Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer
ABCNJ Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor
Greetings and peace in Christ’s name! God’s wisdom is given to us so that we might gain “righteousness (zedek), justice (mishpat) and equity (meysariym)”(Proverbs 1:3; JPS). For 400 years, Baptists in our country and throughout the world have shared a core conviction that personal spirituality and sanctity, political liberty, and equality for all should be hallmarks of a democratic and free society.
Roger Williams, a pioneer of religious liberty, famously declared that “Papists (Catholics), Protestants, Jews, and Turks (Muslims)” should all enjoy “liberty of conscience.” American Baptists welcome without prejudice or discrimination all refugees and immigrants who legally seek entry into this country. We also support just laws which promote compassionate and fair immigration policy. The United States has always been a land of immigrants, and we should not forget our heritage.
The current immigration crisis has focused on banning people from predominantly Muslim countries, but other nationalities are also being affected, including those close to the ABCNJ family. Rev. Wesley Allen (Central Baptist Church Palmyra) reports that Ronnie Taques, pastor of the Brazilian new church start in Palmyra, was advised by his lawyers to leave the US because his immigration application has been stalled for months. He had two days to leave the country. On Thursday night he informed his members of his forced departure. There were many tears, heartfelt prayers, and hopes their pastoral family would be returned soon. Rev. Allen writes, “Relationships are torn, ministry is hurt, and lives are disrupted.”
ABCNJ has been involved in assisting waves of Haitian migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, in cooperation with International Ministries. These people are trapped at the border, and though some have received permission to enter the United States, one of our missionaries reports “they were hit terribly hard by Friday’s executive order on immigration.” ABCNJ will continue its ministry on the Mexican border on behalf of these families.
Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, ABCUSA General Secretary Emeritus, and I have conferred on this issue. He states: “The recent ban against citizens of 7 Muslim-majority countries has negative consequences that impact all those in the immigration pipeline – including Baptist brothers and sisters who have fled violence against them in Burma.” Lebanese Baptists can provide a counter-witness for us to emulate: “They have been in the forefront in responding to the overwhelming numbers of refugees from Syria fleeing to Lebanon. Their determination to minister in the love of Christ to them has astounded the recipients of their kindness. Some of their churches now have more Syrian Muslim refugees in attendance than Lebanese Baptists!”
Dr. Elmo Familiaran, ABCNJ Associate Regional Pastor, reminds us “although we support our government’s responsibility to attend to the national security of the nation, the rejection of refugees fleeing persecution is in direct contradiction to the command of Jesus Christ to care for our neighbor.” Rev. Brent Miller, chairperson of the ABCNJ Public Mission Committee, reminds us of the applicability of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to this issue.
As an expression of Christian friendship, I therefore ask all of our churches to dedicate a portion of this Sunday’s communion service, to intercede for all refugees and immigrants who are seeking entry into our free and democratic society. Please share this letter with your people, either orally or by printing it in your worship bulletin or newsletter. I would also appreciate hearing if your church participated in this witness of love.
Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, ABCNJ Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor