“It is not right to have meetings and do things as a church, when the entire church cannot be there,” said Trina Zelle, a minister from Grand Canyon Presbytery who, along with David Rockwell from de Cristo Presbytery, brought Commissioners’ Resolution 11-11, “Regarding a Call to Stand with Immigrant Presbyterians in Their Hour of Need.”
The assembly’s Committee 11 – known as Social Justice Issues B: the Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World – discussed the resolution for close to three hours before passing it by a vote of 43-8.
That resolution calls on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to “refrain from holding 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 SB1070/HB2162.”
Commissioners from the committee who disagreed with the committee’s action intend to bring a minority report when the full General Assembly considers the committee’s recommendation in plenary this week.
Former General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase – who for years worked in mission along the U.S.-Mexican border and now is co-director of the Stony Point Center outside New York City – proposed an amendment to the resolution. This amendment, which the committee approved, allows for exceptions if such laws are passed in states where PC(USA) camp and conference centers are located, and encourages those centers to develop “sanctuary” responses that would create safe places for all participants.
The committee also added an amendment that directs the PC(USA)’s stated clerk to ask the National Council of Churches to request that North American churches join sister churches in Europe in a common day of prayer to commemorate migrants who have died on their journey. Former General Assembly moderator John Fife asked the committee to consider this item, in solidarity with churches in Europe that are addressing the thousands of migrants who have died migrating between North Africa and Europe.
But much of the discussion involved the impact of immigration law in the United States.
“I pastor a group where 90% of our membership is undocumented and our people live in fear,” said a commissioner from Central Florida Presbytery, speaking in favor of the commissioners’ resolution. “We are asking for our church to pay a price, not for fear, but for loving our brothers and sisters at this moment,” he said.
“I have been assured by our two former moderators who work in this area and have years of experience that the people in the states where this is happening, those who are being discriminated against by this law, are the people who are asking for this, because it is a strong statement,” said Katherine Cooke, a commissioner from Charlotte Presbytery.
In response to the committee’s action, Zelle – the co-author of the resolution – said: “I feel like this country is really infected with this disease of hatred and it has been spread all over. And this is the church saying: `No, we are not going to let it go anymore.’ ”