Time for Immigration Reform
A pastoral letter from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson to rostered leaders
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
- Romans 15:7
July 13, 2010
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
The time has come for immigration reform in the United States. Yes, the issues are complex and not easily resolved. It is understandable that people are wary of engaging this politically and emotionally charged issue.
Yet it would be tragic if we withdrew as people of faith and our voices fell silent. We have an opportunity for evangelical witness to our faith in God who is present in the stranger and calls us to extend hospitality. "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:7 NRSV).
The biblical witness is clear. The distinctions that so often divide humankind are overcome in Christ. By grace through faith on account of Christ we are joined together in a radically inclusive community. "For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28).
Because God mercifully extends gracious hospitality in restoring us to community, we have a clear calling. That call is heard in God's command to the people of Israel, "You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. ... Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house" (Deuteronomy 10:19; 26:11).
Most, but not all, Lutherans in the United States are the descendants of immigrants or are recent immigrants. Others are descendants of slaves brought to this country or people who lived here before the arrival of the first Europeans and Africans. Our personal histories and faith stories are of an immigrant people moving in search of freedom, opportunity and safety.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is being renewed by the faith and witness of new and recent immigrants. This year 23 of 41 new ELCA ministry starts will be in immigrant communities, and more than 100 African national ministries have begun in the past three years.
We cannot welcome people into the ELCA, however, without caring about their lives, their concerns and their experiences as newcomers in this country. For that reason the ELCA repeatedly has affirmed the biblical witness and our shared experience, culminating in an affirmation by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly "that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) are committed to work toward comprehensive [immigration] reform that balances respect for the law with the recognition of due process and respect for humanitarian principles." Stating that "the nation's immigration system is broken, and Congress and the administration must work together to find a just and humane solution while assuring orderly migration," LIRS identifies four foundational values for immigration reform:
- keeping families together
- maintaining basic human and worker rights
- helping our new neighbors come out of the shadows
- seeking a path to permanence for our new neighbors
As you serve in your communities, I commend to you resources for study and action (Toward Compassionate, Just, and Wise Immigration Reform
 and other resources
), the voices of immigrant families and believers, and the witness of the Scriptures.
The concluding words of the Message on Immigration
(1998) remind us "that all of us in the Church of Jesus Christ are sojourners, 'For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come' (Hebrews 13:14). As we journey together through the time God has given us, may God give us the grace of a welcoming heart and an overflowing love for the new neighbors among us."
In God's grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America