by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — Catholic and Protestant church leaders have sent a message to all combatants in the war of words about immigration reform: More light and less heat, please.
The church leaders struck a moderate tone in a joint reflection on immigration released during a press conference at the state Capitol on Nov. 9.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and Bishop Scott J. Jones, resident bishop of the Kansas Area of the United Methodist Church, spoke on behalf of the church leaders.
“What we have done in this statement is try to frame the debate,” said Bishop Jones. “We’ve not taken positions for or against any particular proposals but, in framing the debate by paying attention to the values we think leaders should attend to, we hope to shape a more civil conversation.”
In addition to Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Jones, others who signed the reflection were Father Barry Brinkman, diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Salina; Bishop John B. Brungardt, of the Diocese of Dodge City; Bishop Michael O. Jackels, of the Diocese of Wichita; and Bishop Gerald L. Mansholt, of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The statement attempts to balance two important moral values that seek the common good, said Bishop Jones. The first is respect for law; the second, hospitality for immigrants.
Archbishop Naumann denounced the tendency to “demonize” one’s opponents.
“One of the things that has not been helpful to the debate has been a tendency to demonize people on either end of the spectrum,” said the archbishop. “This is one of the things that we’re trying to ask everyone to step back from.”
“Sometimes, for instance, those who have concerns about protecting the borders are characterized as being racist,” he continued. “And we think that’s not helpful. Although we know there are problems of racism in our culture, we don’t think everyone who speaks in terms of the protection of the integrity of our nation and borders and has that concern is operating out of that basis.”
While acknowledging concerns about protecting borders, Archbishop Naumann also recognized the right of persons to emigrate.
“At the same time, [we] acknowledge the rights of individuals to provide for themselves and their families,” he continued. “And where those opportunities are not present in their home nation, they have a right to seek them out.”
Ultimately, this is a federal issue, said Archbishop Naumann. Attempts by the states to get into the fray would result in a patchwork of uneven laws. Pressure for a solution should be directed to the federal level.
Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Jones said they were not legislators or lawyers and did not seek to write public policy.
Rather, the two said the bishops wish to set the moral framework and strike a balance between the goods of law and hospitality. Particular proposals for immigration reform are, for the most part, nondoctrinal and a matter of prudential judgment, they said. As such, people of good will can disagree.
“Our hope is that we can tamp down the politics on this,” said Archbishop Naumann. “Sometimes it feels . . . that neither part wants the other to get credit for a solution. Because of that, we are in this deadlock.”
“So we’re hoping that perhaps this statement will add in a small way to this discussion,” the archbishop continued, “and help us to look at what’s best for our country and maintain our tradition and long history of welcoming immigrants as well as protecting the integrity of our nation and the importance of law.”