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United Methodist mission agency rejects harsh laws against immigrants

By Linda Bloom*
April 7, 2006 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

As the Senate considered a compromise on immigration legislation, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries called upon Congress to refrain from enacting harsh and intolerant laws against undocumented workers.

That was one of the actions taken by directors during the board’s April 3-6 meeting in Stamford, Conn.

As noted by the statement adopted April 6, the United Methodist Church, including its mission agency, “has a long history of being in ministry with immigrants and supporting just immigration policies.”

Directors asked Congress “to refrain from passing laws relating to immigration that would divide families, make felons out of millions of workers now in the U.S. who are without green cards or visas, encourage mistreatment of immigrants or criminalize the efforts of the Christian church, other faith traditions and social service organizations to help people in need, regardless of their citizenship status.”

The Board of Global Ministries also called upon fellow United Methodists “to inform themselves and others about the plight of undocumented workers in the U.S. and how the church is and can continue responding to the economic, social, political, legal and spiritual challenges they encounter.”

Two bishops noted their concerns about the immigration debate during the meeting. Bishop Joel Martinez of San Antonio, who serves as president of the board, told directors a story about how his grandmother, then a U.S. resident, was stopped at the border in 1930 after returning from a family wedding in Mexico. “None of us are free of responsibility” in the crisis over immigration, he said.

Bishop Jeremiah Park, a first generation Korean-American, shared a letter he had written to church members of the denomination’s New York Annual (regional) Conference.

“We, as Christians, are reminded that we were once excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise…But we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:12 and 19),” he wrote.

“I would hope that this story of ours would help all of us identify with the story of those who live as aliens among us. I also hope that the immigration reform will reflect the spirit of openness, compassion and hospitality in response to the inhumane plight of the undocumented residents among us.”

Park is among the United Methodists who will be participating April 10 in immigration-related events in an estimated 60 cities or so. He has called upon clergy and laity to join him at a 3 p.m. march at City Hall in New York. The bishop will lead a 1:30 p.m. prayer rally at John Street United Methodist Church, just south of City Hall in lower Manhattan.

In his address to board directors, the Rev. R. Randy Day, the board’s chief executive, called for united action by the denomination on the immigration debate. “In our view, none of the legislative bills currently before the U.S. Congress would be good for immigrants,” he said.

Day also spoke about mission as the “heartbeat of the church.” The board’s biggest jobs, he noted, are to keep that heartbeat strong and “provide assistance and facilitation in the church to be a people in God’s mission.”

During the meeting, Day announced a new agreement on the mission relationship between the Board of Global Ministries and the autonomous Methodist Church of Cuba.

The statement of solidarity and cooperation — signed March 29 in Havana by Day, Martinez, Bishop Ricardo Pereira of Cuba and Bishop Juan Vera-Mendez of Puerto Rico — was designed to heal a short breach in a long-term relationship. Misunderstandings about decisions to close out several designated funds were among issues leading to the breach.

The statement recognized “the incidents that caused a rupture on our relationship. After a moment of reflection and analysis, we regretted and mutually apologized for all the events. Reaffirming our respect to the decisions of both organizations, we committed ourselves not to let our mistakes to set us apart and interfere in our missionary commitment.”

Pereira and a delegation from the Cuban church are expected to attend the board’s October meeting and a delegation of board directors also will make a visit to Cuba.

Vera told directors the agreement makes “a strong testimony” in support of the Methodist Church in Cuba and the political struggles under which it operates. “I think at this moment we have a tremendous opportunity to increase and improve the relationship with the church in Cuba,” he said.

A March 27 letter to the board’s officers and cabinet from Vera, Bishop Minerva Carcaño and Bishop Elias Galvan had raised the issue of the situation with the church in Cuba and also expressed concerns about funding cuts to other churches in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the representation of Hispanics and Latinos on the board’s executive staff.

In his treasurer’s report, Roland Fernandez noted that the board’s recent budget problems had eased slightly. Operating revenue of $67.5 million for 2005 was up 7 percent over the previous year. The $69 million in operating expenses was the lowest in several years and showed a $1 million drop from 2004 to 2005. “Efforts made to reduce expenditures have helped overcome some of the financial challenges we face,” he said.

Total net assets increased by $4.1 million in 2005 and the general operating fund had a positive balance of $6.7 million, the highest in four years. “However, when combined with accumulated unrealized losses, there is a negative balance of $7.8 million,” Fernandez said.

The depletion in the board’s net assets between 2000 and 2002, in excess of $112 million, has been stopped but resulted in declining budgets for the board’s work. A slight increase — from $56.1 million to $56.7 million — is being recommended for the 2007 budget.

That increase is occurring despite “substantial reductions” in contributions from the Women’s Division, which is dealing with its own budget crisis, he pointed out. The primary reason behind the increase is higher income from the denomination’s World Service Fund, “which will be about 49 percent of the total budgeted income,” Fernandez said.

Bishop Woodrow Hearn gave a report to directors on efforts to start a pension fund for United Methodist pastors in the Central Conferences outside the United States.

“The old system of block grants was not meeting the needs and it was becoming increasingly difficult to fund the block grants,” he explained.

A list of pensioners is being developed and a system for the distribution of emergency funds for pensions in conferences with special needs is being established, Hearn said. In addition, a task force is considering the hiring of a professional fundraiser to secure the $20 million that is needed to start the international pension fund.

Dan O’Neill, recently hired by the United Methodist Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to staff its international desk, was introduced to directors.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio Interview with Randy Day

“None of the legislation is good for immigrants.”

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