Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Religion and politics…border security and immigration policy. Few other subjects are as polarizing today. We’ve learned not to discuss them at the dinner table (most especially not at the Thanksgiving Dinner table) or else we quickly end up in arguments, lose our appetites, and push away from the table, disgusted by the things our own family members say. But as Christians who recognize the table as the place we celebrate Communion, can’t we risk more than simply polite conversation? When we break bread at the table, we institute ritual reminders of reconciliation and redemption, where all are welcome, broken as they are and in need of forgiveness and reconciliation.
For decades, many people of faith have asserted that politics is a topic that should not be discussed from our pulpits. But as the church has fallen silent on political policy, it has largely given over the formation of its congregants on such matters to TV and radio personalities. As Evangelicals, we ground ourselves in Scripture as the ultimate authority of our identity and beliefs. But research from the last several election cycles has shown that fewer Christians are citing the Bible or their local church as the source of their political beliefs. In fact, a 2015 survey of Evangelicals by LifeWay Research found that of those surveyed, only 12% listed the Bible as a key influencer of their stance on immigration and only 2% listed their local church as a key influencer.
Given these statistics, one might think that the Bible is silent on the issue of immigration (or how God wants His people to treat foreigners), but that is not the case. In fact, the Bible is a book overflowing with stories about migration, the causes of it, and the vulnerabilities of those who are forced to do so.
As followers of Christ, we are deeply troubled by crippling division amongst fellow believers, un-dignifying caricatures of immigrants portrayed in the media, and a lack of awareness of how the Bible tells us to treat the foreigner in our land. We feel compelled to offer The Neighbor’s Table: Experiencing God’s Heart for the Immigrant as a way to gather around the dinner table, breaking bread together with strangers with the intention of listening to one another and becoming friends. The Neighbors Table invites small groups from local churches to enter an eight-week journey of exploring what the Bible has to say about strangers in the land. It is our desire to help you lead your brother and sisters to better understand God’s heart for those in need.
The Neighbor’s Table is a project sponsored by three partners, The SURGE Network, Neighborhood Ministries and Arizona State University. We are each troubled by the division, racial tension, fear, and anxiety that seem to color every national and local conversation in the media. For Neighborhood Ministries, this is more than news headlines, it is the everyday experience of families we have loved and served for 40 years in the heart of Phoenix. Our SURGE network of church leaders is concerned that so few evangelical Christians’ views around immigration are being shaped by the Bible, and our flock is being discipled by someone other than Jesus. Our partners at ASU are especially excited to see reconciliation in our city and state, and they have secured a small grant to study and better understand how this happens.
Dr. Doug Kelley
Arizona State University