US Christian leaders take robust pro-immigrant stand

By staff writers
April 29, 2009

Two leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are calling on Americans, and Christians in particular, to “welcome the stranger,” making a strong case for progressive immigration reform in a new book called They Are Us.

The book is co-authored by the Rev Stephen P. Bouman, executive director for ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission, and Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

Based in Baltimore, LIRS is a leading US agency involved in welcoming and providing advocacy for refugees and other migrants. The book includes personal stories, theological and historical insights and questions for reflection and discussion. It is available through Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, the world-renowned ECLA publishing house.

The Lutheran church in the United States is itself an immigrant church, says Deffenbaugh. “I hope that Americans in general and Lutherans in particular will reconnect with their own history in a nation of immigrants, seeing the newcomers among us as their forbears were once seen,” he said.

Deffenbaugh added: “We Lutherans are particularly well-placed in the country in this time with such a contentious debate over immigration. It’s been remarkable to me that compared with the populace-at-large, immigration has been much less controversial in the church.”

The new book's co-author said the debate over migration is not new to the United States. “It’s so important for people to know who they are. People can’t know who they are unless they know where they came from.” Deffenbaugh contributed chapters on US law and the history of immigration.

Bouman, meanwhile, served as bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

He said that “something ugly has emerged” since that day— “a hardening of the heart toward the immigrant stranger among us.” Calling immigration the “meta-issue of what America will become,” Bouman said the book advocates a conversation on how to welcome the stranger from biblical, theological and social perspectives.

He declared: “We are Lutheran, and we are pro-immigrant. The Bible is not equivocal on this, it’s pretty clear — a wandering economic migrant is our father in the faith.” He said it’s in “our self-interest to get this right. If compassionate imagination doesn’t get you there, the evidence is clear that almost everyone who comes here has a high value for education for their children and are outstanding citizens contributing to our public welfare.”

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