"The moral crisis in real time": A letter from Bishop Gates

Bishop Alan M. Gates issued on July 24, 2019, the following letter to the diocesan community regarding the ongoing national immigration policy crisis.

In these summer days, at a time when we may be looking forward to some opportunity for rest and renewal, many of us find ourselves deep in a state of agitation and distress over the ongoing crisis in our nation regarding immigration policy and practice.

When I was a child in the 1960s our family had good friends who had been among those 120,000 Japanese-Americans forcibly placed in internment camps in the United States during World War II.  With the passage of time, Americans recognized that this incarceration had been a violation of our own American principles and ideals.  Congressional reports in the 1980s condemned the internment as unjust and motivated by racism and xenophobia, rather than strategic necessity.  Presidents Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush all issued formal apologies and signed legislation to redress the injustice.

Why, I wonder, are we capable of acknowledging our national failures and sins only with the safe passage of time, and not when these failures are immediately before us?  What paralysis of leadership and fear of being labeled “partisan” prevents us, individually and collectively, from finding our way forward in the midst of such clear moral crisis?

I need not recite the evidence of this crisis.  We have all seen the reports:  infants and children separated from their parents; access to legal asylum application forcibly denied; detention centers marked by squalid conditions; a drowned toddler and her father washed up on a river bank.

That there is a crisis cannot be denied.  That there may be differing views of what political and legal paths forward should be pursued cannot prevent us from making and demanding a response.  Our Christian moral principles of compassion, of “welcoming the stranger” and of respect for the dignity of every human being allow for nothing less.  Our American ideals of opportunity, of receiving “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and of due legal process all point in the same direction.

I commend to you the powerful statement (available here) issued by my colleague bishops in Texas, saying in part:

We call on our leaders to trust in the goodness, generosity and strength of our nation. God has blessed us with great abundance. With it comes the ability and responsibility to bless others. … This is not a call for open borders. This is not saying that immigration isn’t complicated. This is a call for a humane and fair system for moving asylum seekers and refugees through the system as required by law.

Likewise, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has spoken powerfully, in this video message, of our moral obligation in this moment:

[The] parable of the Good Samaritan invites us, calls us, challenges us, to be neighbor to the neighbor. Some of our neighbors are at the border and some of our neighbors are those who have immigrated to this country and are living right in our neighborhood or in our city or in our community, or our state. To show compassion to them is to obey Jesus. Go and do likewise.

I encourage every one of us to respond as our abilities and conscience dictate.  A resource list accompanying this letter provides some ways we can join, support and connect with others in making a response, locally and churchwide.

I am grateful for the additional learning, networking and ministry opportunities that are emerging through the efforts of our new diocesan canon for immigration and multicultural ministries, the Rev. Dr. Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa, including an immigration educational event that is being planned for Saturday, Oct. 26 (details to come).  I invite you to call upon him with your questions and ideas at jbntagengwa@diomass.org or 617-482-4826, ext. 400.

Meanwhile, I am also grateful that in two weeks a group of our diocesan youth and their adult companions will spend a week in mission and pilgrimage at our nation’s southern border.  (Follow along via their blog, here.)  They will visit the migrant trail, meet with Border Patrol agents, visit a detention center and work with Cruzando Fronteras, a ministry of the Diocese of Arizona, which is caring for nearly a thousand asylum seekers awaiting their asylum interview. The teens will do whatever is most needed–rehabbing facilities, helping to prepare and serve meals, entertaining children–and in so doing they will explore issues of borders, boundaries, walls, bridges, paths, strangers, family, protection and hospitality.  I invite your prayers for our young pilgrims.

May God grant us the capacity to speak and act with courage, compassion and clarity.  May we do so in our own day, not requiring the passage of a generation before acknowledging and decrying those places where our moral compass has failed us.

Faithfully, in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
Bishop of Massachusetts

For those who wish to learn of practical ways to support our church in refugee resettlement:

Episcopal Migration Ministries is an Episcopal Church ministry and one of nine national agencies responsible for resettling refugees in the United States in partnership with the government.  Episcopal Migration Ministries currently has 13 affiliate offices in 12 states.

For those who wish to translate their faith into public policy initiatives and advocacy:  

The Episcopal Public Policy Network and the Office for Government Relations provide a strong and steady voice on behalf of the church, and offer advocacy alerts, research reports, a record of Episcopal Church policy statements and a curriculum for civil discourse.

Episcopal City Mission (ECM) in the Diocese of Massachusetts encourages the work of accompaniment—learning to be a neighbor to immigrants in our communities, particularly those facing detention and deportation, by meeting their needs for bond payment, legal resources, housing and community.  ECM is the fiscal sponsor and close partner to the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, and is involved in organizing a parallel network in southeastern Massachusetts, where allies have been providing immigrants with rides to the immigration appointments and court hearings that increase their chances of staying in this country.  For more information, contact ECM’s director for programs and engagement, Natalie Finstad, at natalie@episcopalcitymission.org or 832-454-6631.

Additional local action and accompaniment opportunities are detailed in this PDF hand-out created by the Action for Immigrant Lives coalition, including a fundraising event on Sunday, Aug. 25 for the Massachusetts TPS Committee and its ongoing campaign to defend Temporary Protected Status holders.  The Very Rev. Amy McCreath, Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, will be attending and welcomes colleagues and members of our diocesan community to join her.  Find sign-up information here.

MIRA, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, is an additional local source for information on promoting the rights and integration of immigrants and refugees in New England.  It offers education and training, leadership development, institutional organizing, strategic communications, policy analysis and advocacy.