I do not know what is in SB 1070, so I will refrain from either endorsing or opposing the new law. But it is very hard to take seriously the accusations that the bill is an act of racism, and that proponents are xenophobic reactionaries. Much political debate seems never to rise above this kind of hysterical fear mongering, and I have learned to be cautious.
Unfortunately, the dust up in Arizona has attracted the attention of the ELCA. Their denomination may be disintegrating as congregations and members head for the exit, giving is down with no relief in sight, the rest of the Lutheran world is appalled at the rejection of the Gospel, but it seems that the ELCA is not willing to pass on the oportunity to do what it loves best - immerse itself in secular politics.
The ELCA has set up a Facebook page dedicated to immigration and refugee issues. Some of the links on Facebook caught my eye, since they lead to websites like DailyKos and the Huffington Post. Are these really the voices the ELCA wishes to echo? Abandoning the Gospel for political activism is nothing new, and I don't expect the ELCA to provide a forum for points of view they disagree with (name me one political party or lobbying group that gives equal time to its opponents), but it's hard to maintain the illusion you are still a religious organization dedicated to peace, love and tolerance when you ally yourself with voices that do little beyond shrieking how much they hate those they disagree with.
The issue of immigration is of more than passing interest to me. My wife and I have lived through it.
In 1999 I went to Tanzania as an ELCA missionary. The individuals at the Division for Global Mission (DGM) were wonderful. No matter what happened - delays in getting work permits, lost paperwork - they always stood with me, and I never felt abandoned. It was in Tanzania where I met and married my wife, and I owe DGM a deep debt of gratitude. But by the time we left in early 2005 things had changed drastically at DGM - and not for the better.
During my tenure as an ELCA missionary, DGM seemed to undergo a radical change. Many whom I had known either retired or left, and were replaced by others who seemed to have a different concept of mission. Worse still, communication between ELCA missionaries like myself and DGM became less and less frequent, as the new leadership seemed to turn to other matters they found more worthy of their attention.
My wife and I were married in September of 2003, and immediately we began the process of applying for her visa. Working with USCIS is like existing in a kind of purgatory. You are never sure where you are in the process, and always you are made to feels as though you are some guilty of ... something.
Feeling in over our heads, I contacted DGM asking for help. We were ignored - no response whatsoever. We tried again - same (non)response. It was as though we had ceased to exist in the eyes of DGM.
So bad did the situation get that when my wife was hospitalized I never bothered to contact DGM. Why bother? Why would this time be any different? Why would they care now when they didn't before?
My wife's case was so tangled that it took the efforts of two different Members of Congress - one Democrat and one Republican - to finally get her visa and her I-551 ("green card"). There was nothing unusual about her situation (she is not a criminal or otherwise attracted the notice of US authorities), but as a citizen of Tanzania she was considered a major risk. I found out later that what happened to us was not out of the ordinary. Apparently US Embassy staff are so terrified of letting in a potential terrorist through the regular immigration process they will try to throw up one roadblock after another in an effort to discourage applicants.
The ELCA's Lutheran Immigration and Relief Service's website has the following:
Since 1939 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has worked to create welcoming communities for newcomers—immigrants and refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and begin anew.
One expat told me, "The reason that the ELCA won't help you is that your wife is an immigrant from Africa trying to enter the USA legally. If she came from Central America and was an illegal alien things would be different." At the time that struck me as too cynical. But given the overheated rhetoric on the LIRS Facebook page concerning both the opponents of immigration "reform" and SB 1070 I have come to the conclusion they were probably right.
At any rate, it is hard for me to take seriously the ELCA's claim of compassion with respect to immigrants. I don't believe that the ELCA meant my wife any harm: it's just that we did not fit the preferred political narrative. And it's politics (not the Gospel) that has become the ELCA's true passion.