I don’t often seek out Christianity Today articles, but sometimes people bring them to my attention. And sometimes I have some feelings and thoughts about them that feel worth sharing.
For instance: this recent piece about a West Texas pastor who shelters migrants, despite holding generally Republican stances on immigration.
It’s so complicated. “Pastor E,” as the writer calls him to protect his identity because he’s literally engaging in illegal activity by helping migrants find work opportunities even though they are not legally permitted to work, is clearly doing a ton of good work.
He’s rallying his church to provide meals, shelter, bathrooms, and showers for recently arrived migrants who have nowhere else to go. His faith community is making a difference in people’s experiences. They’re decreasing the misery wrought by a totally inhumane system that doesn’t allow migrants to work legally, which most of them very much want to do.
I love that Pastor E—and the writer of this piece, Carrie McKean—are asking the crucial questions: What does love look like? How do we honor migrants as God’s image-bearers?
At the same time, though, I find myself deeply frustrated with the connections not being made between love and politics. Really, McKean actively refuses to make these connections.
Questions of immigration policy, she concludes, are not Pastor E’s “primary concern.” She goes on to say, “Neither are they mine, nor, most likely, should they be yours. Most of us will never be in a position to steer US immigration policy, but we will have opportunities to love our neighbors well.”
We must not “busy ourselves with political debates we cannot solve,” McKean argues.
I really am sympathetic to the view that there are things we can change, and things we can’t change, and we should focus on the things we can.
And yet. I don’t know that I’m quite so ready to give up entirely on US democracy. Or at least on the power of nonviolent activism to really change things.
(I’d highly recommend Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark and Andre Henry’s book All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep if you’re in need of some inspiration along these lines—see “super chill book reviews” here and here.)
Sure, most of us will never be US presidents, senators, congressional representatives, or Supreme Court justices. But we can vote. We can put pressure on our leaders. We can engage in all sorts of activism that helps our leaders move toward crafting more compassionate, just, peace-building policies.
One might expect that Pastor E, as someone who is literally breaking current laws to help migrants find work, might want those laws to be reexamined. That he might want immigrants to be able to contribute to the US economy in the ways they want to contribute. That he might want them to be protected from the risks of trafficking and labor exploitation that he recognizes as all too real.
These are all policy changes we can advocate for.
I’m very aware that our current US democracy is highly…imperfect, to put it lightly. But I imagine we only speed our descent into fascism if we throw our hands up, pretend we have zero influence, and only focus on the individualized mercy we can show to the people the system chews up and spits out.
The person from whom I learned about this article summed up Pastor E’s experience something like this: “He found that love was in conflict with his politics, so he chose to act out of love.”
What love required differed from what his right-wing politics required.
I’m so glad Pastor E is doing the work of love. And yes, this practical, immediate work is making more of an immediate difference in real people’s lives right now than his political views do.
But political views matter, too. And they, too, make a real difference.
Laws around gay marriage, for example, shifted as the tide of public opinion shifted dramatically—which, in turn, happened because of the brave and costly efforts of LGBTQ activists, advocates, and other ordinary people who chose to believe their actions could make a difference.
Perhaps if we find our politics in conflict with God’s call to love others, we need to reconsider our politics. Love and our politics don’t have to be in tension. Our political views can be shaped by love. And these views matter.
So, yes, let’s do what love requires, regardless of our political views. But let’s also examine those political views where they’re in conflict with love. Let’s be willing to change them. And let’s dare to believe that both our actions and our beliefs matter. That ordinary, non-lawmaker people can make a difference in confronting inhumane laws. That we can both shelter migrants and move to change the policies that leave them without options.
Peace, compassion, and courage to you this week.