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Preaching About Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Muslim Bias

How can I possibly preach about Muslims or refugees without risking that my preaching will come across as partisan or politicized?

When it comes to difficult issues, we don’t want our churches to become partisan or politicized. But neither should we be silent when our community is looking for moral leadership. Speaking up for vulnerable communities is part of our call, along with advocating for justice.

The most valuable contribution that most church leaders can make to the national dialogue on immigrants and immigration policy is simply to preach about the biblical principles that should guide us—without getting caught up in the complexities of specific immigration policies. It is best to avoid partisan talking points as far as possible.

If you feel called to preach about anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim bias, the best place to start is with the Bible: what does it say that might inform how we treat the vulnerable community being considered?

The immigrant appears frequently in the Bible alongside three other vulnerable groups of people, including the orphan, the widow, and the poor. God makes clear that he loves these vulnerable individuals, whom he commands his people to love and protect. The prophets continually bring a word from God: “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”

Welcome the stranger is one of the most often repeated commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Old Testament is full of stories of heroes who were immigrants, e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Ruth, David and others. They crossed borders under many of the same circumstances as today’s immigrants: fleeing poverty and famine, reunifying a family or seeking asylum. God repeatedly challenged the Israelites to remember their own history as immigrants in the land of Egypt, and to allow their ancestors’ experience to inform the way they treated the immigrants who came into their land.

The theme of hospitality continues throughout the New Testament. Jesus reinforces the command to welcome the stranger saying, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The story of the Good Samaritan is a story that expands our definition of neighbor. Jesus surprised his listeners by using a member of a rival ethnic and religious group—a despised Samaritan—as the model of the GOOD neighbor. In a modern retelling of the story today, who might Jesus use as a model of the good neighbor to surprise his listeners? A Native American? A Mexican immigrant? A Muslim neighbor?

For more about scripture suggestions see The Church Leader’s Guide to Immigration published by World Relief. You can download it for free at: https://www.worldrelief.org/church-leaders-resources-download/ .

You don’t need to be an immigration expert to preach on God’s heart for immigrants, nor do you need to engage in the political dynamics of immigration. Let Scripture guide your message.

Be prepared to answer basic questions about immigration.

There are economic and public safety questions around immigration. We need to be able to address legitimate concerns that have led many in our churches to see immigration as a threat, because until we do so, they are unlikely to embrace a biblical perspective toward immigrants.

For example, it is not true that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. In fact, the opposite is true; the crime rate of immigrants is lower. It is not true that immigrants burden the economy and don’t pay taxes. In fact, their contributions to the economy far outweigh their burden. The Social Security Administration reports that undocumented immigrants and their employers pay over $13 billion annually in payroll taxes alone for benefits they will never receive. For more about these and other facts see “Ten Myths about Immigration” at http://www.tolerance.org/immigration-myths.

Be prepared to spend some time dispelling untrue stereotypes and misinformation spread by the internet. Misconceptions feed fear and discrimination.

One of the untruths that has been widely spread is that the Muslim scripture is innately violent and calls for the utter subjugation of non-believers. This interpretation ignores a broad reading of the Quran—including many more passages that teach non-violence—and centuries of interpretive scholarship that mitigate the Quran’s occasional violent verses. Like the “violence verses” in the Bible, violent verses in the Quran should not be viewed in isolation.

Another untrue story that has spread is that Muslims are trying to establish Islamic sharia law in this country. It is hard to imagine this is a possibility, given that Muslims make up only about 1 % of the population. Nevertheless, anti-sharia legislation has been introduced in over 20 states, nearly all using the same template, suggesting these efforts are part of a coordinated campaign.

It is important for you to be aware of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups and activists whose purpose is to sow fear and discrimination based on falsehoods. One of these groups—Act! for America—is currently active in South Dakota.

To become aware of the primary leaders and funders in the anti-Muslim industry, see this excellent short report: “Jihad Against Islam” https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2011/jihad-against-islam.

If you go to the internet to learn about Islam, be very careful where you get your information.

Ask yourself: Does this seem to be a scholarly source? Does it quote an academic expert in the study of Islam with meaningful credentials? Anti-Muslim “think tanks” quote each other’s publications and studies, and thereby reinforce each other’s false information so it appears to be widely accepted even when it is not.

For a reliable basic introduction to Islam see The Pluralism Project’s “Introduction to Islam” at http://pluralism.org/religions/islam/introduction-to-islam/.

Check your denomination’s resources for preaching or a coordinating adult education series on immigration or Islam.

Consider offering an adult education class in coordination with your preaching. See Resources on Islam for Sermons and Education at http://sdfaithinpubliclife.org/resources-islam-sermons-education/ and Resources on Refugees and Migrants for Sermons and Education at http://sdfaithinpubliclife.org/resources-refugees-migrants-sermons-education/.

Follow up with a Know your Neighbor event.

The best way to reduce fear of the neighbor who is religiously and culturally “other” is to get to know them. We have recently seen an uptick in discrimination against immigrants and Muslims. Consider hosting a project or event to encourage relationship-building with immigrant and minority groups in your community so these vulnerable groups know they have allies. A “Get to know your Neighbor” event might be a picnic or potluck that is simply fellowship driven, a series of talks during each other’s education hour, or a cultural heritage event in the community.

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