In towns all across America streets are not named after them. School children do not learn about them. No one waits in line to see the homes where they were born. They are…simply forgotten.
They weren’t necessarily bad men. They weren’t unimportant men. They were men of influence, men with a voice and the respect of their community. Most would have agreed; they were good men, according to one, “men of genuine good will.” While evil men are remembered and great men are enshrined, these men…. just forgotten.
Forgotten for being on the wrong side of history. Men forgotten for being silent when “a word fitly spoken” could have made a difference. Men who are forgotten for valuing comfort and stability over justice and compassion. Forgotten because they were unwilling to call out the status quo, and show it for it was… cruel and unjust.
These are the eight men on the other side of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The recipients. Eight well educated white pastors, priests and rabbis who by God’s providence led reputable congregations in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. At a crucial time and at a crucial place they made choices that destined them to be forgotten. King warned that, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” These eight men are forgotten because for too long they chose delay and denial, calling King’s actions on behalf his black bothers and sisters in Birmingham “unwise and untimely.”
King was not from Alabama. Birmingham’s problems were not his problems. Criticized for joining a fight that was not his, King wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” He inserted himself into a situation where his life could make a difference. His example calls us to do the same.
Immigration is not my problem, deportation, not my concern. My family will never be personally harmed by the injustices of a broken system. But I care about immigration reform because injustice is here. I care about immigrants, with or without documentation because I have recognized “the interrelatedness of all communities.” From his jail cell King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.” The men and women who I see at Walmart are not “outsiders” or “illegals.” They are husbands. Mothers. Neighbors. People who long for the same things that I do, friends, jobs, places to worship, and homes for their children.
I am a privileged person, blessed with a good education and endowed with opportunity. I’m part of the group that generally gets hired first and fired last. My view of poverty is from a distance. My taste of discrimination and prejudice is just that, a mere taste rather than a meal or a lifetime of meals. While it is true that I have worked hard and typically tried to be responsible, many of the blessings and privileges that I enjoy are influenced heavily by the group to which I belong. My group, the educated, white, American middle and upper class is a blessed and privileged group, a group with little personal reason to take up the cause of immigration reform.
King noted that, “history is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.” He noted that while “individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture,” groups seldom do.
I am an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform because I believe that unless people are moved by virtues like courage and boldness to stand against the injustices of our current broken system (a system that limits access based on skin color, weakens the family unit, and dehumanizes my fellow man) justice will be delayed and broken policy will go without repair.
My reasons for supporting immigration reform are many. I believe it is good for our economy. I believe that it is in keeping with the deepest values of my Christian faith, values of kindness, self-sacrifice, and care for the stranger. I believe that comprehensive reform will make our nation more secure and be a blessing to our global neighbors.
But one of my reasons for supporting comprehensive immigration is less focused on the immigrants themselves, and more centered on my own desire for an honorable legacy. I don’t want to be forgotten. Forgotten for being on the wrong side of history. Forgotten for being unwilling to stand with those bearing the wounds of a broken system, and for failing to recognize Augustine’s warning that “an unjust law is no law at all.” For these reasons and many others I am an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
For more Information on an effective response to comprehensive immigration reform go to The Evangelical Immigration Table and take the “I was a Stranger” Challenge. To see a written copy of King’s letter click here.