Giving Christianity (and other faiths) a Good Name

On Wednesday I spent a wonderful  morning at the Clergy for Tolerance breakfast, with approximately 300 faith leaders from across Tennessee. This diverse group came together to talk about fighting anti-immigrant legislation in our state. (I am not a clergywoman, of course. I just know the right people.) From the opening prayer by a Jewish rabbi, to the closing by a Muslim imam, it was a moving, powerful, and inspiring show of solidarity across faiths, traditions, and cultures. Seeing Buddhist monks in conversation with Islamic women and Catholic priests about this crisis gives me hope for my city, my state, and my country.

This is the Tennessee I want to live in:

Photo by Mike Dubose, United Methodist News Service.

Fifty years after Jim Crow, does the State of Tennessee really want to go down the Alabama farm row of Juan Crow? I hope not, but what happens depends in no small measure on what the faith leaders in this room do.

– Dr. Robert Parham, Executive Director, Baptist Center for Ethics

Our various faiths and belief systems tell us exactly what to do: extend kindness and welcome to the “stranger among us.” Our country’s history tells us that this nation is built on immigration. Every sane, objective reading of the statistics tells us that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than they cost in services, and that every job filled by an immigrant creates three additional jobs further up the chain of production and services. So why is there this push to demonize undocumented immigrants? Economic arguments don’t hold water. This is, as Dr. Parham suggested, “Juan Crow.” Racism by any other name still smells as putrid, and this is simply racist scapegoating of the least powerful in our society. Anti-immigrant legislation is about who we are, who we want to be. These laws raise powerful moral questions, and come down to issues of right and wrong – and the legislatures of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, et al, are on the side of wrong.

There are powerful groups pushing anti-immigration legislation in many more states, and Tennessee is in their sights. The legislative session that will pick up in January includes several such bills. If passed, they could result in the same kind of inhumanity we’re seeing in Alabama today: families fleeing the state, abandoning the homes they have slaved to pay for. Utilities cut off unless the residents are documented; families living without running water, lights and heating. Children afraid to go to school. Rank and file state employees having to inform upon their neighbors who cannot provide documentation when they come to title a car, or a mobile home. Bigotry, suspicion, and fear.

The keynote speaker at yesterday’s breakfast, William H. Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, urged those attending – and all Tennesseans of goodwill – to act now to speak out against this legislation. “Please don’t leave these matters to your politicians. It has proven to be infinitely more difficult to speak against a law that has been duly constituted.” He should know; one provision of Alabama’s HB56 made it a crime to provide food, clothing, transportation, or other aid to someone undocumented. This horrific provision has been struck down by the courts, but Alabama is using taxpayer money to fight to reinstate it. This is real. This is coming to Tennessee and many other states. Fight it. Your legislators believe that their constituents want this type of legislation. Show them they are wrong. Show them the Tennessee YOU want to live in.

If you are a Tennessee resident, click here to find out who represents you in the state legislature, and then call and write, write and call. Speak now, before it’s too late.

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