"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Monday, August 2, 2010

That One Question that Haunts us All

By Fidel "Butch" Montoya

Much has been written and discussed about the decision of U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton who ruled that four of the controversial sections of SB 1070 should be put on hold. The controversial sections of the law were blocked by the judge granting an injunction requested by the Department of Justice.

Yet even as opponents of SB 1070 were gratified by the judge's ruling, the essence of the law still remains in force. Governor Jan Brewer said the state would appeal the decision, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Many legal experts feel the state will have a difficult time appealing Judge Bolton's decision, but regardless of what happens next, racial and ethnic profiling will continue to still be a legal issue that Latino and undocumented immigrants will face until this hideous bill is completely thrown out by the courts.

While the injunction prohibited the state from implementing all of the sections of SB 1070, some residents in Arizona felt some relief that the full weight of the law would not fall on the Latino community. Even while many newspapers were reporting that some Arizona undocumented immigrant families were packing up and leaving, some also reported that those who decided to stay behind felt a sense of security that the most critical parts of SB 1070, like having to carry identification documents proving status had been put on hold.

But beyond the legal questions of SB 1070, and implications it still might have on churches and non-profits that help undocumented immigrant families, there remains one troubling question I believe needs to be addressed by Latino Evangelical pastors and faith leaders who support comprehensive immigration reform. It is a question that many church leaders may not want to hear or address, but none the less, it is a question that needs further clarification.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, who is a Latino Evangelical minister, was traveling through Arizona. While visiting with other Latino pastors in Arizona, he tells me, "I could not believe that the whole SB 1070 law wasn't an issue. I even found several pastors that supported it." I have to admit, I felt disappointed like he did knowing that "Hispanic pastors had an anti immigration position."

It is truly a travesty to hear that some Latino pastors in Arizona are supporting laws like SB 1070. It brings up the question that haunts many of us and must be addressed and clearly articulated throughout the fellowship of ministers who belong to Christian organizations that are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.

Many of fundamental reasons we support comprehensive immigration reform are based on Biblical teachings and commandments. There is no question that Latino ministers who are members of these national religious organizations and fellowships should understand their personal and/or political opinions behind the pulpit do not matter.

When they joined and pledged as members of theses fellowships to follow the doctrine of the Scripture that requires us to support not necessarily comprehensive immigration reform, but to support the values that demand that human beings should not be subjected to injustice and verbal, ethnic, and violent harassment.

Deuteronomy 26: 17 & 18 are pledges we made publicly before the Lord, yet it is inexcusable how some pastors simply refuse to acknowledge that in spite of their misguided political beliefs or opinions, they allow their own personal beliefs to over shadow the scripture.

They find personal excuses not to follow what the scripture commands of us and find motive for their lack of compassion and love for the sojourners the Bible commands us to love. (17): "You have (openly) declared the Lord this day to be your God, [pledging] to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His precepts, and to hearken to His voice." (18): "And the Lord has declared this day that you are His peculiar people, as He promised you, and you are to keep all His commandments."

We have legitimate reasons to complain about racial profiling by law enforcement against "our people." But when I hear that there are Latino pastors who support the injustice of SB 1070, who are pastors who live in Arizona, ministering to sometimes undocumented immigrants in their congregation, and who openly join the hate alliances that subscribe to laws that racially profile Latinos and that promote fear, hate, and injustice, I am disappointed by our lack of scriptural consistency.

And, let's be clear it is not just Latino Evangelical pastors and ministers in Arizona who support the efforts of the hate extremists and racists who are dividing our community and country, it is a nationwide issue.

Does the local pastor have the right to disregard the Biblical scripture that so indisputably commands us how we are to teach and preach the Gospel about this issue?

I am not talking about political issues, as much as I am presenting the case for how as ministers we are to present the Biblical scripture and commandments that teach us how we are to treat the sojourner or temporary resident in our land. Political beliefs do not trump the scripture in the Bible. If our political beliefs are contrary to the scripture, and to the guidance given by our national Evangelical leadership, do we have the right to support law like SB 1070 from pulpit?

I know that different denominations have different perspectives on the immigration reform debate and this debate is for those individual denominations to have and make it clear how their beliefs are tied to scriptural teaching and commandments.

My friend stated: "They would defend the law until I helped them understand that they were against the criminal elements that were crossing not all immigrants." There is no question or doubt many pastors are relying on the rumors and gossip they hear from the hate mongers and racists who are promoting laws like SB 1070 across the country.

Officials statements like every "immigrant crossing the border is a drug mule." Silly accusations like "headless bodies" have been found in Arizona by border patrols. When we rely upon the uninformed reporters or governmental officials who help spread these lies, we will end up spreading their racist hate and lies on to our congregation in our churches.

We know about 40% of undocumented immigrants over stay their visas. Others cross the border to be united with their families and find decent job to support them. Others are children brought here at a young age and know no other life except that of an "American," without citizenship or privileges. But the hate monger would have you believe that we are being invaded by criminals and terrorists, only to create fear, panic, and racism. And some Latino pastors are spreading these lies.

Leviticus 19: 33 & 34 verses are not optional. (33): "And if a stranger dwells temporarily with you in your land, you shall not suppress and mistreat him. (34): "But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." Am I taking the scriptures out of context? Where are the commands to hate and malign the undocumented immigrant or temporary resident in our country?

Deuteronomy 19:18 & 19 are very clear on how we are to treat the stranger and sojourners, temporary residents in our land. (18): "He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger or temporary resident and gives him food and clothing. (19): Therefore love the stranger and sojourner, for you were strangers and sojourners in the land of Egypt." Many ministers like to claim that we are not the sojourners in Egypt often referenced in the Bible.

Yet we know full well that Egypt is a type used to signify the world and worldly practices as God's children we journey through life, with some still walking the streets of Egypt. As God's original plan, we were created free from sin, but because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, we are now born into sin. We still have to face the consequences of that disobedience and first sin. But I should not have to explain this, but if I don't someone will claim, "out of context, Brother Butch!"

Deuteronomy 24: 14 & 15 are crystal clear on how we are to treat the stranger or sojourners who are in our land. (14): "You shall not oppress or extort from a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is of your brethren, or of your strangers and sojourners who are in your land inside your towns. (15): "You shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down; for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it; lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you."

These verses are as transparent as they can possibly be. Talk about enacting policies and laws protecting workers and the undocumented worker in our land. These scriptures should be the basic premise where we begin. We should not take advantage of the stranger or the sojourner who is poor and dependent on upon the agreement we made to pay them. A part of this scripture that we often neglect to articulate is powerful and is a possible judgment against us if we neglect to follow God's Word. "Lest he cry against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you."

I pray that we can come together, particularly national religious organizations, denominations, and churches that support comprehensive immigration reform for the right Christian values and begin to educate our pastors on what the scripture commands of us.

We need to create a standard of scriptural values on immigration reform conceived by the church leadership, ecumenical councils, and ministerial fellowships so a consistent message of love, compassion, and justice can be preached from the pulpit with the full assurance that we are indeed preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Vote your political beliefs, but preach the Gospel.

Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H. S. Power and Light Ministries - Latino Faith Initiative. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA - TV Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed to preach in 1972. He serves on the Executive Council for the Hispanic Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

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