Methodists in Eastern North Carolina need to fulfill the biblical mandate of “welcoming the stranger” and help immigrants in their communities instead of vilifying them, the bishop said Wednesday.
“What else can we do?" Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said during a forum on immigration at the conference’s headquarters in Garner. “We cannot dismantle “The Other.’ But we can do what we’re called to do.”
Ward, leader of the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, which covers the region from Greensboro to the coast, said people of faith must defy a national trend of treating immigrants as threats to national security, neighborhood safety and the economy. She praised efforts by congregations throughout the conference that have launched citizenship or language classes and other projects.
On a larger scale, North Carolina Methodists have begun talking about whether they could launch a state office of Justice For Our Neighbors, a national United Methodist ministry that provides immigration legal services at clinics in 13 states.
Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of the ministry, was the main speaker at the forum and told the crowd of about 80 people, mostly pastors, that there is a great need for a clinic in the state.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants live in North Carolina, and many of them need help navigating the complex immigration system. Without a lawyer, he said, they are as much as five times more likely to be deported as someone who gets competent legal advice.
Congregations that aren’t willing or able to help start and sustain the clinic could help in other ways, he said, such as holding short seminars at their churches where immigrants can learn their rights in case of federal raids like the one in Chapel Hill earlier this month.
Brian Heymans, chairman of Church & Society for the N.C. Conference, said that many Christians, not just Methodists, “don’t understand the biblical narrative of justice, and that’s a problem.”
Heymans, who attends a United Methodist church in Durham, said many Christians emphasize “personal piety” over social justice, which he sees as a false interpretation of the Bible.
Immigration has been a divisive issue in churches, especially in the past two years as some congregations have debated whether to embrace undocumented immigrants and even offer sanctuary to those at increased risk of deportation. The Trump administration has markedly restricted the number of immigrants being allowed into the U.S. and has increased efforts to deport those who remain in the country without permanent legal status.