Her resolution with additions and edits was adopted by the G.A., and now the national church gets to put its money where its mouth is.
Like most resolutions dealing with social justice matters, this one instructs the Washington office to “advocate vigorously” for new legislation. It calls “for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship and recognizes the critical role that immigrants play in the health of the U.S. economy as well as border stabilization.” Right on. But that directive merely supplements the major order. First, the approved resolution points to us. It calls upon the PC(USA) to “refrain from holding national meetings in those states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color or Hispanic ancestry might subject them to harassment due to legislation similar to Arizona Law SB 1070/HB2162.”
More easily said than done, since the denomination’s well-named Big Tent Event is due to open its flaps in Indianapolis on June 30 to about 1,500 Presbyterians in a state where such legislation could be implemented on July 1.
This past February, the Indiana Senate adopted Senate Bill 590, directing police officers to request proof of citizenship or immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a detained person could be in the U.S. illegally. The proposed law awaits action by the state House, which likely will come in the last week of April. If adopted, it will go into force two months later, on the second day of the conference.
The top leaders of the denomination, while urging us all to register for the conference, have recommended we postpone purchasing airline tickets and reserving hotel rooms so that, if the proposed state law gets adopted, the event can be moved elsewhere.
Two years ago, the inaugural Big Tent Event lived up to its billing by aggregating 11 conferences which otherwise meet annually or biennially. It provided persons with particular ministry callings with the opportunity to rekindle their charisms and retool their skills under the tutelage of the greatest leaders in such fields, while worshiping and fellowshipping and comparing notes with those of wildly different charisms and callings. Amid the broad diversity there rang out a chorus of oneness in the Spirit, oneness in the Lord.
Even amid my reporting responsibilities, the teaching informed my ministry, the fellowship refreshed my faith and the worship stirred my soul.
But what about the second Big Event?
No denominational police would arrest our leaders for overlooking the adopted policy, since such an event requires many months’ planning — way more lead time than the Indiana state Legislature is providing. But two of the 11 sub-conferences are the National Multicultural Church Network Conference and the Racial Ethnic and Immigrants Convocation. What would come of those gatherings if even a few of those participants could be subjected to legalized harassment?
Scare them away and, at best, the conference would have to be renamed the Pretty Big Tent Event.
Leaders Gradye Parsons and Linda Valentine are forging ahead with the conference plans, reminding us that tents were made for moving. Yes, the tentative planning could deter some conferees, and the possible need for conference organizers to negotiate their way out of hotel and convention center contracts could cost some denominational dollars. But as we go to press, church leaders are preparing contingency plans — and hoping that we Presbyterians in the pews will adjust, and that we’ll invite our friends to attend as well.
The Outlook will be there. Con-sider yourself urged to attend, too.
It would be so much easier for us simply to urge Congress to enact humane immigration reform. But, as Trina Zelle told us, “If you’re going to be serious about being a church family, you don’t go to places where some of us are not safe.”