According to their press release, the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops will visit the Mexican border on May 7 apparently to advertise their political support for “immigration reform.” Here’s their statement:
On Tuesday, May 7, beginning at 1:30 p.m. PDT, United Methodist bishops from all over the world will visit the U.S. – Mexico border to immerse themselves in the reality of life at the Southern border of the U.S. and sharpen their focus on how the church can be in ministry to persons residing there.
“We bishops carry a long biblical and historical commitment to caring for the sojourner among us. This season when the U.S. Senate is considering a major bill on immigration policy reform provides us a critical opportunity to continue to give witness to the grace and mercy of God through this visit to the immigrant communities of the U.S./Mexico border,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Los Angeles Episcopal Area.
The top clergy leaders of The United Methodist Church will be joined by border community leaders, as well as leaders of the Methodist Church of Mexico and area United Methodists. News media are also invited.
Some of the bishops will visit the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest border crossing in the world, as well as the border wall, the most striking symbol of U.S. border enforcement policies, and the Plaza de las Americas.
Others will cross over into Mexico and visit the Plaza del Bordo, an open-air migrant encampment that includes both internal migrants, as well as immigrants who have crossed into the US, been detained by the U.S. Border Patrol and have been repatriated or returned to Mexico. They will distribute health kits to the community and visit a ministry of the Methodist Church of Mexico.
The bishops will all join together at Friendship Park for a service of Holy Communion at 3:30 p.m. Some will hike 1½ miles to Friendship Park through the Tijuana Estuary, one of the last undeveloped areas in the region. The hike will allow participants to experience a bit of the terrain that immigrants crossing over into the U.S. navigate.
Bishop Carcano has been the lead spokesperson for the bishops on immigration, participating in Washington, D.C. rallies and recently visiting President Obama with other religious figures who support his proposals. The 2008 General Conference approved a resolution asking the bishops to “urgently establish a Plan of Action of Advocacy and Welcoming the Sojourner.”
And The United Methodist church effectively favors completely open borders and the guarantee of all government benefits to all immigrants immediately. Another 2008 resolution urges offering “legal status for all undocumented migrants currently in the United States, as well as for those arriving in the future;” to “oppose the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico;” to “call the United States government to immediately cease all arrests, detainment, and deportations of undocumented immigrants…;” insists “any pathway [for legal status] created for undocumented migrants should have minimal obstacles;” and demands “an increase in the number of visas for short-term workers to come into the United States to work in a safe, legal, and orderly way. Opportunities for legalization should be available for those who wish to remain permanently.” There is virtually no form of border security or limits on immigration or restrictions on government entitlements that the United Methodist church officially accepts.
So the bishops are in fact acting out United Methodism’s official stances on immigration, even though the vast majority of church members are completely unaware of these stances, and almost certainly most would disagree about open borders and unlimited access to government entitlement programs.
Less than 1 percent of United Methodists in the U.S. are Hispanic. Not quite 1 percent are Asian. Despite all the political rhetoric from bishops and other church bureaucrats, the church, like other declining old-line Protestant denominations, remains over 90 percent white Anglo, unable to reach new ethnic constituencies.
What if United Methodist bishops and agencies, instead of staging political statements on immigration, actually focused on welcoming immigrants to United Methodist churches? And what if they kept in mind that growing Hispanic churches are evangelical, Christ-focused, Bible believing, and usually charismatic or Pentecostal?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if United Methodism were better known for evangelistic success among immigrants instead of ineffective, empty political rhetoric?
Some day, we pray!