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160 join Alabama immigration law discussion

 
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6:00 P.M. EDT June 29, 2011 | BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (UMNS)


Participants in the first of four North Alabama (regional) Conference Faithful Conversations about Alabama’s new immigration law meet in a breakout session at Highlands United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham.  Participants were encouraged to “participate with candor and respect” and to “listen non-judgmentally.” UMNS photos by Danette Clifton.
Participants in the first of four North Alabama (regional) Conference Faithful Conversations about Alabama’s new immigration law meet in a breakout session at Highlands United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham. UMNS photos by Danette Clifton.
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More than 160 people gathered at Highlands United Methodist Church downtown June 28 for the first of four planned North Alabama (regional) Conference Faithful Conversations about the state’s new immigration law.

The law, which will take effect Sept. 1, would require schools and businesses to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the legal status of students and employees. It also would allow police to arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally if they were stopped for another reason and make it illegal to shelter or transport illegal immigrants.

Clergy and laity from the North Alabama Conference participated with Greater Birmingham Ministries and other interfaith groups in a June 25 march to protest the legislation.

As the Faithful Conversation began, the Rev. Matt Lacey, director of mission and advocacy for the conference, spoke to a local television news reporter. "This isn't a political issue for us,” he explained. “It's not an economic issue. It's a religious issue. After the bill was signed into law, a lot of ministers got together and said there are certain elements of this law which we felt were going against the gospel."

Bishop Will Willimon posted on his website June 13 an open letter to Alabama elected officials including the governor, a state senator and a state representative.

“The bill is an embarrassment to our state and does not represent the spirit of hospitality of our churches,” Willimon wrote. “While I'm confident that the bill will be overturned, I am proud that a number of our Methodists -- those committed to evangelism and mission -- are speaking up in the name of Christ to oppose this ill-conceived bill that does nothing to help our state and does great harm to our sisters and brothers.”


More than 160 people gather June 28 in the church sanctuary to share in worship, prayer and discussion about Alabama’s immigration law.
More than 160 people gather June 28 in the church sanctuary to share in worship, prayer and discussion about Alabama’s immigration law.
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Law ‘toughest in the country’

Lacey wrote June 12 on his blog that “Alabama's new immigration law is called by proponents and opponents as the toughest in the country; and after looking at the law myself, undoubtedly it is.  

“After looking at this law, keeping it in my prayers and discussing it with others, I must confess that this law does not maintain our values as a Christian community, much less as United Methodists,” Lacey wrote.

As people gathered in the church sanctuary for the public discussions, the evening began with worship and prayer, specifically asking for God’s grace to guide their time together.

Anne Wheeler, a retired lawyer and active United Methodist, offered a quick overview of the legislation and encouraged everyone to read the full law. The legislation as signed by Gov. Robert Bentley is posted online.

Wheeler then talked about how specific people and organizations will be affected by the law. She said public entities such as schools, courts, law-enforcement and public agencies; employees of public entities; legal residents of Alabama; and unlawful residents would feel the impact. Wheeler also said groups are preparing to take legal action against the law, which will take effect Sept. 1.

Before dividing into three breakout sessions, participants read “Guidelines for Conversations” to set the tone for the evening. Those guidelines noted the evening was not a time to debate, but rather, a time to “engage in open, courteous conferencing about the bill.” The guidelines encouraged participants to “participate with candor and respect” and to “listen non-judgmentally.”

Participants then divided into three breakout groups.

Opportunities to learn, share

One group met with Lacey and the Rev. R.G. Lyons, pastor of Community Church without Walls, to discuss the open letter many North Alabama clergy signed to be sent to the governor, legislators and local newspapers. Lacey and Lyons were among the authors of the letter. Lyons explained that the letter was not written to speak for the entire church, but, instead, was written as a response from clergy who believe the new law would threaten ministries of the church that provide food, clothing, shelter and transportation to people. He said The United Methodist Church does not check immigration status as a prerequisite to be part of its ministries.


Small groups gather for discussion in the church’s fellowship hall.
Small groups gather for discussion in the church’s fellowship hall.
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Another group was for those who wanted to learn more about the specifics of the law. Immigration lawyer Matthew Penfield joined Wheeler as they took questions from the crowd. The discussion covered specific wording of the law, how the law connects to current legal statutes and how courts might interpret the law from narrow to broader interpretations.

A third group gathered in the fellowship hall to allow conversation in small groups. Moderator Danny Jones guided the groups in a one-hour discussion with questions asking why it was it important to participants to attend the meeting, what concerns the issue raises, and what Scripture, faith stories or faith traditions supported viewpoints. Each participant had the opportunity to share stories, concerns and ideas about how to respond in a responsible and conscientious manner.

Similar discussions will take place throughout the summer in the North Alabama Conference including:

  • July 18 in Huntsville;
  • Aug. 22 in Tuscaloosa; and
  • A date to be determined in the Southeast District.

*Clifton is director of communication for the North Alabama (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Comments will be moderated. Please see our Comment Policy for more information.
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Showing 4 comments

  • Lee 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Thank goodness, now we can throw out the Book of Discipline too. 
  • Veronica Deevers 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    On immigration policy, the Obama Administration has not even waited
    for congressional action before charting its own legislative course. In
    May, Democrats reintroduced the DREAM Act—which would provide a path to
    citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the United States before
    they were 16—after the lame-duck Congress failed to pass it late last
    year.
    But rather than waiting for Congress to act, officials at Obama’s
    Department of Homeland Security have instructed Immigration and Customs
    Enforcement agents and attorneys to exercise “prosecutorial discretion”
    for illegal immigrants who have attended school in the United States,
    meaning far fewer such illegal immigrants will be prosecuted and
    deported. The agency cited a shortage of resources, but the decision
    amounts to a de facto implementation of the DREAM Act.
  • dhoskins 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I am a Methodist living in Texas.  And while I understand loving our brothoers and sisters around the world.... those that come into our country illegally are breaking the law.  I believe that our Lord would be sympathtic to those who are looking to beeter themselves but He also believed in the law.  We - in Texas have  exhausted our resources having to pay in so many ways on helping these people that it is cositng us simple quailities.  I have talked with many that did come here legallyly and they had to prove that they had something to offer this great country.  Not only that ....... but that they were not criminals, alcholics etc.  So they are very offended by this Dream Bill of just letting them stay.  I do realize that many of my Methodist brothers and sisters are liberals and this is not the time for that kind of agenda.  Many innocent people are being killed along our borders.  Many that want to do harm to our country are comeing in and marrying Mexicans because they make them blend in.  Be very careful want you fight for.
  • HHH_AAA 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I hope others conference wil follow their lead and help United Methodists to engage in fruitful conversation on the subject .

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