Monday, June 13, 2011

An Open Letter

As Patsy and I have traveled about the Conference to witness the work of our churches in storm recovery many pastors have told us of their frustration that Spanish-speaking friends in the hard hit areas have been reluctant to take help from the church because they were afraid of possible reprisals from the state.

We thought this sad and hoped their fears were unfounded.

Then our state passed the meanest immigrant legislation bill in the nation.

The bill is an embarrassment to our state and does not represent the spirit of hospitality of our churches.

While I'm confident that the bill will be overturned I am proud that a number of our Methodists - those committed to evangelism and mission - are speaking up in the name of Christ to oppose this ill conceived bill that does nothing to help our state and does great harm to our sisters and brothers.

Many of our clergy plan to sign the following letter that will be sent to the governor, legislators and local newspapers. For clergy to add their signature to the letter, please email Rev. RG Lyons at with your name and church affiliation. We also invite all United Methodists to attend an ecumenical prayer vigil on June 25 at 6:30PM at Linn Park in downtown Birmingham. At the vigil we will pray for those affected by this new law as well as voice our opposition. In the coming months, we will also call for open dialogue concerning this law, our faith, and it's implications. For information on these opportunities, please check the conference website soon.

Will Willimon

An Open Letter to Governor Robert Bentley, Senator Scott Beason, and Representative Micky Hammon:

Forty-eight years ago, while sitting in a Birmingham jail cell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that, just as Christians have a moral duty to obey just laws, they also have a moral duty to disobey unjust ones. We are a group of United Methodist ministers from all across the state of Alabama who believe that HB 56 is an unjust law. Both proponents and opponents of the bill have described HB 56 as the “toughest immigration law in the country.” Among other measures to halt illegal immigration, it gives police the ability to stop anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be here illegally. It requires schools to verify the immigration or citizenship status of students. It denies bail to anyone arrested for being here illegally. And, it makes it a crime for a citizen to associate with someone who is here illegally, whether that be inviting them to one’s home or church or giving them a ride in a car.

We know that many who support this law are well-meaning individuals who are seeking to find the state's best interest at heart: they are people who are worried about employment in this fragile economy and some feel that the state is strained to pay for services like health care, police and fire protection, and education for those who may be here illegally.

These are all valid concerns. We believe, however, that many elements of this law are not in the state’s best interest. Teachers and principals are already stretched thin and have suffered tremendous budget cuts. Requiring them to also verify the immigration status of students will, in all likelihood, cost rather than save money and can only distract them from their most important task: preparing our children to succeed. Prohibiting bond to people who are here illegally means that more and more people will be kept in jails that are already overcrowded and understaffed. Finally, this law will most certainly be challenged in court and could cost the state millions of dollars at a time when nearly every state board and agency must accept budget cuts in this economy.

As Christian ministers, however, we not only believe that this law is not in the state’s best interest, but we also believe it contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people wandering as “aliens and strangers.” In the Old Testament, God reminds the people, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).” Jesus told parables about people like the Good Samaritan – someone who was not considered a true Jewish citizen – stopping to help a battered and beaten man while the leaders of the people passed him by. And the apostle Paul taught us that in Christ there is “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”

We believe that God’s call for the United Methodist church is to be a church for ALL people, to be in ministry to ALL people. HB 56 would define many of our churches and many people in our churches as lawbreakers. United Methodist across the state welcome all people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, to our churches, activities, and programs. Many of our fastest growing churches are Spanish-speaking, and we do not check people’s immigration status at the door. In response to Jesus’ admonition in the parable of the Last Judgment to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger, many churches have ministries to care for those who are poor by providing them with food, shelter, and transportation. Again, we do not check people’s immigration status before inviting them into our church vans and cars. We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same.

In Christ’s Peace,


Sally said...

As a Methodist Minister in Great Britain I want to add my voice of support to this letter.

Salto said...

How on earth does the state fighting crime* stop you from being charitable? Are you only going to pour alms on the young, the weak, the destitute, etc., among the illegal aliens 'if and only if' the state doesn't know about them?

Do you not see that your ideas about charity contribute to making Alabama a favored destination for illegal aliens - not only exacerbating the plight of the illegal aliens, themselves - but also adding to the overall level of lawlessness in our state?

Note that most illegal aliens who find themselves in a plight do what they did to get into it in the first place: go somewhere else. I see no reason why the State of Alabama wouldn't take money from the UMC to buy transportation back to their home country for any illegal aliens the church turns in - you would likely even be able to provide for their meals and lodging along the way. That is, unless you have some other reason for wanting citizens from other countries to be able to cross our borders at will, regardless of the wishes of the citizens of Alabama and their democratically-elected representatives?

I'm not a bishop, yet I too can quote the Bible to back me up: "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God."

*Oh, yes sir, illegal aliens are criminals, and not just because they are here illegally. If a man breaks into my house (or my country) and takes something that he did not pay for (like my TV or a spot on my child's school roster), he is a theif.

Gettin said...

You know, whenever I see an obviously over-sympathetic, yet grossly under informed (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt) person making flawed statements about important issues, I can't help but respond.
HB 56 may not be perfect - Time will tell. I'm sure there are many people whose bleeding hearts will move them to protest and fight various aspects of this law. However, HB 56 represents the will of the majority of the people. They are tired of the fact that criminal behavior is being encouraged by people like you! No? Read on . . .

