September 8, 2007

WHAT WE'RE CALLED TO DO:

Church Expands Its Mission to Immigration Advocacy (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, 9/08/07, NY Times)

“To see the body of Christ working as one gives you a glimpse of what will be when the Lord returns,” [the Rev. Edwin Mieses] recalled in an interview. “It’s what we’re called to do. It’s why we do this work. To bring forth a positive message with no racial lines, no color lines.”

By the time “Rock the Block” returned this summer, however, Mr. Mieses’s priorities had changed and his spiritual mandate had expanded in an unexpectedly political direction.

As Hazleton has become a national center for opposition to illegal immigrants, as members of Mr. Mieses’s congregation have experienced suspicion merely for being Hispanic, he has begun attending rancorous public meetings and sharing bulletins from his pulpit. In addition to staples like youth ministry and Bible study, his church has begun holding citizenship and English classes for adults.

Given his druthers, Mr. Mieses said, he would have stuck to the moral issues that are traditional for Pentecostal churches, preaching the virtues of sobriety and abstinence, warning against drugs, gangs and Satan. Events have made the tradition untenable, he said. While Mr. Mieses’s church in neighboring West Hazleton is named Buenas Nuevas for the “good news” of the Gospel, much of the news for him and thousands of other Hispanics here has been decidedly bad.

In the summer of 2006, Hazleton enacted an ordinance punishing landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and employers who hired them. The mayor, Louis J. Barletta, blamed illegal immigrants for a variety of crimes, and the CNN anchor Lou Dobbs regularly extolled the crackdown to his national audience. A federal judge struck down the ordinance in July, ruling that it had illegally exceeded federal laws, but the mood here remains tense and fractious.

“We are involved not so much by choice but because we’re forced to be involved,” said Mr. Mieses, 44, who was born in the United States to Dominican parents. “We want to keep the lines of church and politics separate, but we are affected by what has caused fear in our people, fear of being persecuted for being Latinos. I’d rather be encouraging people, inspiring people, but we have to make the Gospel relevant to the world.”

The almost begrudging political awakening of Mr. Mieses and his congregation typifies a national trend among Hispanic Pentecostals.

After decades of attracting members who had been born and raised Roman Catholic, and in the competitive process stimulating a charismatic style of Catholic worship in largely Hispanic parishes, the Pentecostal churches are now engaging in immigrant advocacy in a way long associated with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 8, 2007 12:00 AM
Comments

immigrant advocacy in a way long associated with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States

Just hope it works out better (and is less expensive) than their program of homosexual advocacy of the last couple of decades.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 8, 2007 12:44 PM
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