In a strongly worded column, Bob Terry, the president and editor of The Alabama Baptist, responds to the Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law and the recent Southern Baptist Convention resolution on illegal immigration.
At its best, the Christian church has never allowed the government to dictate to whom its message and ministry may be directed. Baptists, especially, have championed the separation of church and state. Anytime the government attempts to tell the Church with whom it may share the gospel, that government is out of bounds. Baptists have bled and died to keep the government from ruling the Church. The government may not use its power to control the Church’s ministry.
He cites something I did not know about the legislative history of the Beason-Hammon bill. He states:
It is unfortunate and unnecessary that Alabama churches have been drawn into this debate. The state Senate adopted an amendment to this bill that would have allowed churches to minister to illegal immigrants without fear of government reprisals. But that amendment was purposefully removed during conference committee considerations between Senate and House members.
The Alabama Legislature knowingly attempted to insert itself into the sacred space reserved for God alone in dictating to churches to whom and how they might minister in Jesus’ name.
According to Terry, someone specifically and “purposefully” aimed this legislation right at the “sacred space reserved for God alone.” The concerns of the churches would have been alleviated by the Senate Amendment, but the members on this conference committee would not allow such disregard for the “rule of law” by churches. Wow.
Now churches find themselves in that untenable position of facing the possibility that a youth director could be jailed because he allowed an immigrant child without proper papers to ride in the church van to Vacation Bible School. That should not be.
It is no wonder the immigration law has evoked the ire of most of the state’s major denominations. The Roman Catholic statement says the law violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, “in particular by criminalizing our Gospel imperative of serving the poor.” The Episcopal bishop said the law “will make it impossible to love and be hospitable to our neighbors as we ought to do.” The United Methodist statement reads, in part, “We also believe it (the law) contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith.”
It should not be surprising that an Alabama Baptist missionary declared he is willing to go to jail, if necessary, in order to continue ministering to Hispanics.