For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. — Matthew 25:35
How should Christians respond to proposals for tighter immigration restrictions? For a border wall? For ending DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)?
How will Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church respond?
A new task force will lead the congregation in answering these questions.
Moderated by FAPC members Ken Henderson and Lane Maurer, the Task Force on the Faithful Engagement of Immigration, Refugees and Sanctuary Issues has begun a period of in-depth study that will eventually lead to education forums for the congregation and a set of recommendations to the Session on church policies and actions.
"The plight of people who leave their homes and their homelands (both voluntarily and involuntarily) because of economic hardship, natural disasters, political turmoil and violent conflict is arguably the biggest challenge we face in the world today," says Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston.
The United Nations estimates that there are currently 65 million displaced people in the world. These numbers include 2.1 million refugees from Syria living in Turkish camps; American citizens living in shelters in Florida because they cannot yet return to their flooded homes; and 400,000 Rohingyan villagers who have fled from violence in Myanmar in recent weeks.
"Ever since I was a kid, I understood church as a sanctuary, as a safe place to go," Ken says. "For FAPC, as one of the nation’s leading churches, there are all kinds of things we can do. It’s timely and appropriate for us to study these issues."
"This is an opportunity to respond to the Biblical mandate to welcome the stranger," Lane says. "I would love to see FAPC continue to lead in helping people find refuge, just as we did when we created the David B. Skinner Shelter more than 30 years ago."
Assistance to refugees and immigrants resides deeply in FAPC’s history. In the 19th century, the church established mission churches in impoverished neighborhoods throughout the city in part to help immigrant communities. FAPC also has helped refugee families—such as the Urbays, from Cuba, in the early 1960s, and recently the Sharifs, from Pakistan—resettle in the U.S.
Osanna Urbay, who was an infant when her family arrived in New York in 1966, is a member of the task force, along with fellow FAPC members Jessica Carmona, David Clark, Jane Hong and Mark Tomasko.
The task force is beginning its work with a consideration of Scripture. From there, it will move on to the historical and cultural roots of U.S. immigration policy, before tackling contemporary debates such as the sanctuary movement and the resettlement of refugees.
"The Bible has strong and virtually univocal opinions about how we should treat people from another culture, of another faith or of a different race," Scott says. "The question becomes, how are we to live out these ethical commands in the midst of current political and geopolitical realities?"
If you are interested in learning alongside the task force, here are three suggestions:
- Read Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective. This recently published book by Wheaton College professor Mark Amstutz is the core text for the FAPC task force. Amstutz argues for an approach to the complex immigration debate that is solidly grounded in Christian political thought.
- Check out the Love Welcome symposium. On Oct. 20-21, First Presbyterian Church in New York is hosting a faith-based forum on supporting LGBTQ refugees. With participation by the Office of Immigration Issues of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations, the event promises useful background on immigration and refugee issues. For details and registration, go to fpcnyc.org/lovewelcome/.
- Mark your calendar for Dec. 3. The task force hosts its first Adult Education program to engage the congregation in conversation about immigration, refugees and sanctuary. Details to be announced. The event is set for 12:30 pm in the Corning Logan Room.
"Today, many of the most important conversations in the public square are conducted with such acrimony and anger that it seems almost impossible to move forward together to tackle crucial issues," Scott says. "We have a chance to model a very different sort of conversation at FAPC. I am confident we are up to the task."
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