Lessons from a Divided Past, and Seeking Justice for Today

Dear friend,

On May 9, 2018, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the United States made a raid on a precast concrete facility in Mt. Pleasant.  Thirty-two undocumented immigrants were rounded up and prepared for deportation.  This took place a few days from the tenth anniversary of the large Postville raid which netted over 300 workers.  Not much has changed over the past ten years.

The Mt. Pleasant raid has caused me to pause and reflect.  It doesn’t pass by lightly that this is just a few miles from Salem, Iowa, where I pastored for fifteen years.   This little town and Henry County were known as main stations on the Underground Railroad where some say “more slaves were set free than any other station on the circuit.”  That was 170 years ago.  The lessons of the past should speak to us today.

The Friends Church was divided over the Fugitive Slave Law that said any runaways had to be returned to their rightful “owners.”   In a tragic chapter in our history, the pre-Civil War Salem Friends Church split over this disagreement.  Fortunately they later united but the fact still remains there were those who said “the law had to be followed” and those who said “freedom for human beings is more important than man-made laws.”

That same debate continues today.  Many in our nation say that “We must be a nation of laws and these illegals are taking American jobs away or lowering the wage scale for others.”  “The immigrants serve as  examples for the millions of others who want to come here and take our jobs.”   Some even support our President in saying these immigrants are gang members and part of the drug cartel.  Others say that the 11 million undocumented immigrants are here escaping violence and war back home or are here to provide a living away from their poverty stricken homeland.  Our nation is divided and our church is once again divided.

There is no easy answer to the dilemma facing our nation today.  Immigration reform is essential for our legislatures.  Can we in good conscience fund the pain and stress experienced by families torn apart?  Is arresting 11 million undocumented immigrants a productive use of taxpayer dollars?  There is no path for these to become legal at this time.  Meanwhile what happened in Mt. Pleasant will continue across our nation unless we say “no more!”

A member of the Friends Church in Indiana (our daughter’s church) has been detained and is ready to be deported to El Salvador away from her husband and her three children under 10 who are American citizens.  She has been in the states for decades and has annually reported to ICE.  She is not a criminal and has been leading Bible studies and worship in her jail since being arrested on May 3rd.  Pray for Sonia, her family and her church.

Ponder the following scriptures: Leviticus 19:33-34 (LB) “Do not take advantage of foreigners in your land; do not wrong them.  They must be treated like any other citizen; love them as yourself, for remember that you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”  Psalm 146:8-9 “The Lord loves good men.  He protects the immigrants, and cares for the orphans and widows…”   1 John 3:18 “Let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.”

In the 1800’s Iowa Quakers wrestled with the difficult decision about slavery.  Some even disobeyed the laws of that day to follow a higher law.  Peter concluded in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Where do we stand?  Families and children are being torn apart if we remain silent.  I plead with us to not break fellowship as we did 170 years ago.  An excellent book by Mark Amstutz, Just Immigration, details this conflict within the churches of America today.  Amstutz is professor of political science at Wheaton College.   I would highly recommend it.  Let’s pray for unity and God’s leading on this issue.  Please dialogue with me.

Tom Palmer