Friday, October 26, 2012

On Finding Comrades: The 2nd Annual Faith & Immigration Summit

 The 2nd Annual Faith & Immigration Summit was sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

Professional interpreters make sure everyone
can follow along in both English and Spanish.

story by Scott Schomburg and photos by Justin Hubbard, Duke Divinity School Interns for the North Carolina Council of Churches

I was new to the scene, a newcomer at the 2nd annual Faith & Immigration Statewide Summit. Just weeks ago I started my internship with NC Council of Churches.

Before the room could come into focus, I found myself in conversation with pastors, organizers, and advocacy groups, recognizing both a patience and an urgency that seems to come with this work. Our day together unfolded a compelling narrative of faith leaders in North Carolina moving forward in solidarity to make communities better for immigrants.* Not everyone shares this vision however, as some politicians continue to push a restrictionist agenda, infusing local communities with anti-immigration rhetoric. This story of challenge and hope, of conflicting conceptions of justice, and of faith leaders forming a public voice, captured my attention early.

The fellowship hall at United Church of Chapel Hill was filled with faith leaders looking for comrades, searching for creative ways to tell the truth about immigration in North Carolina. Rev. Ismael Ruiz-Millán, director of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, weaved accounts of immigrant struggle together with a lively scriptural imagination in his keynote address. For Rev. Ruiz-Millán, to stand with his friends to make communities better for immigrants is a way of practicing resurrection. That is, the very act of solidarity is in itself the account of the hope that is within us.

Mauricio Castro from the NC Latino Coalition leads a
workshop on North Carolina Legislation and Lobbying
Transitioning from Ruiz-Millán’s keynote address to a series of workshops, participants were able to focus the conversation in specific tracks covering the different modes of response available to faith community. From introductory sessions on immigration policy, to pastoral care, to the specific strategies of effective community organizing, seminar leaders offered their expertise and interacted with the many questions and testimonies of faith leaders in the room. I attended the advocacy workshop led by Mauricio Castro of the NC Latino Coalition.

Castro began by evoking the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero, whose prophetic witness against social injustice exemplified Castro’s greatest hopes of organizing for immigration reform in his home state. Unveiling the forces in North Carolina that prevent people from flourishing, Castro pointed back to the painful effects of two anti-immigration bills passed in June 2011. In addition, he described the anti-immigration aims of the Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy, and the upcoming legislative session that may well see consideration of new measures to make undocumented workers and immigrant families unwelcome in North Carolina.

Castro then pointed forward, calling for a mobilization of faith leaders with specific strategies to bend North Carolina legislation toward justice, making all communities better for immigrants. He urged leaders to take power analysis seriously, to know how strong are the forces against immigration reform. Yet, far from painting a paralyzing picture of insurmountable challenge, Castro and other seminar leaders evoked a desire for something better. The conversations reminded us that not even the most ardent of opponents to immigration reform are outside the possibilities of conversion. Indeed, even Romero’s courage to speak against social injustice came after his own unexpected conversion.

It was a day marked by a powerful underlying story: faith leaders are active, and congregations will not stand idly by while immigrant communities suffer. And in these months following the Faith and Immigration Statewide Summit, I imagine it will be a springboard for more conversations to be had and meals to be shared. Indeed, I am tempted to say, that the spirit of Romero is alive in North Carolina.

*I am borrowing the phrase “make communities better for immigrants” from the Latino Migration Project, which takes this to be its mission.

Did you miss the Summit but want to hear some of the workshops? You can listen to the recordings here as podcasts: You can find additional resources addressing immigration on the CBFNC website: This blog post originally appeared on the North Carolina Council of Churches' blog.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don’t Speak a Word

By Rev. Aileen Lawrimore

“Oh, she’ll be fine!”  “She’ll love it there!”  “She is so ready for this new stage!” (And my personal favorite . . .) “Honey, it will be much worse on you than it will on her.”

True. Every single statement: absolutely true. In fact, because everyone knows these things are true, you will never need to say them to another mother whose child is going away to college. She already knows this stuff.  Trust me (more on this in a later post).

But NOT saying something can be so difficult can’t it?

For example, if someone has a stomach bug, it takes true restraint for me NOT to tell them to drink plenty of water. Everyone knows that gastrointestinal upset in the extreme can lead to dehydration. I know that everyone knows this. But I feel the urge to tell them, just in case they’ve been living under a rock.

Here’s another one. I’ve actually tried not to say this; I can’t do it. My kids leave this house, keys in their hands, and I’m going to say . . . (say it with me now) . . . “Drive carefully!” I can’t help myself.

There are more critical times than these though, when people seriously do not need our comments.
Like when my sister was pregnant. She had a highly uncommon obstetric liver disorder that caused her to itch constantly, from the inside out. It was miserable, plus it was life-threatening to her and to her baby. She finally got some relief from an internationally renowned specialist and both she and the baby managed just fine, but here’s the thing: long before any doctors knew what was causing her symptoms, complete strangers would come to her aid.

“Have you tried lanolin? That stuff is amazing!”

“No, go with cocoa butter. It’s better.”

“Girl you need to get yourself some hydrocortisone cream. That’ll take care of you.”

Naturally, she had tried all these things and dozens more before she got her diagnosis. She knew all that and was painfully tired of hearing such things. In fact, not only did she not need to hear their advice, she really needed not to talk about her maddening condition at all.

