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Ministry leaders, students gather to discuss immigration issuescomment (0)

March 1, 2012

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Ministry leaders, students gather to discuss immigration issues

While Alabama legislators continue to address the issue of immigration and tweak the new law, some ministry leaders in the state are lobbying to deal with the issue from a biblical perspective.

On Feb. 23, both groups made progress toward their goals.

The latest move in the state Legislature would allow military identification cards to be presented as proof of citizenship or legal residency to conduct business with local or state government. The Alabama House of Representatives passed this potential first change to the state’s immigration law 92–0. It now goes to the Senate.

The same day, ministry leaders, concerned citizens and students gathered in Birmingham to discuss issues resulting from the new law as well as how Christians should respond to the overall issue of immigration.

The nearly 200 people attending the G92 Immigration Conference South at Samford University focused on the 92 references to immigration or “the stranger” in the Old Testament. Stranger is GER in Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, thus the G92 conference title.

The conference was the second of its kind. The first one took place last October at Cedarville University in Ohio.

Noel Castellanos, who writes about social justice issues and serves as CEO of Christian Community Development Association in Chicago, helped with both conferences.

“Right after the new (immigration) law was passed (in Alabama in 2011), there was a lawsuit brought right away ... but we were not hearing much from evangelical leaders,” he said. “We (evangelicals) are the ones who want to talk about being biblical and having a passion for folks, so that is one of the reasons for this conference, to bring as many evangelical leaders around the table as possible.

“There were not a lot of dissenting voices (at the Birmingham conference),” he said. “There were a lot of people on board but who had not met each other. It was good for them to see other folks who are strong Christians who care about this and to hear from ... theologians, pastors and others.

“I think there will be a lot more that comes out of this,” Castellanos added.

April Robinson, minister to students focused on community and campus involvement at Samford, agreed.

“I think what happened was really positive. It created space for students to have some personal interaction with individuals who are deeply involved and impacted by immigration,” she said.

Robinson also hopes the conference experience encouraged participants — students and adults — to take some type of action. 

“It created [an opportunity] to listen and learn ... to continue thinking, praying, talking and researching and to realize as followers of Christ, this is our problem. It’s not their problem,” she said. “We want to assign it to someone else, but we have to take ownership of it as a community.

“We are called to pay attention to our brothers and sisters and help with whatever hardships and difficulties they are bearing ... to try to lighten their load and be hospitable,” she noted.

Senior Samford student Amanda Cherry said she enjoyed the conference. 

“It is good to hear about the ones on the front lines and to hear perspectives that are different than mine,” she said. “I [attended the conference] because immigration is something I’m passionate about ... and (I) want to engage with people working on the issues.”

Cherry said she realized at the conference that while she has been “pro-immigrant,” she still needed to confess her sin in not always being outspoken on the issue.

Shawn Duncan, associate minister at Northlake Church of Christ in Tucker, Ga., traveled the two-plus hours to the conference because the immigration issue is a growing concern for him and his wife.

“We have a level of compassion and frustration not matched with knowledge about how to handle it,” he said. “Our interest is first and foremost the kingdom of God. How does that inform what we do?”

Conference speakers included various local, state and national leaders such as Carlos Gomez, pastor of the Hispanic congregation of First Baptist Church, Center Point; John Killian, pastor of Maytown Baptist Church and first vice president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention; and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  

(Julie Payne contributed)

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