Two years ago, when I first introduced myself to you, I wrote about choosing the Episcopal Church as a young adult. “This church has taught me to live fearlessly, embraced by God’s love in Christ,” I said.
I made my choice nearly thirty years ago, but the experience of being a young adult faced with life’s big choices has been much on my mind in recent weeks. Like many of you, I have been watching with admiration the courageous leadership of young adults who are pushing us to contend with immigration reform and gun violence—two critical issues that divide us from one another.
On Monday, I joined with faith leaders from the Disciples of Christ for a meeting with Hodge Patel, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly’s state director. We talked about the young adults known as Dreamers—the more than 800,000 people who were brought to this country without documentation as children. The plight of Dreamers is increasingly uncertain, since the program that protects them from deportation is set to expire next week, but Congress has not yet acted to renew or replace it and related court cases could drag on for months or longer. In our meeting, I asked that Senator Donnelly explicitly denounce the xenophobic rhetoric that has characterized far too much of recent immigration debates and that he amplify the voices of people of faith who want immigration policy to recognize the dignity of our sisters and brothers who differ from us.
Our call to stand with Dreamers and advocate for their protection is, I believe, a call from God. When I held listening sessions around the diocese last summer and fall, I heard clearly that here in the Diocese of Indianapolis, we are longing to be a people of bold witness and radical welcome in our churches and communities. We hear this call in our holy scriptures, which tell us again and again that we are to stand on the side of the stranger and the outsider. “You shall not oppress a resident alien,” God tells us in Exodus 23. “You know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Advocating for Dreamers is one way we can express our identity as people of bold witness and radical welcome, and I hope you will join me in letting your elected officials know that you want a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. You can find more information and ways to contact your legislators on the Episcopal Public Policy Network website. Standing with Dreamers is not only faithful, but good stewardship. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 15,000 Dreamers are eligible to work in Indiana, and over time, they would be expected to contribute more than $172 million annually to our state’s gross domestic product.
Just as young Dreamers are pressing us to leave aside our fear of the stranger, the high school students who survived the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are challenging our entire country to face, at last, the culture of gun violence that took the lives of more than 33,000 Americans just last year. I am proud to follow their lead, and plan to participate in the youth-led March for Our Lives in Indianapolis on March 24, and to celebrate and bless our young people who are planning to travel to Washington D.C. to be part of the March for Our Lives in the nation’s capital. You can find more information about how to join me in Indianapolis or the young people in D.C. on the diocesan website.
I am part of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a coalition of more than 70 Episcopal bishops formed in the wake of the 2012 mass shootings at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I wholeheartedly endorse our group’s statement issued in the wake of the Parkland shooting, which said, “In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations.”
Across our diocese, we have a wide variety of views about guns, gun ownership, and gun public policy. But regardless of our relationship to guns, I pray that we can come together as advocates for sensible gun legislation like universal background checks, limits on high-capacity magazines, and renewing the assault weapons ban. These modest measures, which the overwhelming majority of American support, can protect both our Second Amendment rights and the lives of our children and families. I believe that the young people of Parkland, Florida are doing holy work when they demand that we overcome the divisions that have plagued the gun debate and left us unable to stand against the tide of violence that keeps us mired in fear and anger.
Gun violence and immigration policy are urgent issues today, but our call to be people of bold witness and radical welcome will, God willing, continue for many years. To help us in that faithful work, I have called the Rev. Deacon Fatima Yakubu-Madus to serve as part-time missioner for community engagement on my staff in collaboration with Christ Church Cathedral, where she will serve as deacon. You can read more about her new role on the website. I look forward to working with Deacon Fatima and with many of you to continue exploring where God is calling us to serve and advocate in our communities, across Indiana, and in the wider world.
These are hard and fearful times for so many of us, and so many people in our communities. I pray that in these difficult times, we can answer God’s call to stand at the crossroads with outstretched arms, welcoming the stranger, finding common ground with one another, and witnessing to the boundless love of God that leads us on.
The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis