'Open Heart' Methodists—Empty-Headed Immigration Activists

[New and improved version! An early draft was accidentally posted August 15 - our apologies to James Antle.]

[Previously by James Antle: The Myth Of Minority 'Natural Republicans' ]

"Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors."  Oh yeah? The crack marketing team that came up with this slogan for the United Methodist Church should revise it to include "Open Borders" and "Empty Heads".

Catholic Bishops aren't alone in maintaining that lax immigration enforcement is a moral imperative.  It's a Protestant problem, too. Coming from a long line of Methodists, I am appalled to report that, for example, speaking on behalf of the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, Methodist bishops and church agency leaders have joined the elite chorus denouncing the Sensenbrenner bill (HR 4437).

That's right, Methodists are singing from the same hymnal as the WSJ and the Chamber of Commerce—without regard for the opinions of those people who fill the pews and the collection plates, of course (see below).

On July 12, the Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) held the "Faith and Migration: Diverse Perspectives from Religious Leaders" conference on Capitol Hill.  Conspicuously missing from these "diverse perspectives" was the mainstream view that illegal immigration should be curtailed by additional enforcement.  Instead, the scheduled speakers included Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a representative of the Bush White House—all notorious proponents of amnesty.

This one-sidedness isn't surprising. Methodists have been putting together a strong pro-immigration resume for some time now:

  • The Methodists Board of Church and Society had already issued a statement, celebrating "the movement for civil rights for the people who are undocumented," endorsing "comprehensive immigration reform" (amnesty) and describing HR 4437 as unjust "anti-immigrant legislation." 

  • On the very day that Arlen Specter's Judiciary Committee first sent an amnesty bill to the full Senate, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was participating in prayer vigils "to show support for true and comprehensive immigration reform" and opposition to the House border-security bill.

According to a report by the United Methodist News Service (UMNS), Bishop John R. Schol [send him mail] of the Baltimore-Washington Conference stated that the House's pro-enforcement approach violated church teachings as found in the Social Principles and Book of Resolutions.

"If passed, H.R. 4437 could dramatically affect the way United Methodists do ministry," Bishop Schol claimed. "H.R. 4437 would punish United Methodists and others ... who offer an act of mercy or kindness to undocumented immigrants."

Of course, this familiar talking point has been repeatedly debunked on VDARE.COM and elsewhere

The section they are misrepresenting is actually intended to target smugglers—not soup-kitchen workers who hand out bread without first checking the recipient's green card.  And many supporters of the House bill have been willing to revise its language to further clarify this point.

Nevertheless, a January letter from Bishop Edward Paup, president of UMCOR, and Bishop Joel Martinez, president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, to their colleagues on the Council of Bishops claimed that the anti-smuggling, anti-abetting provisions "could jeopardize UMCOR's Justice for Our Neighbors Program."  Justice for Our Neighbors is a Methodist-coordinated program offering free legal services to immigrants.

Bishops Paup and Martinez, along with the chief executives of the ministries they lead, also came out against H.R. 4437 and endorsed what VDARE.COM calls the Kennedy-Bush Amnesty/Immigration Acceleration Bill.

They were joined by many of their colleagues: 

  • Bishop Roy Sano, executive secretary of the Council of Bishops, was quoted, echoing Catholic Bishop Roger Mahony's call for civil disobedience if legislation like HR 4437 is adopted. 

  • Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Annual Conference also endorsed the euphemistic "comprehensive immigration reform" and warned against the House's "mean spirited" alternative.

  • Rev. Bob Edgar, the United Methodist minister and former Democratic congressman who serves as general secretary of the National Council of Churches, has charged that restrictive, pro-enforcement bills are the handiwork of "neo-conservatives who want to punish people."

If only! Reverend Edgar is painfully ignorant of the immigration stances of most actual neoconservatives.

