CONTEXT OF IMMIGRATION
In 2012, President Barack Obama published an executive branch memorandum which authorized persons, specifically children, who were brought into the United States through no fault of their own. The memorandum titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children” was issued within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led by Secretary Janet Napolitano. This memorandum provided a new label to these men and women as DACA Recipients who arrived in this country under the age of sixteen, who have lived in the country for five years without break, and not above the age of thirty years old. Two years later, President Obama chose to expand his memorandum to include any persons who did not access the legal means for immigration. During this same presidential administration of issuing the memorandum and expansion of DACA, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) reported 409,849 persons were deported during FY 2012, 368,644 persons deported in FY2013, and 577,295 persons deported in FY2014. The USICE department was clear in each instance deportation was related to crimes committed by these persons.
In 2015, Donald J. Trump a Presidential candidate for the United States announced, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me. I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” As we all know, Donald Trump became President in November 2016 by winning the electoral vote over Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton. Since his presidency, President Trump has offered much commentary in the form of tweets and interviews concerning immigration. A fair summary of his comments is his focus on what he identifies as the murders, drug dealers, and sex traffickers coming across the border.
Our current context and perspective on immigration and those persons who have specifically arrived here through means other than the Congressionally mandated process falls in to one of two descriptions, illegal or undocumented. If one possesses a strict understanding of immigration as a violation of federal law a description of these persons leads with the designation of “illegal” immigrant. Whereas, those persons who are strictly focused on the human needs and situations of these persons use the descriptor of “undocumented” immigrants. Where a person starts offers an insight on what policies he or she favors.
Finally, to conclude the context in which we exist regarding immigration and how it relates to the state of Arkansas, let's turn briefly to sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city refers to any municipality which limits through ordinance, resolutions, proclamation, or policy its cooperation with federal authorities charged with immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies, which is nonpartisan, reports the following cities, counties, and states which possess this identification: states (8), counties (143), and cities (34). The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2018 reported a more extensive number of sanctuary jurisdictions at 564. FAIR reported sanctuaries grew from 11 during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2000 to 40 sanctuaries during the presidency of Barack Obama to 338 sanctuaries in 2016 and 564 sanctuaries in 2018 during the current presidency of Donald Trump. This is an increase of 5,000% over an eighteen year period.
THE ARKANSAS PAST
In 1868, the Arkansas Legislature debated passage of a law which would give Negroes the opportunity to participate in the voting process. During the debate, J.N. Cypert of Searcy located in White County, gave testimony against the enfranchisement of Negroes -supported by Republicans - on the basis of racial characteristics in comparison to Caucasians. Mr. Cypert stated, “They(Negroes) pick up more quickly whatever knowledge reaches the child through the natural organs of sight and hearing. But the mind of the Caucasian race expands, looks to the future; it leaves edifices behind it, it builds governments and kingdoms, it rears structures that stand forever as monuments of the race. When was that ever done by the African? I mean, the negro” In this discussion of citizenship and suffrage, Mr. Grey, a Black man of Phillips County rose up as representative of the freed persons in Arkansas. His response was multifaceted as he addressed the determination of citizenship among African descendants, the intelligence of poor Whites, and what he perceived as the inevitability of Negroes gaining citizenship and suffrage. Mr. Grey addressed the racism of Mr. Cypert,
“Settle once and forever the question of human rights, by giving us equality before the law.
Then, and not till then will peace come to our borders. I have no antipathy against the white people of this country, and am not surprised at their strenuous opposition. But time has a softening influence on all human prejudices. I am willing to forget the past, and to wrap the winding-sheet of oblivion over the sod that contains the bones of my wronged and oppressed ancestors…Give us the franchise, the right to protect ourselves, our wives, and children, and we are content”(p.159).
Is this what we saw and heard this week coming from the 92nd General Assembly? Are one group of people described with such racial antipathy?
