Evangelicals advocating for immigration reform
MAURICE BELANGER | NATIONAL IMMIGRATION FORUMThalia Melendez sings as part of a choir from Cedarville University during an Evangelical Immigration Table day of prayer and action in Washington. A Cedarville spokesman says the Christian school has not taken a position on immigration reform.
A “troubling” experience in Birmingham, Ala., helped cement Carl Ruby’s resolve to work within the evangelical Christian community on behalf of immigrants in Ohio and across the U.S.
Ruby was an administrator at Cedarville University in Greene County when he joined students on a 2010 civil-rights tour that included the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. There, he read the letter the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to fellow clergy members while he was jailed in the city 50 years ago.
“It made me think, if I had been a pastor or a church member back in the ’60s, would I have marched for people for civil rights or would I have stood on the sidelines?” he said. “I don’t want to have to explain to my grandkids someday, ‘Why were you on the wrong side of history on an important civil-rights issue?’ And I felt like immigration was the issue.”
Ruby now works for the National Immigration Forum and was in central Ohio this week drumming up support for its new initiative, Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform. The group seeks to link members of the faith, law-enforcement and business communities to work toward reforms that include a path to citizenship for certain immigrants. A forum-sponsored summit on the issue is set for Monday at Ohio State University.
While many faith traditions have long advocated for immigrants, the bulk of the evangelical community has only recently come to the table. Ruby said a major change over the past two years was largely prompted by scholars invoking a strong Scriptural basis for welcoming and caring for strangers.
“That’s what really moved evangelicals,” Ruby said. “I think it just hadn’t been pointed out, and it’s been there all along under our nose but we hadn’t made the connection.” For evangelicals, Scripture is the authority, over church or tradition, he noted.
Among central Ohio evangelical congregations in the forefront on immigration issues is Vineyard Columbus, where the Rev. Rich Nathan, senior pastor, says the diversity found at Sunday services resembles “the United Nations.”
Kyla Snow, an immigration counselor at Vineyard, said the congregation has welcomed worshippers from more than 110 nations. She said the Vineyard Community Center, opened in 2006, offers services that include English-language instruction, citizenship classes and legal representation.
“We think it’s pretty clear biblically, just a call to treat immigrants equally and to love them,” Snow said. “Jesus says when we welcome strangers, we welcome him. We think that’s a huge call to just welcome the stranger.”
Another voice urging reform is the Ohio Prophetic Voices coalition of faith leaders. The Rev. Troy Jackson helped organize the group after leaving his pastoral position at an evangelical Christian church in Cincinnati.
The group collaborates with both Vineyard Columbus and Bibles, Badges and Business on certain events. It will co-sponsor a prayer vigil for immigrants with Vineyard and a local Latino group on Sunday.
“There’s an opportunity, with some good strategy, to mobilize evangelicals into issues of racial justice and immigration,” Jackson said. “I am beginning to see more and more of a response in Ohio, and I think it’s going on across the country.”
Ruby said the evangelical movement for immigrants gained traction in 2011, when high-profile leaders came out in support of reform. Later that year at Cedarville, Ruby was instrumental in helping launch the first national conference of G92, a student movement based on 92 Bible passages related to the ger, the Hebrew word for foreigner.
Last June, dozens of groups came together to launch the Evangelical Immigration Table to advocate for reform based on an “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.”
“There’s a moral component to this, and it’s related to human dignity,” Ruby said. “If we’re pro-life, we also ought to be pro-quality of life for immigrants, particularly for people who are vulnerable and at risk in society.”
Ohio Prophetic Voices, Vineyard Columbus and the Iglesia Luz Viviente house-church community will sponsor a Pentecost prayer vigil for immigrants at 5 p.m. Sunday at Glenwood Park, 1925 W. Broad St. For information, call 614-403-8469.Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform of Ohio will hold a summit from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Monday in the Tanya R. Rutner Room at the Ohio Union, 1739 N. High St. For information, call 937-305-9068 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.