PELLA — Several people from different walks of life sat around in a circle inside Second Reformed Church to learn how to better serve refugees and immigrants as practicing Christians.
The discussion featured author Matthew Soerens, who is the U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief and national coordinator at the Evangelical Immigration Table.
He also served as the national coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms that aligns with biblical values.
In his talk, Soerens addressed immigration as a biblical issue while acknowledging how the issue has become politically divisive within the last few years.
“Our mission isn't just to resettle refugees, it's to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable,” Soerens said. “We don't want to work around the church to do this.”
Soerens said he helped issue a survey for mostly Evangelical Christians regarding immigration issues. When it came to the question, “What is the most important factor influencing your views on the arrival of immigrants to your community?”
Soerens said he found it troubling that most of the responses were related to the media rather than the Bible or their local church.
“Still, with that caveat, only 12 percent of Evangelical Christian said the Bible is the most important thing,” Soerens said. “In fact, the Bible, the local church, the views of national Christian leaders, those three categories combined, came up less often than the media.”
He listed a few ways to go about helping immigrants feel more accepted in their new community. The first is encouraging others to facilitate relationships with immigrants in their church.
“When people hear stories, when they know people who are directly affected by policies, these aren't the big issues in Washington anymore, things we hear on the news, it's personal,” he said.
He said another way going about addressing these issues is making sure to address the facts related to immigration.
“There's so much confusion around issues of refugees and immigration,” he said. “I started working on relief right out of college and I had all sorts of misconceptions. When I started working in immigration law, I was shocked by how our immigration legal system works. I had an idea of U.S. immigration law that was about 100 years old.”
He also referenced Bible passages that would support initiatives to help immigrants, referencing the creation of man and woman in Genesis.
“Christians have historically understood that to mean that human beings have inherent dignity, that human life is worth protecting, regardless of any qualifier,” Soerens said. “Certainly, that would be a motivation if somebody is fleeing persecution, or is going to be killed, we would want to do what we reasonably can to protect them.”
He also discussed how immigrants are beneficial to the U.S. economy. According to the Center for American Entrepreneurship, 44 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in the United States were founded by an immigrant or their children.
Despite the common notion that undocumented immigrants hurt the economy, he brought up sources that show evidence against the contrary.
“I'm not condoning the violation of law, but it is important to know that the vast majority of economists think that illegal immigration, in particular, has also had a positive impact on the U.S. economy,” he said.
Soerens acknowledged how many Christians may feel conflicted in wanting to help immigrants while also wanting to follow the law.
In cases of undocumented immigrants, Soerens said he’d love to see elected officials come up with solutions that both honor the law and also make it possible for people to come out of the shadows.
“We call that a restitution-based immigration reform,” Soerens said. “We're not saying an amnesty where you broke the watch for dividends forgotten, but the way that people could come forward, pay a fine and have the chance to earn permanent legal status. . .we find that when we frame it that way, it helps a lot of people.”