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Immigration and the Church

While people across the country debate Arizona’s recent immigration law, a coalition of local religious groups has been quietly talking about the issue since early January. Prospects for federal immigration reform are uncertain, but they intend to keep pushing—even if means working until next year or beyond. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.


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Early on Saturday morning, about 30 people gather in a classroom at Christ Church Presbyterian in Bellaire. Before the session begins, Rev. Mark Cooper leads the group in prayer.

“We thank you, oh God, for how you have continued to look, not to the rich and the powerful but to those at the bottom, those who are wandering.”

The workshop is one of a series being run at over 30 religious congregations across the Houston area. It’s part of a campaign spearheaded by The Metropolitan Organization, a consortium of churches and synagogues that work together on social issues. Today, the group will hear from Rabbi Mark Miller of Congregation Beth Israel, on the Bible and migration.

“There’s a major theme of wandering to be found in the Bible, all the way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which starts a life of wandering, Abraham leaves his home on a journey, the Exodus. Over and over this theme of leaving home and going somewhere else.”

“So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to till the soil from which he was taken.”
Both clergy understand that using the Bible to talk about policy can be controversial. But Rev. Cooper says that the Bible is a good starting place for talking about the moral and human effects of immigration. Rabbi Miller says that religion gives people a way to think about the issue, without demanding they vote one way or another.

“Religion doesn’t have the answer on these issues, religion gives us a background and a way to think about it.”

“More than 36 times in the Torah, we are commanded to include, protect, support, and even love the stranger in our midst.”

Following the lead of many national religious bodies, the local heads of several denominations, Christian and Jewish, have signed the Houston Interfaith Statement on Immigration Reform, which calls for creating a legalization process for undocumented immigrants, among other principles. The TMO congregations have held workshops, collected signatures, and met with legislators. Christ Church congregant Amy Gremillion came to the workshop because she supports this effort.

“We have to start demanding immigration reform, because our leadership is not going to take it on themselves. And I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to do here, in build grassroots support.”

But not everyone does agree with that reading of the Bible.

“The way I look at it is, those comments apply to people who are sojourning throughout society who belong there.”

John Varvaro is a parishioner at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Meyerland area. He’s one of the few in his congregation who is openly questioning the Church’s teaching on immigration.

“You can look at other verses in the Bible that will, in my mind, shed light on the reality of what’s going on. You don’t just have people just do whatever they want, and disregard the people’s laws where they’re at.”

Deacon Ed Stoessel of St. Thomas More believes that congregants like Varvaro should be allowed to express their views. But he cautions that they should deeply evaluate their position.

“If you disagree with the Church on an issue like this, then you really need to spend some time trying to understand that.”

Regardless of what happens with federal legislation this year, the TMO congregations intend to keep educating voters and encouraging them to call their congressmen on the issue. They see this as a long term battle over values and morals, as well as facts and figures.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.