A central question raised during the premier screening of “Gospel Without Borders” in Little Rock, Ark., concerned how goodwill Christians can be a soothing breeze in the face of a strong and tumultuous anti-immigration tide.
The new EthicsDaily.com documentary, which presents stories in five states that identify various elements of the immigration issue (from heartbreaking to inspirational to thought-provoking), provided the launching point for a discussion at New Millennium Church on Sept. 13 among an audience of about 75 people, plus three panelists, each of whom was featured in the documentary.
“Make sure every elected official knows of your position on the issue,” said Paul Charton, an immigration attorney in Little Rock, in answer to an audience question about what people can do to effect change in thinking and policy. “The other side is so loud that our side is not getting heard. … The other side screams and frightens our legislators.”
“Any politician worth his salt will listen to a constituent, even if all they can give you is five minutes,” said Charles Crutchfield, bishop of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. “Try to meet with them. Even if they say no, they know someone in their district or one of their constituents is concerned about what they think on the issue.”
“Christians need to step into the breach to provide services not provided otherwise,” said Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock.
Crutchfield noted that change often occurs in society and politics from grassroots efforts of common people working locally for the common good.
“Big institutions wait on the folks at the top to deliver,” he said. “It’s like waiting on the mama bird to come to the nest to poke food in their babies’ mouths. Change can happen when people at the bottom-most level become consensus builders and citizens and take it on their own to solve problems. There really has to be a fire in the belly at that level for deep change to occur.”
“What happens has to happen in local congregations and parishes,” Crutchfield continued. “What happens in this church can make a difference.”
In making his case for a nondiscriminatory approach to immigration, Taylor says he goes to the roots of American democracy.
“I love to quote the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “Everyone is created equal. They have inalienable rights from the Creator. That’s a higher law. The right to life defined in the document includes the right to the necessities of life. It raises the question that when it becomes necessary for people to obtain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they have a right to emigrate. When a state infringes on those rights, it’s an unjust law.
“You can use the Bible to make the same arguments,” said Taylor, “but for an American audience, it’s helpful to use documents from our civil law that all Americans consider foundational to our country and how we are supposed to treat people.”
“Immigrants are easy scapegoats,” said Charton. “It’s the idea that many of our problems and social woes are due to the action of those lawbreakers, so let’s go get them.”
Taylor said a growing population of Hispanics and other ethnic groups who are naturalized citizens will eventually reverse the conversation.
“There’s a generation of voting citizens coming up who will remember how their parents were treated,” he said. “When they are 18 years old, they will have the opportunity to vote and will vote to change society. People in political life tend to be just focused on the next election. The voting population is going to change a lot. This will get resolved, but the question is how much grief and pain will we have to go through to do it.”
As a proactive way to get information on a different perspective out, Taylor said that DVDs of “Gospel Without Borders” are being sent to every Roman Catholic bishop in the United States. He also said he will distribute the DVD to every priest in every parish in his diocese, recommending that they use the DVD over four weeks during Lent next year.
The DVD can be purchased by any individual or group for similar use. Included in the DVD is a short version of the documentary (31 minutes) designed to be used with a panel discussion. Also included is a longer version (54 minutes) designed for a four-week study. Free discussion guides are available for each version.
The documentary is designed to facilitate thoughtful discussion.
In the face of harsh rhetoric that often develops during conversations on immigration, Taylor reminded the audience to offer love.
“We need to lift the fear,” he said. “We all share the same burden of a broken condition. We all have our blind spots. We don’t need to demonize people. We need to love people, ugly and all.”