Broaching The Subject
Five years ago, Woodmen Valley Chapel senior pastor Matt Heard posed this question to his congregation: Would anybody in Colorado Springs miss the church if it went out of business?
Dick Siever was in the pews that morning, and the question struck him — in its simplicity, and also as something he'd never considered.
He's the son of a Methodist minister, but had never deeply thought about the church reaching out to those in need: "It was not something that was done in the church I grew up with."
Within months, Woodmen Valley had established the community-impact ministry A Call to Serve, or A.C.T.S. Siever would go on to be the director of community impact.
Through A.C.T.S., the church has established teams that help local low-income families, and the families of those deployed in the armed forces. They provide home repair, foster and adoption care, reading mentors, a mobile food pantry and a mobile kitchen, says Siever.
And they almost certainly are helping undocumented immigrants when they, say, provide food assistance to residents of a Springs trailer park.
"Regardless of their documentation, they live in this community. They have needs. And if we can meet these needs, then we do it," Siever says. "There are 72 low-income mobile home rental units there, and these people are, I would guess mostly undocumented folks, but I haven't asked. They are mostly Spanish-speaking adults. There are 450 people there, 100 youth," he says. "Those kids are U.S. citizens; I don't care where you are in the debate. Those kids are U.S. citizens."
Not one person at the ministry, he insists, cares whether they are documented or not.
However, on the issue of the immigration system, he is quiet. "From a social justice standpoint, we are just blind to that, to be honest to you."
And when the subject is brought up with Woodmen pastor Doug Olsen, he begs out of the conversation, apologizing that he can't discuss the "issue of illegal versus legal arguments, and the theological implications of this dialogue."
This dialogue is happening, though, among evangelicals throughout the country.
A copy of Soerens' book sits on the bookshelf of Matthew Ayers, local ministries pastor at New Life Church. Ayers oversees a free women's health clinic, and says that no woman there will be turned away due to legal status. "We believe our responsibility given in the Bible is clear," he says, "that the church is always called to bless others with the resources entrusted to us."
Ayers points to an interview that Soerens has with Bill Hybels, pastor of the Chicago-based megachurch, Willow Creek. Both Soerens and Hybels posit that the issue should be explored with a lesser focus on politics, and more emphasis on Christian tenets of grace, mercy and kindness for the vulnerable.
"At the national level, evangelical denominations are very interested in the issue of immigration," Soerens tells the Indy, "because most of those denominations have lots of immigrants in them. They are experiencing how dysfunctional our immigration system is."
Soerens is an advocate of "neither amnesty nor mass deportation, but an earned legalization process where people would come forward, pay a fine, and go through a process to earn citizenship."
This is not a new idea. Similar reform has been proposed by President Barack Obama, as well as George W. Bush, he notes. For that matter, look at a YouTube clip below of a 1980 presidential primary debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and it's clear that both Republicans favored comprehensive immigration reform.
"President Reagan was a strong advocate of immigrants, and saw them as part of what made this country great," Soerens says. "And you don't hear that rhetoric often nowadays. They were saying positive things about immigrants that you would never hear Barack Obama say."
In 2009, the NAE passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Just this past June, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest evangelical denomination and largest body of Christians after the Catholic Church, passed a similar resolution.
Even Colorado Springs' own Focus on the Family has entered the discussion. On Sept. 15, Focus president Jim Daly invited the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez onto his radio show. Rodriguez is the current president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a strong proponent of comprehensive reform.
Roughly 20 minutes into the conversation, Daly raises the issue of undocumented immigrants. "The way that some may look at the Hispanic community," Daly says, "there can tend to be a generalization of everybody that's here, that's illegally here, is not as a good person. But it's not really accurate."
"The vast majority," replies Rodriguez, "97, 98 percent are not only good people, these are God-fearing, family-loving, hard-working people. These are the kind of people America was born for."
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