The situation with HB 56 is very simple: People who are in the United States ILLEGALLY are often referred to as ILLEGAL aliens for obvious reasons. Well, obvious to anyone who isn't blinded by some sort of ill-conceived notion, that is.

Thus, if they are here ILLEGALLY, they are CRIMINALS. And, they should be arrested just as you or I would be if we were in another country under the same circumstances! What is it about this concept that you fail to understand?

To better understand it, try entering ANY Central or South American country illegally and get back to us after you are released from jail, OK?

All of this racist, mean-spirited, boogie man rhetoric is silly and unproductive. And, people in positions of responsibility should be exactly that - RESPONSIBLE. Sir, your words, your letter and your position are irresponsible, shortsighted and represent a view that fails (or refuses) to recognize the criminal aspect of being in the US illegally!
How that can be the case is beyond me. Well, except for your words: First, you misapply scripture relative to "resident aliens" - The word ILLEGAL was not there but you chose to ignore that fact. Second, it seems to me that you are overly concerned about the growth (or lack thereof) of churches in your denomination! Whether this is the case or not, only you know for sure. Third, knowingly aiding or abetting criminals has always been illegal. Fourth, quoting jailhouse writings, which promote civil disobedience, should be beneath you if you truly want to reduce the number of arrests for non-violent crimes!

The Methodist Church has come a long way since I last attended nearly 48 years ago. Given your position, along with other aspects of the Church today, it's really too bad that journey has been in the wrong direction.

Shame on you, sir. Shame on you.

Will Doss

Lizzle said...

Thank heaven there are leaders speaking out. I would say more, but I'm just too grateful. God bless you, Bishop, and may the state of Alabama hear God speak through you and those who are joining with you. Amen.

Tuscaloosa said...

Thanks you Bishop. It is nice to have leaders stand up and remind us that we are all God's children. Sometimes it takes a storm like the one on April 27 for people to look at their neighbors across town as equally deserving of God's grace and their support. Perhaps your open letter will remind people that those not lucky enough to be born in our country are human beings as well.

SMOKE said...

I for one think our church would be better served if you spent more time with your church responsiblitiies and less time in an area you are grossly misinformed.

I welcome all races to come and be a part of the greatest country in the world. That means you embrace this country, you become a citizen, you work, you pay your taxes, and you are entitled to enjoy all the benefits of citizenship. You do not come to this country like a thief in the night to take whatever you can be it jobs, education, health care and then sneak back to your country.

We are all immigrants in this country, that's what makes it so great. Throughout our history we have welcomed the multitude to come be a part, not come and divide.

David said...

HB56 does not apply to Hispanics or any other race. It addresses ILLEGAL immigrants . . . . that is, people who have entered our country ILLEGALLY. Provision is made by the United States for people who wish to immigrate LEGALLY and we welcome them. Those who do not honor our immigration laws should be subject to legal action just as if they had broken any other law. While we do not wish to be "mean", we cannot support all the peoples of the world. Even in your welcoming and open-hearted Methodist church, membership conveys certain privileges. Certainly, God's people Israel did live as aliens and strangers, but anyone who traveled with them were required to abide by their law, even down to observance of the Feasts and Festivals. Let's just see if we can treat people humanely while still living in the real world, shall we?

RevMan74 said...

It's truly a shame that so many Americans are truly ignorant when it comes to immigration. And I'm not talking about Bishop Willimon. As an immigrant to this country (and a clergyman), and one intimately acquainted with the USCIS, ICE, Customs, The State Department and the like, I can tell you that you are treated like a criminal from the very start - subjected to overzealous idiots in uniforms who like nothing better than to make your life a living hell. Remind me to tell you all about the friendly border control agent who threatened to admit my 9 year old daughter into the country and place her into the foster care system whilst deporting me, with a threat that he had the power to destroy my family and I couldn't do a thing to stop him (and all this whilst I was wearing a clerical collar). Until the immigration problem is fixed, more and more will come through the back door - especially when the risk of coming through the front door is fraught with as much danger.

RevMan74 said...

If I was a betting man (and I'm not), I'd be willing to put a wager on the possibility of someone replying to the previous post with some version of the comment, "go back to your own country".

Bill said...

I hope they lock you up too. If you lived next door to some of these outlaws you would have a different option I am sure of it.If they come in the front door it doesn't cost as much as paying to be smuggled into our country . Try it in Canada or anywhere else in the world and see what happens .

foxofbama said...

Bishop Willimon et. al:

I hope you and your staff as well as folks with Birmingham Southern advocating on this matter will give careful read to this fascinating column on Mormon Lay Clergy and the Immigration discussion out west.
Or just google some version of the above for religion dispatches.
Proud of you for making the statement. Hope you have seen FBC Auburn Jim Evans column over the weekend at or in Anniston Star or Huntsville Times among other papers.

Mormon column:

foxofbama said...

Bishop Willimon et. al:

I hope you and your staff as well as folks with Birmingham Southern advocating on this matter will give careful read to this fascinating column on Mormon Lay Clergy and the Immigration discussion out west.
Or just google some version of the above for religion dispatches.
Proud of you for making the statement. Hope you have seen FBC Auburn Jim Evans column over the weekend at or in Anniston Star or Huntsville Times among other papers.

Mormon column: