This week, a group of 150 Christian leaders committed to the ministry of reconciliation in their churches, communities, schools, and organizations gathered at Duke Divinity school to explore how the church can be more present and engaged in the struggle of racial brokeness that exists in the world. It was convened by the directors of the Duke Center for Reconciliation; Chris Rice, who walked and worked in the struggle with John Perkins’ son, Spencer Perkins, in Mississippi for years; and Father Emmanuel M. Katongola, a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda, who is also on the faculty of the Duke Divinity School.
As the faculty prepared for our week of teaching and learning together, it became very clear that to spend time here in the United States talking about the new journey of reconciliation we are dreaming of in the world, we must address one of the most pressing issues of racial strife, and human rights in our nation’s history: immigration.
Through the leadership of CCDA and Sojourners board member, Mary Nelson, and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, a young radical, author, and leader in the new monastic movement, we worked together to create a process of education, engagement, and enlistment with the faculty and attendees of this amazing institute.
The culmination of this process--of sharing stories about our immigrant brothers and sisters suffering through deportations and gross discrimination, sharing facts and information about our current broken immigration system (facts which many had never heard before), and of spending time over meals and in small groups to talk, dialogue, and even vent about what our response as Christians should be--was the invitation to sign what we are calling the Durham Declaration on Immigration and the Church. Over 100 attendees have signed this declaration, and the rest of the men and women present have had an opportunity to at least consider this issue in a new way.
We share this document praying and hoping that it may help others searching to find a Biblical response to our current immigration situation find new insight, new inspiration, or new courage to enter into the pain of millions of men, women, and children created in the image of God in a new way.
It is also my deepest prayer that love, respect, and grace would be embraced in all of our efforts to turn the hearts and minds of our fellow church members and Americans to become allies in our struggle to imagine a new immigration policy for our nation.
Durham Declaration on Immigration and the Church
Believing that God’s people are shaped by memory to imagine new possibilities, we refuse conformity to this world’s systems and commit ourselves to concrete practices of God’s beloved community.
• We remember that our father Abraham was called to leave his homeland and live as a sojourner in a strange land (Genesis 12:1).
• We remember God’s instruction to our fore-parents after their liberation from slavery under Pharaoh: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).
• We remember Jesus teaching that we welcome him when we welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35).
• We remember that those of us who are Gentiles by birth were at one time “excluded from citizenship in Israel” (Ephesians 2:12), but that we are now citizens of God’s kingdom by grace.
• We remember the early church’s experience of showing hospitality to strangers and “entertaining angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
• We remember that this land now called the United States of America was once home to indigenous peoples who were displaced by European conquest.
• We remember that the peoples who now live on this nation’s southern border practiced seasonal migration for generations before the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
• We remember that the injustice of racial inequality in this country demanded both civil disobedience and legislative reform in the Civil Rights movement.
Shaped by these distinct memories in this particular place, our eyes are open to the plight of immigrants and “undocumented” workers.
• We recognize that many who are considered “illegal” by our nation’s laws are our brothers and sisters in God’s family.
• We recognize and celebrate the gifts that our brothers and sisters from Latin America bring into the Christian family.
• We recognize the suffering of families who are presently being separated by arrests and deportation.
• We recognize a gap between this nation’s business practices and its immigration policy that creates a space beyond the rule of law where modern day slavery is accepted and overlooked.
• We recognize an urgent need for acts of hospitality, solidarity, and advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform in this country.
Seeing these things, we are compelled to say no and stand against ideas and practices that are hurting our brothers and sisters.
• We refuse to accept a wall on this nation’s southern border as a solution to the challenges presented by immigration.
• We refuse to let any law prevent us from welcoming brothers and sisters and offering to them from our own resources those things which are required for health and well-being.
• We refuse to let political persuasions, be they conservative or liberal, trump our Christian identity.
• We refuse a cynical concession to the economic necessity of labor that allows immigrants to be here without welcoming them as equals.
Because our refusal is grounded in hope that a new creation is possible, we recommit ourselves to practices that build the beloved community in the places where we live, shaping a place where all people can enjoy together the life we were made for.
• We recommit ourselves to the practice of hospitality as we welcome brothers and sisters into our homes and congregations without regard to their immigration status.
• We recommit ourselves to the practice of listening as we pay attention to the stories of those who have died in the desert, who have suffered modern day slavery, who have been separated from family by deportation, who are denied education and other services, who live in daily fear.
• We recommit ourselves to solidarity with undocumented brothers and sisters in our daily lives, believing that when they weep, we must weep, so that when they celebrate, we too can celebrate.
• We recommit ourselves to advocacy for legislation that will make it easier for people to live together peacefully in this country.
• We recommit ourselves to a vision of the beloved community, rooted in God’s vision of new creation, that gave life to the Civil Rights movement and continues to inspire God’s movement toward justice and peace in the world today.
We the undersigned make this declaration together and invite others to join us in the proclamation and practice of the good news of reconciliation through these concrete steps:
• Pray and ask your congregation to pray for new imagination about the challenge outlined here.
• Write to your representatives in Congress and tell them immigration reform is a priority for you as a citizen.
• Support the Dream Act as the most achievable next step toward achieving comprehensive immigration reform.