THE ARKANSAS PRESENT
The 92nd General Assembly of Arkansas concluded this week. During the state legislature, Senator Gary Stubblefield introduced SB411, “An Act To Prohibit Municipal Sanctuary Policies.” The bill was introduced February 26, 2019, passed out of the City, County, and Local Affairs Committee on April 3, 2019, passed out of the Senate on April 5, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (24) , Nays(5), Nonvoting (5), and Excused (1). SB411 was then referred to the House Committee of the same name and passed out of committee on April 9, 2019, and passed out of the full house on April 10, 2019 with a vote of Yeas (71), Nays (24), Nonvoting (4), and Present (1). SB411 awaits Governor Asa Hutchinson signature.
The question I have for myself and for Arkansas is the following, “Was the SB411 rooted in racism similar to the opposition of Black citizenship and suffrage in Arkansas post-Reconstruction? Did politicians in the Arkansas Senate and/or House express racist thoughts and intentions regarding immigrants in Arkansas?”
Reviewing testimony on SB411 from the House and Senate which you can review much can be learned from the testimony and questions of the participants. During the House City, County, and Local Committee Hearing, SB411 sponsor Senator Stubblefield opened his testimony to address the bill’s foundation involved following the law and not discrimination against a particular ethnic group. Senator Stubblefield outlined three important elements of the bill to include sanctuary policies preventing law enforcement from protecting citizens, fulfilling oaths, and defying federal laws. Being consistent with his starting point of the legality of the immigration process, he did seek to justify his bill by appealing to crimes committed by persons who are identified as “illegal” as a need for this bill. Finally, Senator Stubblefield addressed all are immigrants, he believes the process should be followed, and welcomes all people.
In the Senate testimony, racial profiling was mentioned multiple times. Racial profiling involves targeting persons on the basis of racial characteristics, rather than an individual behavior. Those who were against SB411 made allusions to the state being racially insensitive or not a welcoming a place for entrepreneurial persons who are immigrants. In the same Senate testimony, those who supported SB411 proceeded from a law enforcement perspective. Therefore, in both the Senate and House Committees groups supported and opposed SB411 spoke passionately, clearly, and offered facts and anecdotes to support positions.
ARKANSAS MOVING FORWARD
It is very important we as Arkansans not repeat the mistakes of our past. The Arkansas Legislature post-Reconstruction testified with racially charged language consistent with the culture of the defeated Confederacy. I would hope to believe the state of Arkansas has matured from that period, matured from its failures under Faubus and the Little Rock Nine, to a point in which its capital city is led by a Black Mayor. When the charge of racism is leveled against a person or group-without fact- instead of engaging with the substance of an argument the opportunity for learning diminishes. To announce someone’s thoughts, policies, or legislation as racist resurrects horrible periods of our history to include lynchings, cross burnings, and segregated schools.
There is much we need to learn from each other regarding immigration. On both sides of this important debate are men and women who are talking past one another, placing important value in what it means to be a citizen, and desire to see persons have a new opportunity. Somewhere in the middle is the solution and we can only arrive at these solutions if we engage in honest and humanizing discussion. Clear or veiled charges of racism will only cause persons to double down on a position. Characterizing a group of people only in terms of legality, not their humanity, causes persons to double down on a position reinforcing a bias which may in fact may not be true.
I have served Arkansas immigrants for the last twelve years in my nonprofit work. These men and women have hailed from many backgrounds. I understand the perspective of those who advocate from the undocumented perspective. At the same time, I have sought to understand the perspective of those who hold the illegal perspective. There is a sincere desire for persons to abide by the law. Which is equally necessary in order to protect the humanity of all regardless of citizenship.
I hope better things for our state and our nation. I hope we see the progress we have made and at the same time recognize the work before us. Arkansas has the potential to be a great house and it will take all of us to recognize who we are as humans, agree to standards which protect this great house, and continue to create opportunities for all of us to flourish as Arkansans.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
8 Debates and Proceedings of the Convention which Assembled in Little Rock January 7, 1868, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t6sx6w64j;view=2up;seq=160;size=125 (p.151)
9 Ibid., p.159
This short look at the life of Richard Allen began with two questions and how the answers to those questions can become a practical application in our Christian lives. How was Christ glorified in this 18th century pastor during the time of slavery? For reformation to take place in our time, what responsibilities are before us, in order that Christ will be glorified?
