Love over fear: the church's response to immigration
On a quiet Thursday night with voices low, people began to trickle into the dimly lit lecture hall. They milled around, then slowly began to fill the seats. They had come together hushed and reserved to discuss one of the most divisive issues in America today, and most importantly, the church's response to it: immigration.
Four speakers took a seat at the School of Religion Roundtable: Rolando Cuellar, associate professor of intercultural studies, David Ramirez, field director for Latin America for the Church of God World Missions, Jonathan Augustine, the Central Europe East and the Balkans Regional superintendent for the Church of God and Daniela Augustine, assistant professor of theological ethics, who was the host to the panel discussion. Each contributed their own experiences, some as immigrants themselves, as scholars and as missionaries who continue to work with the Church of God in countries all around the world.
According to the Pew Research Center there are over 40 million immigrants who live in the United States.
Faced with the current climate of the presidential race, the church must find its answer to where it will stand when it comes to immigration.
Alexandria Morrison, a junior who attended the roundtable, knows what she hopes the church will do.
'I want to respond in love and compassion, because at the end of the day, everything else seems to be irrelevant; everything else seems to fall short in bringing God's kingdom here on earth,' Morrison said. 'God's kingdom is diverse, and God's kingdom is one of compassion and one of stubborn love.'
Daniela said the scripture lays out very clearly the calling of the church.
'We have to be mindful the scripture compels us;the tradition of the church compels us, we continually have to embody as an expression of God's own love for the other or the different,' Daniela said.
Daniela said immigrants can often be seen as the other. Hispanics and Latinos currently make up the largest minority group in America.
In 2015 the Pew Hispanic Center estimated about 50 million Latinos and Hispanics live in the United States, making up 18 percent of the nation's population.
Though Hispanics make up the largest group of immigrants in America, Cuellar said many churches are missing the opportunity to connect with them.
'The presence of Latino immigrants and other ethnic groups is an unprecedented opportunity to spread the gospel,' Cuellar said.
An opportunity, Cuellar said, the American church has failed to embrace to its fullest.
However, this isn't simply an American problem. Many refugees and displaced people have fled to places like Europe and Chile.
From Mexico, to Latin America and Brazil, Ramirez said many people from these countries are suffering from displacement.
Ramirez said many people from Latin countries fled from intense persecution and violence in hopes of reaching America, which they saw as a kind of heaven on earth compared to the violent crime they were facing back in their home countries.
Ramirez stresses, that for the church, the law of the state should come second to the belief and dedication Christians have to the church's laws.
Jonathan said unfortunately this isn't the first time the American church has acted out of fear before their love for people.
Jonathan said because the American church is afforded freedom of religion and the privilege of a place in society, it has become seen as a right that must be protected at all costs, even if the cost means at the expense of preaching the gospel to the lost.
Because the American church is comfortable, it can forget that comfort is not a right given to them by God, instead, it is simply the product of living in the U.S., where Christians are not being persecuted for their faith, Jonathan said.
'When material prosperity and copious consumption is equated with the favor of God, and also becomes a Christian right,then whatever threatens our prosperity, and the enjoyment of it safely, is automatically seen as from the devil,' Jonathan said. ' This means, to protect this new-found 'right' is justified, even if that means endorsing persons who violate the minimal standards of honor, integrity and decency."
However blessed the American church is Jonathan said this does not erase the responsibility it has to immigrants and refugees who are in need.
'How and why they got here is irrelevant from the great commission perspective, they are here now. The only question is if you or I are faithfully presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to them,' Augustine said.