This is the third in a series of reflections on the Social Messages adopted by the ELCA Church Council over our history. The messages can be found at www.elca.org/socialmessages, and these reflections will be archived at www.montanasynod.org.
In 1998, the ELCA Church Council adopted a social message on immigration. Although it is almost 20 years old, it is remarkably relevant to today's immigration debates. Immigration is not a new issue. It is a faith issue. Scripture is full of admonitions to care for the stranger in our midst. "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:34)
The vast majority of ELCA Lutherans are descendants of immigrants. We are an immigrant church in an immigrant country. Stephen Bouman and Ralston Deffenbaugh write in They are Us: Lutherans and Immigration:
"The United States is one of the few nations in the world-Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some of the Latin American countries also come to mind-that understands itself as a nation of immigrants. America celebrates and symbolizes its immigrant heritage with the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor." (p. 39)
Immigration is not only in our DNA. It is in our story. At the end of World War II, one out of every six Lutherans in the world was a refugee. In 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service started as a way to resettle war refugees. Six thousand Lutheran congregations in the US resettled over 57,000 refugees from Europe. Again, after the Vietnam War, US Lutherans resettled over 50,000 refugees from Southeast Asia. LIRS has expanded its mission from resettling European Lutherans to resettling and advocating for refugees and immigrants wherever there is need. (To learn more about LIRS, go to www.lirs.org.)
There are now more displaced persons in the world than at any time since World War II-60 million is a rough estimate. And yet the political climate in the US has turned against our welcoming stance. It is not the first time that the United States has tried to limit immigrants and refugees. But it is the time we live in. It is the time to be the church at our best.
Our 1998 statement says:
"Immigration, refugee, and asylum policies express who we are as a nation, influence the nation's future character, and affect the lives of millions of people. We encourage our members, in light of our history and our ministry with newcomers, to join with other citizens in our democratic society to support just laws that serve the common good."
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has joined faith leaders from across the globe exhorting us to work and pray "on behalf of those who seek refuge on our shores." She invites congregations and individuals to contact members of Congress to express support for refugees. And she reminds us of the ELCA's AMMPARO strategy with unaccompanied Central American minors, and of our ministry through LIRS. She writes:
"We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation's fundamental values related to freedom of religion."
In 1998 our church stated:
" This is a fitting time for us to examine anew our attitudes toward newcomers, to strengthen out church's ministry among, with, and for the most vulnerable of newcomers, and to continue to advocate for immigration, refugee, and asylum laws that are fair and generous."
It was true in 1998. It is true in 2017.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
From Episcopal News Service: Olympia diocese welcomes refugees, sues to keep resettlement efforts alive
[Episcopal News Service] The federal appeals court ruling Feb. 9 that blocked reinstatement of the Trump administration’s temporary ban on refugee admissions was welcomed by Episcopal Church leaders in Washington, where the Diocese of Olympia is pursuing a separate lawsuit against the president’s executive order.
The diocese helps coordinate the resettlement of 190 refugees each year. Of the refugees now preparing to arrive in the Seattle area, about 90 percent are expected to come from one of the seven Muslim-majority countries singled out in President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which also banned visitors and visa holders from those nations. A federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked his ban on Feb. 6. It was that ruling that the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld on Feb. 9
To read the full article, click here
From our friends at the Progressive Clergy Network of Montana. Interfaith Advocacy March 24th and Human Rights Advocacy Day Feb. 20th
Happy second day in February. This month, we celebrate Black History and the long arc of the moral universe that, we pray, bends toward justice.
I keep returning to the new hymn by Mark A. Miller from his collection Roll on Justice!, a setting of Eric Garner's last words, "I can't breathe." Miller then asks, "how long? How much longer must we wait?" May we continue to work in that impatient urgency for real, enduring justice.
In that spirit, we have a wide variety of opportunities for advocacy and legislative action. I also welcome YOUR input for other issues, actions, or campaigns you'd like to see us take on:
Mark Your Calendars: Interfaith Day of Advocacy on March 24th
We invite you to participate in a reception, interfaith prayer service, and day of advocacy on Friday, March 24th, in Helena with other progressive clergy! Details forthcoming, but please save the date!
You're Invited: Montana Human Rights Network Advocacy Day on Feb 20th
MHRN will host an LGBTQ Lobby Day on Monday, February 20th, including a teach-in and workshops. It's a great way to show clergy solidarity with Montana's LGBTQ community—come if you're able!
Raise Your Voice: Upcoming Issues
Jules sent this a few days ago, but here is a reminder that a few critical pieces of legislation are coming up in our state. Consider testifying, writing a letter, or calling your Senator or Representative. Please let Jules (email@example.com) know if you'd like to raise your voice on any of these, and she'll be in touch.
1) Paid Leave: Currently, there are no protections for employees in the instance of extended illness, caregiving for parents, childbirth, or bereavement. The United States remains the only industrialized economy in the world that does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers or a paid sick leave standard, and one of a handful that does not guarantee leave for new fathers. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides job security but does not allow employees to receive any portion of their pay. This bill would create a pool similar to Unemployment Insurance, that asks for shared contribution from employer and employee. For someone making $40,000/yr, shared contribution would be $7.65. The definition of family is kept intentionally broad to make sure LGBTQ families are included.
Hearing Date: Tentatively Thursday, Feb 9th in the morning
Bill #: LC350
Bill language: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/lchtml/LC0350.htm
More Info: http://www.montanabudget.org/helping-people-balance-work-and-family/
2) Montana Human Rights Act: Would add "sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression" to the Montana Human Rights Act to protect from discrimination.
Hearing Date: potentially third week of February
Bill #: LC1152
Bill language: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/lchtml/LC1152.htm
More Info: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Montana-ND-March-2015.pdf
Thanks, all. I will send out regular legislative updates as they surface! The leadership team has a few updates soon, as well, so please look for another e-mail to come!
Letters & Publications from Faith Leaders Across the State & Region that coincide with MAC's Mission & Work.