From the Office of Bishop Paul L. Leeland  – June 19, 2018
Re: Faith leaders’ statement on family separation

An invitation from your pastor: “As I pack my bags and head for Annual Conference* at Lake Junaluska, children being separated from their parents at our Southern borders is on my mind. I have been asking myself questions of Christian faith and government policy. Should young children be paying the harsh cost of our nation’s immigration stalemate? How does this square with Jesus’ teachings? Where is the voice of the United Methodist Church? A response to these questions appeared today in my inbox from our Bishop, Paul L. Leeland. I hope you will take the time to read his pastoral words.”            – Ben Devoid

Members and Friends of the Western North Carolina Conference:      

The national debate related to immigration, expressed in the “Zero Tolerance Policy” of separating children from their families is boiling over, fed by the flames of fear and anger.  The outcry of the nation has been rapid and robust.  As the Bishop of our Western North Carolina Conference, I wish to express my dismay at the way in which the current policy of our nation to address the issue of immigration is framing the conversation around the need to “follow the law” since we know that laws and policies can be passed which are not always moral or good.

There are too many who remember the states which passed laws directing persons of color and diversity to give up their seat or who were required to sit behind a “white line” on the bus to create separation.  It was the law.   It is not appropriate to thoughtlessly say, “We must follow the law.”  This is simply a reminder that because it is the law or policy does not mean it is morally right.  The Christian community must ask, “Where is the mercy in the law?”  “How do we love God and neighbor?”  It’s not that we don’t need laws; we do.  Rather, it is the way in which laws are shaped and implemented, with respect toward others, acknowledging human dignity, that makes the difference.  My mind is centered on Isaiah 55:1, “All you who are thirsty, who have no money, come, receive…eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink…”  The “Zero Tolerance Policy” raises the question, “Have we lost our soul?”

Laity and clergy throughout the Church have joined our Christian sisters and brothers in expressing a profound request that the practices of separating children from parents immediately stop. As followers of Jesus we have long held a strong belief that acknowledges the sacred relationship between parent and child.

As faithful Christians, we hope that those who hold public office will reflect the goodness of God, who secures fairness, righteousness, and the rights of the oppressed, even while addressing the difficult issues of our nation.  I hope each of us will continue to express our desire that the current policy will be changed in a much more humane manner.  Every nation recognizes the need for appropriate security of its borders, yet, this is not the way to go about it.

For more context, you may also follow this link to a statement by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church along with faith leaders from diverse denominations and religious traditions from all across the U.S. While The President of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Ken Carter, signed on behalf of the COB, please know my strong support and appreciation of the statement. I strongly urge your attention to it and your reading of it.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Paul L. Leeland

* Annual Conference is the yearly gathering of United Methodist clergy and lay delegates from the congregations of Western North Carolina.