Christy and Brad Knetsch, pastors of Madison Square CRC, delivered a sermon this past Sunday called “Testify: Immigrants Are a Blessing, Not a Burden”. We asked Christy a few questions about why they chose to preach on immigration—and to do an immigration action alert during the service!
Why do you believe immigration is an important topic to speak on during worship?
Only 16% of evangelical pastors in the US have preached on immigration from the pulpit, but stories of immigration and commands on how to interact with immigrants are found throughout Bible. Scripture makes it is clear that immigrants are close to the heart of God. During worship, we have an opportunity to help Christians examine what scripture says about immigrants and to invite congregants to live out a faithful response. There is no doubt that immigration has become a highly politicized issue. But, how can we expect Christians living in the United States to allow their faith to inform their life, attitudes and behaviors if we do not talk about topics like immigration during worship? This issue is ultimately about people and God calls us to love one another, therefore we shouldn’t shy away from preaching on immigration. The church does not have borders. God’s love does not have borders. God cares for the sojourner, the stranger, the foreigner and calls us to be welcoming people. I believe our faith must inform our attitudes and opinions about immigration. That is why I felt compelled to speak on immigration in worship.
Why did you encourage congregants to do advocacy to change our immigration policies?
The book of Isaiah says, “Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (Isaiah 1:17) We have a biblical call to advocate for the most vulnerable in our communities and we want to invite our congregants to practice this call. Micah Challenge USA defines advocacy as, “a challenge to ourselves and our leaders to change attitudes, behaviors, and policies that perpetuate injustice and deny God’s will for all creation to flourish.” God’s love for his children can be reflected in many ways. We believe that one of them is through advocacy.
It is essential that we not only help to shape a biblical worldview of doing justice but that we also give congregants tangible opportunities to steward their voices. If as Christians we do not speak up to our elected officials, we miss out on an opportunity to speak truth into power and shape the policies that impact the people that God has called us to defend.
How did the congregants react to the sermon?
The members of our church were very receptive to this message. Immigrants and US-born members alike were thrilled that we preached on such a relevant issue in society but with a Christian perspective. Many people wanted more information about how to be involved with advocating for immigration reform and how they can change the conversation about immigrants.
We are a church that has a very large number of immigrant families and people impacted by our broken immigration system. There is nothing more empowering for those families than to see that their church stands in solidarity with them. Multiple congregants shared how affirmed they felt that their church brought up this issue that is so personal to their lives. When the church can work together and use its voice for collective impact, the body of Christ is strengthened.
How have immigrants blessed your life?
As a teenager, the first immigrants I met were Nabila and Refaat Walaan, parents of my life-long friend Christina. God used them to shape my life in profound ways. They welcomed me to spend countless nights in their home, gave me rides to school, and fed me at their kitchen table. They made me feel like a daughter. They were a beautiful example of what it looked like to follow God and love others. Even though I could not understand Arabic, it was clear that they spoke to one another with love and respect; their marriage was a model for me. I am so thankful for their immigration journey from Egypt and the ways they invested in my life. Our community is a better, safer, and a more prosperous place because of their presence.
Decades later, I can no longer count the number of immigrants who have blessed my life, both documented and undocumented. Although I am married to an immigrant, there is no doubt that the color of our skin and the sounds of our voices affords us the privilege to not walk in fear of arrest because few would ever question my husband's status or ask for his papers.
As Christians, we are called to welcome the stranger. I was welcomed by the “stranger” during a time in my life where I often felt alone and vulnerable. Immigrants have continued to bless my life in ways I cannot describe. I pray that I can be used by God to do the same.
[Image: Flickr user Joseph Gilbert]