Christ was glorified in this 18th century pastor through Richard Allen’s personal walk with Christ and the gathering of the community of African American believers. Allen’s Christian life can be characterized as one who was constrained and compelled with the desire to make Christ known to the people. Through the realization of his own state of sin which was worse than the man made slavery into which he was born and then the proclamation of sin and atoning work of Christ, this was the message that Allen proclaimed everywhere he went. Our pattern of conduct must be the same. We as believers must have the eagerness in prayer and proclamation of the Gospel, to those who are unconverted. Men are slaves to sin, bound in the wickedness of their thoughts, words and deeds. The words of our Saviour ring true, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34) and the same also rings true to all slaves of sin, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Next the community of believers must unite, under the common purposes of equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The African American believers led by Allen, provided each other with the Scriptural support, prayer support and fellowship flowing from Christ grace to endure the trials they were facing. Secondly the believers were being built up. Suffering was building their faith. Persecution was refining their Godly character resulting in their confession that God alone would be their source. Believers, there will be times when you will suffer when you stand to exalt the glory of our God and His Son Jesus Christ. It must not be an experience in which we retreat and hide, “but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy”(1 Peter 4:13).
Now to our second question of what responsibilities are before us? I speak to those who call themselves pastors, teachers, elders, etc. The highest lesson, the greatest example we find in the life of Richard Allen and the glory that God received out of his life is the following: The importance of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone and the sufficiency of Scripture alone. At their greatest trial, at the moment when they face exclusion, Allen and the African American believers proclaimed Christ alone and Scripture alone. Those who hold yourselves to be leaders in your local body, declare, Christ alone. The pastor who will not labor in the Word of God, dig into each book, chapter and verse, teaches others not to be diligent to labor in the Word of God. If you are teaching anything than what is clearly outlined by Christ and the apostles, turn from your man made doctrines and back to doctrines of Jesus Christ.
The establishment of the first African American fellowship which would eventually become independent of the Methodist church in 1815, was a reformation orchestrated by Christ Himself. Christ, using Allen’s slavery, freedom, conversion and preaching, brought about a change in the visible church and America reminiscent of Luther’s work in Europe. The African American body of believers were the recipients of God’s grace, through the exaltation of Christ, a knowledge of the sufficiency of Scripture and gaining a true understanding of their equality in Jesus Christ.
The modern day local churches, that have large are predominantly African American must learn the lessons of these free and bond people. Zeal for the worship of Christ, freely, was contained within the bounds of exalting Christ and learning the Scriptures. What is the solution for the decline in African American churches? It is the return to the centrality of Jesus Christ. Secondly, the local church must return to seeing Scripture as the sole source of how God instructs His people(2 Tim 3:15-4:1-3).
The glory of Christ will be revealed in the African American community. Community leadership, with all its good deeds, will not measure up to the eternal weight, work and worth of Christ, who must be the object of all our affections. Pray that God would revive hearts to exalt Christ alone. Pray that God will use men and women, the priesthood of believers to herald the risen King in the public square, in their home fellowships and church buildings. God, His Son Jesus Christ is to be gloried as our supreme joy in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Christ the Redeemer, was Richard Allen’s joy. Through every aspect of life, Christ must be the all satisfying center to bring lasting change to our local churches.
All quotes are from:
Allen, Richard, The Life, Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen. Martin and Boden, Philadelphia, 1833.
Richard Allen is a man who is constantly on the move. Allen is constantly moving from Baltimore, Radnor, Lancaster and Philadelphia from 1785-1786. Where ever Allen went, it was a priority that He was preaching the Gospel. Allen joined a Rev Richard Watcoat to preach on the Baltimore circuit and when he moved into Pennsylvania, Allen joined with a Rev Peter Morratte and Irie Ellis along the Lancaster circuit.
