Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Church for All People from the Beginning

This blog post is written by Jim Perdue. Jim is the Missionary for Immigration and Border Concerns for Desert Southwest Conference and the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry

Within the very first “Christian” message there was the commitment to include all who would answer the call and come. (Act. 2:39) All who received the presence and counsel of the Holy Spirit became part of something that would never be bordered in – the loving reign of God.

The church was not only for the children of its members, but for those against whom circumstance often built walls of exclusion. The promise first given to Abram and Sarai in Syria was now extended to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” A truly global religion was born.

The stranger, long championed by the psalmist and the prophetic community because of the natural tendency of many people to marginalize those who were different, suddenly became the focus of the church. Its focus shifted there because God’s promise was understood to reside there. Not many in the new church would
be “citizens” of the Roman Empire, the governing authority of that time. Instead, the church anxiously sought out and included “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), so that a vast group that “were not a people” (2:10) became God’s people.

As a result, it quickly became unlawful to be a Christian, because they were erasing all the lines in the civil society of the empire. It would not be until around 160 C.E. that a Christian would be officially allowed to serve in the army. Fortunately for many, this had become a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy early on.

Recognizing the sacredness of the life of every potential heir to God’s promise, the church would have remembered the words of the psalmist in a new context: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” (Ps. 116:15) This would have referred to the suffering masses the church desperately tried to reach, as well as to those Christians giving up their lives to the legal weapons of a persecutor state.

We tend to forget how far the love of God has been willing to go to erase the lines of separation that the world feels comfortable with, and uncomfortable with their elimination.

Undocumented immigrants, including the many Christian ones, are being increasingly, lawfully singled out for “removal” from our land. Each week, the Secure Communities program of our federal government adds thousands of new local law enforcement and governmental hands to the process of tracking down and removing them. What this has come to mean is that silence on the part of those who believe that some sort of immigration reform is needed is increasingly becoming tacit support of those for whom the ultimate solution is the removal of them all.

But lest we loose sight of the texts for this week, we ask the question “How should we (the church) treat people who are under constant threat of deportation?” Is there a place for them in the church? They have broken a law. But, is there a place for them in the church? They may be gone tomorrow. Which of us could that not be said? If tomorrow I’m discovered to suffer from a terminal illness, will the church choose to “not get involved”? And yet, undocumented immigrants suffer daily from a terminal status.

Later in his life, Peter would continue to grow in the universality of God’s promise and love; and he would increasingly counsel the church to live by that kind of love. The good news in the texts for this week promises to all within the church, citizen and immigrant, a quality of life that is eternal – that makes whatever suffering that befalls us bearable because we bear it together.

“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) Regardless of debates, political strategies, or fears, this is something we can grow into together. It’s what we are all meant to be.

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