, though we are often drawn to that position. The immigration crisis at the U.S. border magnifies the intersection of our political beliefs and our spirituality. Many of us are conflicted between our earthly citizenship and citizenship in the reign of God.
We hear daily reports of the inhumane treatment of immigrants. They are crowded in quarters without adequate facilities and medical care. Some observers report that conditions approximate a concentration camp. There’s an outcry from compassionate people, including people of faith, about the conditions. They feel helpless in the face of a systemic failure to treat migrant people with decency.
The spiritual politics of immigration invite us to move beyond the political hurdles. We are called to be a bridge between the spiritual and political environments. Our Creator demands we live as one, occupying common space.
When we talk about immigration, it’s a test of our politics. Our response is a test of our spirituality. Do we hear Scripture’s call to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)?
Being connected with humanity requires us to take a stand for a moral society. We are called to engage the powers on behalf of immigrants.
It can be difficult to take a stand when we feel uncomfortable. We can’t do it alone. When we tremble at the thought, we rely on our spiritual community to give us courage.
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.