In 1786, Allen is in Philadelphia and begins preaching from time to time at St. George’s Church to which he became a member. Allen had only intended to remain in Philadelphia for about two weeks, but God had a different plan. Allen saw a great need to preach to a great many of Africans in the city, therefore he began conducting open air preaching twice a day. Morning and evening and sometimes four to five times a day, Allen was out, in the public declaring the Word of God, unashamedly. As many began to gather, Allen began discipleship of African believers, established prayer meetings, ministering with at least 42 individuals. It was at this point that Allen realized these believers needed a place to gather and worship.
Richard Allen planned this to be a two week trip and it became a labor for the glory of Christ. He saw a great need for ministry. He labored daily to see Christ formed in people. Here was a free slave, going abroad executing the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Here we see the move of the Holy Spirit upon a believer to do a work for the glory of God and the joy of believers. Overall we continue to see the compelling, unfettered desire to preach Christ. Let us all pray to the Lord to stir our hearts, to leave our pews, our home fellowships, to declare the glory of the Gospel of Christ to men in the public square.
Brother Allen forms a bond with three other African American men at St Georges; Rev Absalom Jones, William White and Dorus Ginnings. The four sought support within their local church, St Georges to establish a place of worship for the African believers but were vehemently denied. Yet the group remained faithful.
Allen records that, “We felt ourselves much cramped; but my dear Lord was with us, and we believed, if it was his will, the work would go on, and that we would be able to succeed in building the house of the Lord. We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavours, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren, and that they were destitute of a place of worship.”
What example do we see in this body of believers? They kept their eyes fixed on Christ. They continued to do the works of the ministry, equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ. The believers followed the example of the early Church of Jerusalem, continuing “ steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers… Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”(Acts 2:42,47).
The African American believers experienced an unfortunate event during corporate worship at St George that would encourage their faith in Christ through suffering. In the midst of prayer time, Absalom Jones was told to move in the middle of prayer because he was in the seating reserved for Whites. Absalom Jones requested to move upon the completion of prayer. Two members of the church rejected his request and proceeded to drag him on his knees out of the church. Reverend Allen remembers this as the critical event in the birth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
"we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigor to get a house erected to worship God in.”
Out of this unnecessary and unconceivable incident, Allen saw this as an opportunity for his people to move forward to worship God unhindered.
The African American believers gathered some money and purchased a storage room to meet in. The believers were threatened and told they would be publicly disciplined if they would not cease their gatherings. Allen and the believers would eventually receive some support from one Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston of whom Allen states, “I hope…will never be forgotten among us.”
So Allen has been in Philadelphia since 1786 and been ordained by God to establish a local fellowship for African American believers. Receiving opposition from within their own local church, St. George and without, they continued steadfastly trusting in Jesus Christ.
It is on or about 1794 and the Methodist Conference sends and elder Mr. J-M- to demand the African American believers to stop raising money to build their own place to worship. Two separate times this meeting occurs, and on the last meeting, God’s sovereignty is manifested. The African American believers declared to the elder,
“We told him we had no place of worship; and we did not mean to go to St. George's church any more, as we were so scandalously treated in the presence of all the congregation present; "and if you deny us your name, you cannot seal up the scriptures from us, and deny us a name in heaven. We believe heaven is free for all who worship in spirit and truth." And he said, "so you are determined to go on." We told him--"yes, God being our helper." He then replied, "we will disown you all from the Methodist connexion." We believed if we put our trust in the Lord, he would stand by us.”
What did they elevate as primary? Who did they see as the only one who would gain them entrance into heaven? Who did they see as their only sufficiency? They saw Christ as their only sufficiency. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God… And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”(2 Cor 3:5, 9:8). They declared only Christ as the one who provided entrance to Heaven. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die… I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 11:25-26, 14:6).
Finally, they elevated Scripture as the final authority! “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works”(2 Tim 3:16-17).
In 1794, after raising a enough money to purchase a plot of land in Philadelphia, Bethel AME was officially opened with Richard Allen as the first pastor. Allen once again looks to God, giving Him the glory. “My dear Lord was with us, so that there was many hearty Amen's echoed through the house. This house of worship has been favored with the awakening of many souls, and I trust they are in the kingdom both white and colored.” The first African American church was birthed and more importantly, Christ was magnified.