Pastor’s Column: Immigration and the Church

Jim Coppoc.

As I write this column, Senate File 2340 has been passed by both houses of the Iowa legislature, and is making its way to the governor’s desk. If she signs – and she almost certainly will – Iowa will have criminalized unauthorized immigration, putting enforcement in the hands of local judges and police in addition to federal authorities. Provisions of the bill not only allow local authorities to arrest and punish illegal immigrants, but also indemnify those same authorities against liability for abusing the bill by detaining legal immigrants, racially profiling Latinos and those who look like them, and so on.

There are a few protections. When this bill becomes law, it will not empower local authorities to arrest those who are at a school for educational purposes, although they can deport children directly from the school bus. They will not be allowed to arrest those seeking medical treatment at a health care facility, although they can arrest them in the ambulance on the way. They will not be allowed to arrest someone obtaining a rape exam at a facility, although they are allowed to wait and arrest them at the door.

Perhaps the most significant protection is outlined in Section 3, Paragraph 2, where this soon-to-be law bars local authorities from arresting or detaining a person for the purposes of enforcing this act in, “a church, synagogue or other established place of religious worship.” Unlike other provisions, there is no restriction on why the person is in a place of worship. It restricts local local authority in these places regardless.

As a lay pastor in the United Church of Christ, I am called to treat immigrants as I would treat the native-born, and to love them as I love myself (Leviticus 19:34). The church I serve is called to do the same. In the current political landscape, the treatment of immigrants among us is, to say the least, not very Christian. It is up to us to resist, as well as we are able, within the bounds of the law. One way we can do that is to open our churches to the immigrant community.

There is a long tradition in the Christian world of using churches for asylum. Local and national governments tend to respect this sacred place in our culture. There are movements across the nation right now to use churches as meeting places for immigrant groups, as homes for refugees, and as safety and protection for all who need it. Jesus did not discriminate; neither should we.

If you are in a position to influence a local church or synagogue, or if you are able to join the home church movement and make your house or park or community center a regular place of worship, I would encourage you to think through your religious obligation to your fellow human, and to begin to serve your neighbor as your scripture calls you to do.

Jim Coppoc serves the Ripley United Church of Christ at 400 S. Main St. in Traer. He lives in Ames and Traer, and also holds a “day job” as Director of Integrated Health Services for Center Associates in Marshalltown and Toledo. Jim can be found online at www.facebook.com/jim.at.ripley.