Original post at http://umclead.com/wwjd-who-would-jesus-deport-an-interview-with-owen-ross/
I sat down with Rev. Dr. Owen Ross this week to interview him about his experience last week where he and over 100 other religious leaders were arrested for their demonstration at the White House. They were advocating for immigration reform and more specifically to stop deportations. Owen is the founding pastor of Christ’s Foundry United Methodist Mission which is a primarily hispanic congregation.
First of all, thank you for joining us at UMCLEAD. Can you start by walking us through last Thursday?
I take trips from time to time to DC to lobby. This is a part of my ministry, so I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity again to lift up the power of witness. I want to say to my elected leaders that immigration is so important to me that I come to Washington for this purpose.
I first went to drop my bag off at the Methodist building. Some criticize the UMC for owning such expensive property but the building enabled me and others to do some great ministry and discipleship through bearing witness to our faith.
We returned on Thursday morning to gather for prayer and training led by an organization called CASA Maryland. I was the guinea pig that was brought up to show how to respond when being arrested. They taught us how to respond when being arrested and to never touch the police officers.
The training was important because all of this was preplanned in that the organizers had met with the police ahead of time so that the officers knew what to expect from us and we knew what to expect from them. If we acted outside of our mutual agreement then all bets would be off.
After the training we caught the Metro down to the White House where there were a ton of people, press, and media. There was a traditional rally going on with signs, prayers, blessing, and songs. It was an interfaith gathering with people from many different organizations and churches.
After a while we walked down to the White House for prayer. As we were praying the police came down to tell us we need to move and gave us our first warning. We didn’t move but instead continued to pray. They then came and gave us our second warning. When they could tell that we were not moving they began setting up a perimeter with officers on horseback, squad cars, and transportation vehicles and set up for booking. Next thing I knew they gave a third warning and said, “You are all under arrest. Do not attempt to leave the area.” They first started cuffing the women, and then the men. They would cuff us and take us out to the tent where they would take down our information, take a picture, and slap a wristband on us with a number. I was number 98 of 112 and am still have on my wristband at this moment and plan on wearing it until it falls off on its own.
I was one of the last ones to load up in a paddy wagon with some of my colleagues from Dallas. The ride from the
White House to the jail was thrilling. They were riding us around like they had a carload of VIPs. The police had 4 police motorcycles clearing the pathway for us. They had traffic stopped, we
were driving on the wrong side of the road, I felt like President Obama himself going down the highway. You know, if it weren’t for the having my arms cuffed behind my back and not being able to scratch the itch I had on my nose riding in a hot paddy wagon, it would have been awesome.
They took us down to the jail where they had a “mass incarceration garage” that had long lines roped off like something you’d see at six flags. This station seemed clearly to be built for this very purpose. Once we got into the area the police were kind enough to take our cuffs off. The police were very professional and courteous doing their jobs as we were doing our jobs.
After they finished processing all of us we paid our fine and left. The organizers then had rides coordinated to pick us up and take us back to the Methodist building where food had been prepared for us by supporters.
I want to ask the obvious question. Why’d you do it?
I did it because my savior and his family had to go through crossing borders as a child. When I see what our immigrant families are going through I can’t help but respond with Christian compassion. I did it for the theological reasons. I go back and forth about the political reasons of is this action. Is this the best response and will this change anything? Do I expect it to change anything? I wrestled with that but finally settled on this was the right thing for me to do. I was what I was being called to do. I pray that God uses this in a way to bring relief to families that God cares about deeply.
What was the moment like as you were being arrested? Was there conversation? Was there joking? Was there just silence? Was there prayer? What was going on?
Rev. Eric Folkerth, Bishop Minerva Carcañο, and Rev. Owen Ross
All of the above. There was a moment when I had to get away from the group and be by myself. I reflected and prayed in an individual and personal way. There were then other times when groups of us were just having conversations with one another. Eric (Folkerth) and I were facebooking, we were posting, we were sharing up until the arrest. Then all of a sudden we all went silent. There was a moment in that silence when Eric told me what he was most worried about was his family back home wondering what was going on while we had gone silent. In those moment of silence we began to wonder how long are these children coming to the US were silent? How long do the families go without knowing anything? Our families knew we would only be gone for a couple of hours but the families of these children crossing the borders don’t know when or if they will hear from the children. I can’t imagine the desperation these parents must feel. They must feel the desperation that Moses’s mother was feeling when she placed her baby in a basket and sent him down a river. We had both these deep conversations and just collegial conversations with fellow pastors about mutual friends and what was going on at their churches.
Immigration is clearly complex but it seems that’s sometimes used as an excuse to do nothing. What are some steps that can be taken by individuals or the government to make this large issue more manageable?
