The church’s voice in immigration reform

February 28, 2013

By: Jerad Morey

Minnesota's immigrant population is nationally distinct for its rapid growth, diverse origins, and large number of refugees. For these reasons, Colleen Beebe of the Simpson Center for Servant Ministries believes Minnesotans should be especially equipped to discuss topics related to immigration.

Rev. Chad Gilbertson of Willmar United Methodist Church believes the time has come for immigration reform and that the church is well positioned to act.

Both Beebe and Gilbertson will be preparing Minnesota United Methodists to learn, reflect, and act in welcoming love in the coming months.

On April 27, Bishop Bruce Ough will preach and Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society will speak at “Emerging Issues in Immigration,” a conference led by the conference Church and Society Team at Centennial United Methodist Church (1524 County Road C2 W., Roseville).

“The time to act [for immigration reform] is now,” says Gilbertson, “and the United Methodist Church is ready to take the lead.” Citing national activities, he says “as a denomination, we are organized for action. Becoming educated, building relationships, and boldly acting are things we can all do.”

When first appointed to Willmar in 2007 Gilbertson met a man who led a Hispanic worship service and they became fast friends. Four months later, federal immigration agents began a four-day, house-to-house operation in town, detaining 49 undocumented immigrants. Following the raid, Gilbertson’s friend told him about “the fear and anxiety that resulted from the presence” of agents. He spoke of friends afraid to go back to work and children afraid to go to school “for fear of being stopped and questioned by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”

“It was then,” says Gilbertson, “that I decided to do something.” He helped create annual conference legislation calling congregations to study immigration issues and a DVD-based study guide called “Who is America? Immigration and the Call to Hospitality.”

As the conference's refugee/immigration coordinator, he has attended national trainings and presented at the School of Christian Missions. In his mission field he has led prayer vigils, engaged state politicians, and recently completed a process to develop a better understanding of culture, inclusivity, and community transformation in his congregation. At the April event at Centennial, Gilbertson will present on “Immigration and the Bible.”

Misperceptions cause divisions

Beebe, who also directs the Park Avenue United Methodist Church Walk-in Legal Clinic, is connected to immigration as a “third-culture kid” who accompanied her parents into another society and as the spouse of a Peruvian immigrant. Beebe has served as executive director of the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota.

Now she brings her experience to a different coalition of Minnesota United Methodists planning workshops, vigils, and advocacy for immigration reform throughout the coming year (pending grant approval from GBCS).

“Many Minnesotans, including those within the United Methodist Church, have misperceptions about immigrants. These misperceptions have caused division among us,” she wrote in the grant application. She hopes this year we can take a step toward healing.

Like Gilbertson, Beebe believes immigration reform is imminent. Since it is likely that some kind of reform will pass, Beebe says that faithful voices are more important now than ever in shaping what that reform will be. She urges people to contact their legislators in support of “laws that reflect our values.”

The United Methodist Church addresses immigration policy through its Social Principles. Gilbertson cites from paragraph 162H of the 2012 Book of Discipline: “We recognize, embrace and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God” and Resolution 3281, which calls United Methodists to denounce xenophobic or racist reactions against migrants and advocate for the comprehensive reform of the US immigration system.

Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @Jerad.

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