A North County pastor becomes an advocate for immigration reform after discovering the human factor.
I have become an accidental advocate for immigration reform. As senior pastor at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, I lead a congregation that has dedicated itself to building relationships with our immigrant neighbors through tutoring, a college-prep program, adult and preschool literacy, as well as worshipping and serving together in the community and around the world.
Because of those relationships, the problems that result from our broken immigration system are not hypothetical but very personal. In the church we live in covenant relationships. When a child is baptized we commit to helping parents raise their children. Therefore, children living in fear of their parents’ deportation are not “their” children but “our” children.
As Christians with strong family values we inherently understand the importance of keeping families together and we see the urgent need for immigration laws that promote this family unity. Members of our church have formed the North County Immigration and Citizenship Center to help children and adults living in fear and stuck in a broken immigration process.
Lasting and comprehensive immigration reform rooted in biblical values will give these children — many of whom are citizens — the chance to leave fear behind and contribute to our society with all of their God-given potential. I’ve been inspired by the stories of dozens of first-generation Hispanic college students from our church attending four-year schools across the country, preparing to make a difference and serve our community.
One 20-something, who has lived here since he was a young boy, recently received his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) papers as a young dreamer. As a result, he finished his master’s in family therapy, and has continued with a seminary degree so he can serve as an army chaplain.
Because we are knee-deep in these relationships, I went to Washington in July to be a part of the Pray4Reform (http://pray4reform.org) Day of Prayer and Action, not as a lobbyist or immigration reform expert, nor to support any particular party, but as a pastor with a story to tell. It is a story of our church and a desire to give voice to people in our community by urging lawmakers to support immigration reform that respects the rule of law, maintains family unity and secures our borders.
On Thursday, my church continued our fruitful and honest journey with others in our community. We spoke about ways we can support and pray for members of Congress who can improve our laws in ways that honor human dignity and family unity. The event with Matthew Soerens, author of “Welcoming the Stranger,” was one of dozens nationwide this week, part of the ongoing evangelical Pray4Reform effort.
I believe Christians must take seriously what scripture says about welcoming, loving and providing for the foreigner in our midst (including 92 times in the Old Testament). Individuals may have different views about immigration reform or about a particular piece of legislation, but to limit our nation’s economic potential, block aspiring citizens from fully contributing to our society, separate families, deprive employers of a stable workforce, hinder law enforcement’s ability to work with immigrant communities to keep all of us safe, and force millions to live in the shadows is not Christian or biblical.
Instead, we need a new immigration process that celebrates aspiring Americans’ dedication to our churches, our communities, our country and our vision for a brighter future. That means ensuring that our hardworking neighbors have an opportunity to earn citizenship, alongside ensuring that our borders are secure and that we have a legal immigration process that works for our economy and for all American workers.
A year ago, I didn’t think I’d be advocating for immigration reform. But relationships and scripture have led me to work on behalf of those in our community who don’t have a voice in this debate. Our church is growing in our understanding of how to have a conversation that is not polarized and reactionary, but respectful and thoughtful.
I invite you to join us, and honestly explore what scripture has to say about welcoming the stranger. Pray with me for God’s wisdom, for compassion and justice, and as always, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.”
McClenahan is the senior pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.
Sunday was my last at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church for the next four months while I’m on
sabbatical. Paula Taylor reminded us of what was true about us and the church:
We love God, his church and each other; the church loves us, wants us to be
blessed while on sabbatical, and look forward to our return. Paula then prayed
a prayer of blessing for us. Hands raised, the congregation was sending us
away, so that we might be refreshed and renewed to return again. She prayed for
God’s presence to be with us as we journey together to Israel, and then walk
the five-hundred mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. We
all prayed together from the Northumbria Community... Christ,
as a light illumine and guide me.Christ,
as a shield overshadow me.Christ
beside me on my left and my right.This
day be within and without me,lowly
and meek, yet all-powerful.Be
in the heart of each to whom I speak;in
the mouth of each who speaks unto me.This
day be within and wit…
We decided to walk 22km to the outskirts of Santiago and walk the last few kilometers in the morning.
Neither of us could sleep, so we got up, packed our mochilas for the last time and walked to the old city at 5am. It was dark and rather than being joined by other pilgrims, we passed a few late night partiers and a woman walking her dog. It's not the entrance into Santiago we pictured, but we were all alone in the Praza do Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral.
It was June 17—thirty-eight days and 780 kilometers since we started May 11, in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
We were two of the first ten pilgrims in line for our compostelas, which meant we got tickets for a free lunch at the historic parador. Peter from Australia showed up and introduced us to Michael and Linda from Washington DC, who also got the lucky tickets.
Peter also knew Ted and Darlene from Winnipeg, and gave them contact, since my phone died and we couldn't contact them. But we …
In 1981, the summer between my junior and senior year at UCLA, I studied in Madrid for six weeks. I had declared my Spanish major the previous September because I could graduate in four years with AP units and because I loved the language. I saw a flyer for the summer program with Bryn Mawr’s Centro de Estudios Hispánicos. I got accepted to the program with a scholarship. I packed my bags and backpack and began my first trip to Europe. Not many of my friends studied abroad, and no one in my family had traveled to Europe. Just a few years ago my mom told me she cried all the way back from the airport.
I had never been to a nation’s capitol, even our own. Madrid’s monuments, fountains, post office that looked like a palace, wide boulevards, narrow alleys and the expansive Retiro Park inspired me. I was taken by Spain’s romantic history of kings and queens, art, culture, buildings, the independence of food, I experienced the independence of travel and the journey with other students in d…