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Faith and Immigration: Getting Beyond the Rhetoric

Faith and Immigration: Getting Beyond the Rhetoric
Melissa Stek (holding the microphone), a justice mobilization specialist with the CRC’s Office of Social Justice, participates in the Nov. 12 Faith and Immigration forum at Northwestern College.
Jason Lief

At Northwestern College, in Orange City, Iowa, about 100 people gathered Nov. 12 for a discussion on immigration presented by Northwestern, the Evangelical Immigration Table, the National Immigration Forum, and the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice.

“We believe that God calls us as his people to continue to seek the welfare of our communities that he's placed us in,” said Mark DeYounge, Northwestern’s dean of Christian formation. “That includes seeking the common good for our neighbors on a personal level as well as on a systemic/macro-level. Immigration right now is gridlocked and thus is deeply and negatively impacting our beloved friends, our neighbors, and our communities.”

To address that gridlock, panelists responded to questions like “What can colleges do to help with immigration?” and “How do we move past the idea that immigrants are coming to steal our jobs?” Tim Breen, pastor of First Reformed Church in Orange City, and Martha Draayer, Northwestern’s Hispanic community liaison, moderated the panel. Melissa Stek, a justice mobilization specialist with the Office of Social Justice, and pastor John Lee of Bethel CRC in Sioux Center, participated as panelists, along with a police department’s public safety director, a city councilor, and a business leader.       

Stek noted that the Office of Social Justice provides “resources to learn about the root causes of poverty, hunger, and oppression, and (the office) empowers the church to call on those in power to improve systems and enact just public policy.” Also encouraging people to “love their neighbor in tangible ways,” Stek shared a handout that detailed “Ten Ways Churches Can Welcome Immigrants.”

Cory Van Sloten, pastor at Lebanon CRC in Sioux Center, said he attended the forum out of an interest in the intersection of faith and immigration, and he wanted “to be further informed about immigration from a Christian perspective that goes beyond the rhetoric of the political left and right and is grounded in God's Word.”

Bob De Smith, professor of English at Dordt University and member of Covenant CRC in Sioux Center, said he learned from the forum that “people who want to follow the rules and do things right can find no good path forward. It leads me to conclude that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) needs to continue and a reasonable path to legal status and citizenship needs to be developed.”

Attendees were invited to sign their endorsement of the Evangelical Immigration Table’s stated principles, which call for policy that “respects the God-given dignity of every person; protects the unity of the immediate family; respects the rule of law; guarantees secure national borders; ensures fairness to taxpayers; and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”

On Nov. 6, the organization issued a renewed call for policy reform that follows these principles. Steve Timmermans, executive director of the CRC, is one of several denominational leaders to have signed the Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform.

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