Every president since Carter has given protective status to certain immigrant populations. This happened with Haiti, El Salvador, war areas, etc. These people were given a protective status to protect them from war or disaster areas. It was in our global interest and moral nature. What the president can do right now, while it is clear that congress is not going to do anything, the President can give protective status to certain groups. The pressure is on the White House to say to parents that we will not rip you from your US Citizen kids. He could also give differed action to the parents of children who have received deferred status. These are two simple steps that he could take to protect large masses of people.
He could even go so far as to say all non-criminal immigrants will not be deported. That’s what we really want him to do. He could say to these people who are responsible people who are in our country, “we want you to stay.” I’ve had church members who have had children or spouses deported because they have committed crimes. Although I feel for them, the ones I really feel for are those who are seeking a better future and contributing to our community but get stopped in the wrong town or are in a fender bender and next thing you know they are stripped from their families. We need to put pressure on the president to stop deportations because people may not realize this president has ripped apart more families and deported more people than any president in the history of the United States. I would encourage people to reach out to their elected officials and let them know you want the deportations to stop.
As for church people, I’d invite them to go to our website to see the verses in the Bible that address immigration. There is no other contemporary political issue that is addressed more in scripture than immigration. It was a political issue then and it is a political issue then but God has always responded with the same answer. Love them as your native born and remember that you were foreigners in Egypt. I would encourage pastors to preach this issue and for churches to study these scriptures. As frequently as it’s addressed in the scriptures, it doesn’t seem to be something that is of concern to Christians. If you were to poll non-Christians about what they feel Christians care about, I doubt immigration would make it in the top three.
If scripture needs to be at the heart of this conversation but clearly is not, what do you think is driving the conversation right now?
The changes that are going on in the nation are driving the conversation. There are a lot of changes going on in our nation and people are afraid of them. There are people in this nation that are mourning the loss of their childhood home and they’re frustrated with the economy. I read somewhere that in the frustration of the economy the undocumented immigrant is the easiest dog to kick. If people start paying attention to the images media uses to portray immigrates they don’t show the people of Christ’s Foundry worshiping God and serving their community, they don’t show college kids walking around campus, they don’t show the people who are simply working towards a better life. Instead they show the criminal element. They flash pictures and videos of rough looking dudes that tell you to be afraid. They don’t show our beautiful high school students in our worship band. They get this false image of who the immigrant child is. They want to believe the myth that they are “line jumpers” as if a line even existed. If you could see the horrible atrocities they are witness to and the difficulties go through to get here you’d understand that if there actually were a line to get in they would gladly wait in such a line. Instead, the line is a myth that is continued by people who are either ignorant or deceiving, distorts the image of who these undocumented immigrants really are.
Has the recent political and media attention on the kids at the border changed this conversation?
Totally. I feel we were starting to make ground. Some of the elected leaders were starting to say maybe we can do something to help the kids, to help the DREAMers but now they have retreated. They are using this as an excuse to say, “see if we give any kind of amnesty people are just going to flood our borders. If we allow one child in then they are going to think we have to allow them all in.” With the arrival of the kids and the rhetoric blaming the president for giving amnesty to the kids it has scared many people. The tone has change. Many voters are now buying into the myth that people are coming into this country are not running away from the violence and oppression in their own country but are coming expecting the president to give them relief and a handout.
A few weeks ago we reran a post from Dottie Escobedo-Frank where Dottie shared ways that we could respond to the children at our border. Speaking more generally about immigration, what can the UMCLEAD readers do in response?
We need immigration to become a Christian issue. There are so many on the religious right that say if you are a Christian you have to vote a certain way on certain political issues. There are far more scriptures focused on immigration than the issues they bring up yet we lack a unified Christian voice calling for a Biblical response to immigration. We hear people making Christian stances on things like Obamacare which takes a nuanced view of scriptures to fully argue yet we are failing lift up the issue of immigration which is clearly, frequently, and consistently addressed in Scripture. We need to get our churches activated and aware to make this a Christian issue. If we could do that then we could come together as the religious right and the religious left to address this. Instead, we aren’t hearing the whole gamut of scriptures on immigration in churches. We can go to the White House, but we need to start in our church houses and our Sunday schools, and with small groups. Go to the congressional town hall meetings prepared with scripture. When others want to spew fear and hate spew love based on the Word and bare witness to your faith. Share the story of Christ whose family had to illegally cross borders at night. This goes for laity, clergy, and congregations. Go against this swell of hate that is going against families that are like our Lord’s family.
Any final thoughts you want the readers to hear?
The message I share everywhere I go is that there is no other current political issue that is more frequently and consistently addressed in scriptures more than immigration. It is a moral and scriptural mandate that we engage in this mission. When the Lord comes in all his glory to separate nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, one of the means with which we will be measured is by how we have treated those who have arrived. That is the message I seek to carry with me everywhere in regards to this ministry with and for immigrants.
All photos used with permission from Eric Folkerth