Waiting on Immigration Reform: Deferment with Disillusionment or for Discipleship? Guest Blog by Vanessa Carter.
Profe's Intro: What should our proper response be to the deferral of comprehensive immigration reform for yet another year? One answer to that question comes to us this week from Vanessa Carter. Vanessa is the senior data analyst at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, leads Newsong Los Angeles' Justice, Advocacy, and Compassion ministry, holds a Master's in Urban Planning from UCLA and is currently enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary. If Jesus and justice are involved, she's probably there.
With the passing of another year, so passes another round of the immigration reform struggle. With the idealism of my earlier advocacy days already having been worn down by the reality of our politics, these days I've been thinking about a choice: between becoming a little more cynical or taking this in stride with my discipleship as a Christian.
This fall, a professor of mine - Dr. Hak Joon Lee of Fuller Theological Seminary - has made me think more about how God can disciple us through movements for justice. In classes that were part sermon, part mentorship, part lecture, Lee taught us about the theology and ethics of Martin Luther King, Jr. If you ever get a chance, don't miss this class!
Lee presented to us the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example of a God-made movement -- that movement for which Rosa Parks is famous and that moved King from relative obscurity to the national spotlight. It was also where he cut his teeth on practicing a Christian response to racism.
The boycott went on for months - 13 months to be exact. 13 months of walking to work, 13 months of arranging carpools, 13 months of aggression against boycotters. Many weren't deterred, but 13 months of pushback can wear on anyone - especially when other Christians were actively against the boycotters.
Why would our omnipotent and just Lord let the struggle persist? Hadn't the African-American community had enough already? Isn't our Lord on the side of justice? Wasn't this a clear-cut issue? (Turns out, they never are!)
Over these months, mass church meetings were held regularly to encourage the boycotters. Months of worship, prayer, and teaching on reconciliation. Months of drawing closer to the Lord and letting Him craft in their hearts a vision for the Beloved Community. King in his writings reflected on the centrality of teaching about nonviolence and the Beloved Community; that this was about building a new community, not winning a protest. On the first day of integration, the African-American community was ready to board buses with dignity, courage, and nonviolence (even as whites didn't initially but would later respond with violence).
As we're in another season of waiting for another type of integration, I wonder if the Lord is doing something similar. In California we have a certain balm, with our handful of immigrant integration bills that passed through our state legislature this fall: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5009/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1262695. But the wait at the national level is tempting me towards disillusionment.
But stepping back, something deeper may be afoot: hearts are changing in a more Godly direction.
Spiritual deepening is happening among advocates: the Fast4Families has broken the hurried pace of advocacy, drawn attention to our immigrant neighbors, and deepened the faster's own spirituality (see one account, here: http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/12/05/fasting-families-and-immigration-reform). Even the First Family visited the fasting tents. This time of waiting may also be cultivating the hearts of moderates and conservatives on the matter: take Rep. Denham (R-CA) stepping out as the first Republican to support immigration reform. Not to mention the moderates and conservatives who are part of the Evangelical Immigration Table and the Bibles, Badges, and Businesses coalitions.
We need a broad coalition of supporters to pass reform, yes, but we also need to "get it" as a country. As any advocate knows, winning the bill is only half the battle. Implementation will require the hard work and conviction not of just lawmakers and advocates - but of everyday Americans, particularly faith leaders who will set the tone in their communities for how we welcome and incorporate New Americans.
Our hearts need to be there, too.
Dreams deferred certainly do make the heart sick - and don't get me wrong I am sick for the families fighting deportations, hate, and second-class treatment, daily. I have gotten to the point where I get angry each time I see a new petition trying to stay a deportation - because in the Beloved Community, this would not be an issue. We would be done with this, already.
But in the midst of it, how do we draw near to God and let him disciple us? Perhaps there is something more to consider. Perhaps there is a thickness in this waiting - as there is in the most worthy of waitings. The deep-drawn breaths of choosing to trust the Lord amidst the uncertainty of it all.
Waiting. A discipline of special challenge for those with prophetically-bent hearts.
May our waiting be weighty and draw us closer to the heart of God.