The UMC's immigration position is nothing new.  In 1988, the denomination published a paper entitled "To Love the Sojourner" criticizing the United States' harsh treatment of immigrants—as evidenced by the 1986 amnesty!

Apparently, even amnesty isn't good enough when accompanied by the threat of sanctions against employers of illegal immigrants.  The church's paper warned, "It is apparent that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for all the hope it represents for a relative few, renders life much more difficult for the vast majority of immigrant peoples in the United States."

Since then, Methodist bishops have spoken out against California's Proposition 187 and subsequent ballot initiatives to deny illegal immigrants tax monies.

But after Prop 187 passed with 69 percent of the Protestant vote in 1994, there was a brief moment when critical Methodist clergy seemed open to debate on the subject. 

At the time, the head of the UMC's California-Pacific Conference—Bishop Sano—admitted to the Los Angeles Times, "We are not listening to our own constituency." [ Prop. 187 May Show Clergy's Political Role Is Dwindling, by John Dart. Los Angeles Times Nov 20, 1994, (Pay archive)]

Twelve years later, we're still waiting.

In the meantime, Methodists have condemned the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 at every single General Conference since the law was enacted, calling for its reform or repeal.  (Longtime observers of the immigration debate may recall that this was the diluted bill that passed after real reform, along the lines proposed by Barbara Jordan's forgotten commission, was defeated in Congress.)

The UMC has even adopted resolutions comparing the Immigration Act of 1965—the very law that committed the United States to its current disastrous policy of uninterrupted mass immigration—to the much-denounced Immigration Act of 1924 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

So what would constitute the "effective and humanitarian border protection" that the Methodist church claims to support?  Are any limits to immigration or enforcement measures acceptable to the Methodist hierarchy?And why does the Methodist bishops' "compassionate" solution to our immigration crisis look uncharacteristically like that favored by corporate America?

There are cynical explanations for the unlikely immigration alliance between Big Business and Big Religion.  But, as someone who comes from a long line of Methodists, they just don't seem adequate in this case.

NumbersUSA Executive Director Roy Beck—a longtime Methodist Sunday school teacher and award-winning former associate editor of the United Methodist Reporter—blames "bad theology" that interprets Bible verses about strangers and sojourners "literally and completely out of context" when talking about immigration.

One proof text is found in Matthew when Jesus offers the Parable of the Last Judgment.  The key verses:

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me" (Matthew 25:42-43). [Vdare.com note: Bible scholars might want to check out Deuteronomy28:43-44; "The stranger that [is] within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low"

But if every "stranger" at the U.S. border is a potential Jesus, most any immigration restriction would be difficult to justify. 

This is of course a surprisingly literal interpretation by theological liberals who normally sneer at fundamentalism.  It is also an impossible basis for a workable immigration policy when almost five billion people live in countries where the average per capita gross domestic product is lower than Mexico's.

Beck quips that adherents to this post-national "sing 'Imagine' instead of "The Old Rugged Cross."'

Yet as John Zmirak has written in these cyberpages, "Christianity is universal—but it accepts and works through the particular: the baby in the crib, the family, the nation."

Many Methodist immigration enthusiasts understand this—but make the opposite mistake.  They have ample experience ministering to many personally sympathetic migrants—legal or otherwise—but little real knowledge of immigration policy in general.

Unfortunately, noble intentions aren't sufficient for good policy.

The Christian faith knows no national boundaries. But the nation-state by definition must.  The United Methodist Church has certainly been enriched by its overseas membership—including the African Methodists, who, like many Global South Christians, are orthodox in faith and morals. But its bishops favor an immigration course that will impoverish our country.

Tragically, through the pursuit of racial and ethnic harmony, improved living standards for the poor and a less balkanized society, misguided Methodists are helping promulgate immigration policies that will accomplish the exact opposite.

The only thing worse: John Wesley's progeny reduced to the cheap-labor lobby at prayer.

W. James Antle III (send him mail) is a senior writer for The American Conservative.