Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Faith and Justice Walk Together

by Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ph.D.

Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois ignited a fire in the Bronx this past Monday. On March 15th over five hundred religious and community leaders gathered at the Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) in the Bronx to voice their support for comprehensive immigration reform. An ardent advocate of immigration reform in the House of Representatives, Gutierrez proclaimed, “We will not rest until immigration reform comes,” calling on New Yorkers to march on Washington for immigrant rights.

It is our common humanity that grounds this social struggle. Rep. Gutierrez encouraged the crowd to show compassion for the stranger and love for the neighbor. He said the church is one of the last sanctuaries for undocumented workers, where they are safe from agents who demand to see their papers. “After March 21st the sanctuary movement will permeate the whole nation, moving outside of the four walls of the church,” declared Gutierrez.

The immigration rally, hosted by Dr. Ray Rivera in the LPAC gymnasium, rocked with passionate chants of ‘Sí, se Puede!’ sounds of blowing whistles, beating drums, clapping hands, and hearty cheers, powerfully reminiscent of Barack Obama’s campaign for President. It is clear that there is a robust movement for immigration reform in this country that is growing rapidly.

Rivera urged, “Christians have led in the great moral struggles of history, they worked for the abolition of slavery, they worked for women’s suffrage, and they worked for civil rights. Now it is time to work for immigration reform. We must take the front seat in this justice struggle.” He then led the crowd with Pentecostal passion in a chant of “Fe y justicia marchan juntas” (“Faith and Justice walk together”)

New York is a strategic state in the battle for immigration rights. Senator Charles E. Schumer plays a vital role in the current legislative struggle. New York activists are serious about keeping the heat on Schumer to introduce immigration legislation this month, so there will be enough time for the Senate to debate and pass the measure.

New York City thrives on the cultural diversity and economic strengths of the immigrant community. In a statement sent from Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, she says, “our city’s immigrants and their families must be treated in a way that reflects our appreciation for them. Our immigrants are the backbone of what makes this city a unique place like no other in the world.” Since New York City is being supported by immigrant labor, many New Yorkers think that reform legislation will better support immigrant families and provide a pathway to citizenship for the city’s growing group of immigrant workers.

There was a strong presence or progressive evangelicals on Monday night, including Bishop Hector Bonano of Confraternidad de Lideres Conciliares, Lisa Sharon Harper of New York Faith and Justice, and the Rev. Gabriel Salguero of Latino Leadership Circle.

Rev. Salguero said “Immigration is a moral issue and evangelical Christians will not be silent on this one.” Pastor of the multicultural Lamb’s Church in New York City, Salguero will conduct his worship service on the road this Sunday morning. He says, “This is our moment! This Sunday our worship is going to be on the bus, as we travel to Washington, D.C. to stand up on behalf of millions of immigrants. The church must not just talk prophetically, but walk prophetically.”

This immigration rally was unique because it brought together religious leaders, community leaders, and political leaders, all committed to immigration reform. Representative Gutierrez encouraged all New Yorkers to march, saying “when we look back on 2010, we can look back with pride and self-respect, telling our children and grandchildren that we stood up and marched to Washington on behalf of immigration reform.”

Now is the time for change. As busloads of New Yorkers take off on Sunday morning, March 21st activists around the country will join them on the National Mall, providing a unified witness in Washington for a more just and humane immigration policy.

Peter Goodwin Heltzel teaches theology and directs the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. An ordained of minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is the author of Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American (Yale University Press, 2009).

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