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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He is recently retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC


Bishop Will Willimon: An Open Letter on Immigration

June 14, 2011

As Patsy and I have traveled about the [North Alabama United Methodist] Conference to witness the work of our churches in storm recovery many pastors have told us of their frustration that Spanish-speaking friends in the hard hit areas have been reluctant to take help from the church because they were afraid of possible reprisals from the state.

We thought this sad and hoped their fears were unfounded.

Then our state passed the meanest immigrant legislation bill in the nation.

The bill is an embarrassment to our state and does not represent the spirit of hospitality of our churches.

While I'm confident that the bill will be overturned I am proud that a number of our Methodists - those committed to evangelism and mission - are speaking up in the name of Christ to oppose this ill conceived bill that does nothing to help our state and does great harm to our sisters and brothers.

Many of our clergy plan to sign the following letter that will be sent to the governor, legislators and local newspapers. We also invite all United Methodists to attend an ecumenical prayer vigil on June 25 at 6:30PM at Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. At the vigil we will pray for those affected by this new law as well as voice our opposition. In the coming months, we will also call for open dialogue concerning this law, our faith, and it's implications.  For information on these opportunities, please check the conference website soon.  

Will Willimon

An Open Letter to Governor Robert Bentley, Senator Scott Beason, and Representative Micky Hammon:

Forty-eight years ago, while sitting in a Birmingham jail cell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that, just as Christians have a moral duty to obey just laws, they also have a moral duty to disobey unjust ones. We are a group of United Methodist ministers from all across the state of Alabama who believe that HB 56 is an unjust law. Both proponents and opponents of the bill have described HB 56 as the "toughest immigration law in the country." Among other measures to halt illegal immigration, it gives police the ability to stop anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" may be here illegally. It requires schools to verify the immigration or citizenship status of students. It denies bail to anyone arrested for being here illegally. And, it makes it a crime for a citizen to associate with someone who is here illegally, whether that be inviting them to one's home or church or giving them a ride in a car. 

We know that many who support this law are well-meaning individuals who are seeking to find the state's best interest at heart: they are people who are worried about employment in this fragile economy and some feel that the state is strained to pay for services like health care, police and fire protection, and education for those who may be here illegally.   

These are all valid concerns.  We believe, however, that many elements of this law are not in the state's best interest. Teachers and principals are already stretched thin and have suffered tremendous budget cuts. Requiring them to also verify the immigration status of students will, in all likelihood, cost rather than save money and can only distract them from their most important task: preparing our children to succeed. Prohibiting bond to people who are here illegally means that more and more people will be kept in jails that are already overcrowded and understaffed. Finally, this law will most certainly be challenged in court and could cost the state millions of dollars at a time when nearly every state board and agency must accept budget cuts in this economy. 

As Christian ministers, however, we not only believe that this law is not in the state's best interest, but we also believe it contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith. Scripture is filled with examples of God's people wandering as "aliens and strangers."  In the Old Testament, God reminds the people, "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21)." Jesus told parables about people like the Good Samaritan - someone who was not considered a true Jewish citizen - stopping to help a battered and beaten man while the leaders of the people passed him by. And the apostle Paul taught us that in Christ there is "no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)." 

We believe that God's call for the United Methodist church is to be a church for ALL people, to be in ministry to ALL people. HB 56 would define many of our churches and many people in our churches as lawbreakers. United Methodist across the state welcome all people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, to our churches, activities, and programs. Many of our fastest growing churches are Spanish-speaking, and we do not check people's immigration status at the door. In response to Jesus' admonition in the parable of the Last Judgment to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger, many churches have ministries to care for those who are poor by providing them with food, shelter, and transportation. Again, we do not check people's immigration status before inviting them into our church vans and cars.  We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same. 

In Christ's Peace,

 

By: William H. Willimon On 6/13/2011

[Reposted by permission.]

 


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