The truth is, people usually do not need us to correct, advise, counsel, or admonish them. They need only for us to be with them: completely—silently—with them.

 “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  -Job 2:13

Aileen Lawrimore is minister, teacher, speaker, and writer. This article originally appeared on her blog, Aileen goes on…and on (

Friday, October 12, 2012

God Is Our Co-Pilot

Rev. Jason Blanton

For a while, some time in the 80's I think, these bumper stickers and tags became popular.  "God is my co-pilot."  It's well-meaning enough, until you start to realize that if God is the co-pilot, then you are actually at the controls.  So of course, next came the reaction, "if God is your co-pilot, switch seats!"

I think, at this point we need to admit that as American Christians, God has indeed become our co-pilot.  As we have spent what seems like the last 2 years (or more) fully dug into the trenches of the latest American culture battle, one of many in this 30+ year culture war, I fear we have allowed ourselves to slip further and further into irrelevance.

This isn't another blog about gay marriage.  Not really.  Its about how this latest round of bickering is a symptom of a much deeper problem, a problem that is endangering the very soul of the American Church.

If I were to ask a Catholic brother or sister, "who or what sets the agenda for your church?"  They may respond, "the Pope," or perhaps answer with something like the accumulated tradition of 2000 years of Christianity.

If I were to ask a Protestant, particularly an Evangelical, they will say "the Bible!"

Perhaps, if I were to ask a more charismatic brother or sister, they may say "The Spirit."

None would say our culture, or our political leaders, or "the world."  Yet, here we are engaged in the latest round of  "defending the faith" because we are reacting to what is going on around us.  Don't believe me?   I personally stood in a lunch line, waiting to make a sandwich on a mission trip in Grifton, NC, and had a fellow pastor chastise me for being affiliated with CBF.  "They are too tolerant of the gays (his words)"  My response was, "why is homosexuality so much worse than greed or idolatry or any of the other number of sins we seem to ignore?"  His answer - "The gay AGENDA!" Ask one of the many pastors at the forefront of the argument against gay marriage why their church, or their organization spends so much time recently talking about homosexuality, and they will say something along the lines of "the homosexual agenda."  "THEY are trying to make their lifestyle mainstream, so we have to talk about it."

Really?  So our churches are led, not by the Spirit, or the Word, or even our tradition?  They are instead simply a reactionary movement against the latest of whatever "agenda" we think is attacking us?

Let’s not forget how Jesus reacted when He was being attacked.  He didn't suit up for a culture war, or a real war - he put a guy's ear back on his head, and then put Himself on a cross.  Jesus wouldn't let the culture of nonstop violence and war ruin the Gospel.  The Kingdom was too important to waste on the ways of men. 

Jonathan Martin, a fellow Charlotte pastor, recently wrote a tremendous blog about "Gender, race, and Pentecost," in which he pointed out what the American church hasn't yet realized - we are no longer the center of the Christian world.   The Spirit is moving in places we have never heard of, in ways we can't imagine, and we are missing out - because we are taking our instructions from politicians, newscasters, and various five-star culture warriors.

Indeed, God is our co-pilot, and I'm afraid we aren't terribly anxious to switch seats.

Jason Blanton is the pastor of Grace Crossing Charlotte. This article originally appeared on his blog,

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Future of America

By Dr. Roger Gilbert

In the past few articles and sermons, I have pointed out that the biblical teaching is that we are to respect our government and be good citizens of our country, while putting service, devotion and worship of God in first place. We are to be careful not to confuse patriotism with Christianity. This relationship has often been described as the separation of church and state. The government is not to have authority over the church and the church (or any religious organization, institution or group) is not to have authority over the government.

We need to be clear, however, that this does not mean that one’s individual faith is not to influence one’s personal political opinions, votes, and participation. It also does not keep the church from addressing moral and ethical issues that affect our nation, state, or community. Neither the church (nor any preacher) should tell individuals how to vote or which party to support. But the church, and any pastor, is free to address the issues of the day.

Having said the above, I want to address a matter that should be of grave concern to every American, whatever your political persuasion. Associated Press reported that in the month of June the Obama and Romney campaigns combined raised $177 million in political contributions. Add to that fact that the total amount invested in these campaigns is unbelievably, astronomically higher than the one month total of $177 million. We are talking about billions! The changes in the law that removes the limits on contributions and makes disclosure optional has opened the door for individuals and groups, possibly even foreign entities, to anonymously have enormous power and control. It is obscene. It is frightening. The “buying” of political office is becoming more and more a reality. In the long run, the only “winners” in this maddening trend are the media businesses who are doing right well airing the campaign ads. I understand that each party says they have to do it because the other party is doing it. Yet, there must be some way to bring about reform.

I know that individual citizens and even groups of citizens feel so powerless to have any influence on this run away political nightmare. I feel the frustration. I also know that in this election year the greatest concern of each party is “we’ve got to win.” And yet, if we believe in democracy at all, we know that when enough of the citizens let their voices be heard, changes slowly but surely take place. I am sure that many of you are a lot wiser in these matters than I am, but it seems to me that one move surely is for us as individuals to let our elected officials know that we the citizens are serious about positive changes. It is not a matter of the Republican or the Democratic parties. Nor is it just a matter of this election. It is a matter of the future of America. The land of the free and the home of the brave is in danger of becoming something very different.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Announcer."