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Nov  2014 24
Watching the Immigration Speech in Guatemala

Cheri and I watched President Barack Obama’s immigration speech from our rented condo in Guatemala, after spending the afternoon hearing a Guatemalan friend speak of the worry she faces daily as her two adult children travel back and forth to Guatemala City. Given this context—and the fact that I am a Christian, a seminary president and theologian rather than a constitutional lawyer—I listened to the president’s speech from a different point of view than those who are debating either the politics or the legalities of the executive order. 

While on sabbatical here in Guatemala the last several weeks, I've been reading explorations of the relationship between Christianity and democracy, in preparation for a few public lectures I plan to give sometime this upcoming spring. I’m moving slowly (a “close reading” as so named in scholarly circles) through Professor Jeffrey Stout’s Democracy and Tradition. Stout’s book engages in a really fine argument about democracy as a tradition, about pluralism as a consequence of multiple religious authorities rather than a turn away from religion, and about religious people’s right and democracy’s need for religious people to bring their religiously-informed arguments into public debate. Stout argues against the positions of stripping out religion and religion’s claims in public argument (John Rawls), or Christian withdrawal from participation in democratic processes because they are but another form of the church serving the Empire (Stanley Hauerwas). In light of Stout’s argument, I wonder what the immigration debate in Congress, or in this majority Christian nation, might be if each legislator who identifies as a Christian brought faith claims into the picture as we talk about immigration. At least we might get hospitality, treatment of the stranger, compassion, and justice-as-righteousness on the table—along with border security, rule of law, fairness for those waiting to immigrate legally, and the economic consequences of immigration decisions. 

After the speech, as part of a news story on the grand jury deliberations regarding the officer who killed Ferguson teen Michael Brown, Jr., CNN aired the public service announcement offered by Michael Brown, Sr. He urged people to keep demonstrations peaceful, regardless of the grand jury’s decision, for violence against people and property will not be productive. Earlier in the day, I read the warnings issued by several elected officials if President Obama indeed issued an executive order regarding immigration. The words used by the officials, including a U.S. senator from Oklahoma, were “anarchy,” “violence” and “ethnic cleansing.” I deeply appreciate Michael Brown Sr.’s statement, which indicates he gets that the right words spoken by the right person at the right time can constrain or encourage future action.

It continues to stun me, though it no longer should, that our public officials use incendiary language that both encourages mentally unbalanced people to fulfill their predictions and prepares the rest of the citizenry who agrees with them to declare, “See, we told you so.” ALL of our elected officials, regardless of partisan politics, would do well to avoid “bearing false witness” as they formulate or parrot sound bites. Our democracy needs more voices of people who are marinated in the faith claim that human dignity is God-given and inviolable. 

 

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Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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