The complexities of our world intensify every day. Simple issues of the past are far removed. Black is no longer black, but many hues of gray. The world Norman Rockwell painted no longer exists. Our country faces difficult issues that strain our very core as we seek to address them. Perhaps no concern causes greater turmoil than the subject of immigration.
America is an immigrant nation. Our history is filled with the stories of thousands who sailed from faraway places, arrived on Ellis Island and entered their names on the list of multinational peoples desiring a new life in a new land. They longed for the embrace of the Statue of Liberty, believing this great country provided the best opportunity for their families. Most of us can trace our heritage to these brave men and women.
The harsh realities of beginning again in America soon became apparent-stark living conditions, menial jobs, poor health care and prejudice. Yet, they paid the price. Many sacrificed, saved and risked everything to provide a better way for their children. Some-through hard work, invention and ingenuity-clawed their way from poverty to wealth. Most in succeeding generations became middle-class citizens and consistent contributors to America. We are better because they came.
Immigration is not so simple today. The entry point is not an ocean, but a river. Most come from Mexico. Some have entered legally. Others have come into our country illegally. Like the immigrants before them, the vast majority come seeking a better life for their families. They live in harsh conditions, take menial, difficult and dirty jobs, and exist with poor health care. There is little doubt they face much prejudice.
In contrast to those who entered through Ellis Island, many of today’s immigrants are here unlawfully. This issue is like a raging forest fire among us. Lines have been drawn. All of us have an opinion regarding their right to stay in America. I wish I had some epiphany that would straighten out this whole mess. I don’t. My guess is that Baptist people have all sorts of opinions as to how this crisis should be settled. On Nov. 1, Oklahoma immigration laws, which are some of the toughest in the nation, took effect. The impact of these laws will be revealed in the days ahead.
How should the Christian community respond to these regulations and the people affected by them? First, we must continue to serve all people whether documented or undocumented. We must offer a cup of cold water and multiple services regardless of a person’s status. Second, we must offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Third, we should encourage undocumented individuals to abide by the laws of the United States. Fourth, we must be diligent observers of the laws now instituted and fight to revise those segments that are unjust. This is America, and we have a right to be involved in the political process. Fifth, remember that whether illegal or legal, these are people for whom Christ died. They are individuals of worth and we must treat them as such. Prejudice has no place in the life of a Christian.