‘Resident Alien’ bishop supports rights of immigrants in Alabama

William H. Willimon may be best known as the co-author, with Stanley Hauerwas, of Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony.

Love it or hate it (I loved it, mostly), that’s a book that requires readers to contend with what it has to say. The main point there being, roughly, that Christianity took a wrong turn around about the time of Constantine and still has a lot of work to do disentangling itself from Empire.

Willimon is also the bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. In that capacity, Willimon says, he came up short, as Ethics Daily reports: “Methodist Bishop Repents on Immigration, Calls for Action.”

An Alabama United Methodist bishop told almost 300 middle-Tennessee leaders of faith in late November that he was sorry for being inactive while an anti-immigration bill moved into law in Alabama.

He also called on Tennessee clergy to speak up.

“I’m up here in Tennessee … to repent,” said William Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, who added he was wrong not to take seriously Republican Gov. Robert Bentley’s anti-immigration campaign promises.

… Signed into law in June by Bentley, Alabama House Bill 56 is considered the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law.

Federal courts have ruled against sections of Alabama’s law.

“I’m sorry that those of us faith leaders in Alabama, with the exception of the Catholics, were slow to realize how nefarious this immigration legislation would be for us and for our state,” said Willimon.

William Willimon blogs at “A Peculiar Prophet.”

See also:

And, from the Center for American Progress, see:

Taken together, those lists might be summed up as “90 Reasons Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Is an Inhospitable Jackass.”

The sort of people who sometimes get upset with me for being “mean” or “rude” will be upset by that word. But they’re upset about the wrong word. “Jackass” is mere derision, and far more polite than Bentley deserves, given the grievous indictment entailed by that other word: “inhospitable.”

For most of human history, inhospitality was regarded as a monstrous, unforgivable crime. It still is such, whether or not we still choose to view it that way. And Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is, clearly, deeply guilty of it.

In that the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah is an archetypal account of monstrous inhospitality, we can say with perfect accuracy that Robert Bentley is a sodomite. He has taken on the part of Procrustes and of a thousand other monsters from a thousand other stories that we humans have told and retold for thousands of years as a reminder of the fundamental human obligation of hospitality — the very same fundamental human obligation that Gov. Robert Bentley has perversely sought to criminalize in Alabama.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I think we need to take back the word hospitality to mean exactly what Fred says it means here.  Hospitality is often thought of as what you do when your relatives or friends visit, like clean the house and make sure you have enough towels.  People who are really hospitable have fresh flowers next to the bed.  And that can be part of it – cleaning and fresh flowers are really nice when you’ve traveled a long way.  But what it really comes down to is making people feel genuinely welcomed and wanted as they are, not as you want them to be.  My church isn’t always the most organized, but I believe we’re very hospitable in that fundamental way.

  • Tonio

    For most of human history, inhospitality was regarded as a monstrous,
    unforgivable crime. It still is such, whether or not we still choose to
    view it that way.

    We’ve talked here many times about the authoritarian mindset of people like Bentley, where obedience and control are seen as the highest good. That still doesn’t change my impression that where morality is concerned, such people amount to like refugees from Htrae. (For non-comics fans, that’s Bizarro’s home world.) Rick Perry turns the entire concept of right and wrong on its head, making it about private behavior instead of about interpersonal behavior. Robert Jeffress describes being a “good, moral person” as a bad thing.

  • Deggjr

    Ezekial 16:49 “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

  • Lori

    New research indicates that babies as young as 8 months understand kindness and prefer those who are kind over those who are mean. It’s a shame so many people don’t retain that. 

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/study-of-the-day-8-month-old-babies-can-tell-right-from-wrong/249931/?&utm_content=Google+Reader

    It’s also a shame that this reminds me of a song—from 1949. 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JjiaRJqKIU

  • http://joshbarkey.blogspot.com/ josh barkey

    I grew up in Latin America and I’ve had family and friends who’ve traveled widely abroad, and I gotta say that this inhospitality is in many ways a largely North American failing (which we are, of course, rapidly exporting to the rest of the world through the crushing force of our homogenizing economics). Yet another symptom of the disintegration of community in our culture, which has happened because…? You tell me, oh wise internets, where we all can meet to form vapid groupings of dubious community-building value. Hmmm.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I really, really don’t get why people get upset about illegal immigration. Why can’t there be open immigration? What am I missing?

    *is clueless*

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Having now read all the top 10 articles…

    - Wow. Alabama really is trying to become a police state.

    - How many legitimate citizens will have trouble proving their citizenship? I don’t have a birth certificate; it’s not that uncommon.

    - “Religious institutions will be forced to decide between their faith and the law.”
    Damn right they will. There’s no way I could justify not supporting illegal immigrant communities, under that sort of law. I’d have to do my level best to provide shelter, food, etc – even if it was flagrantly breaking the law – because my faith obligates me to.

  • P J Evans

     Deird, it’s worse than that. People who like this kind of law (and the voter-ID laws) really can’t understand why it’s so hard for other people. Apparently everyone is supposed to have their own birth certificate at hand, and the time, money, health, and transportation to go to the county seat (or wherever) to get the necessary ID.

  • Anonymous

    I really, really don’t get why people get upset about illegal
    immigration. Why can’t there be open immigration? What am I missing?

    Over-saturation. Let’s say Canada opened its borders to any non-fugitives that wanted in: We have enough space to put most of them, but there are other problems.

    The first big one is that there aren’t enough houses and they can’t be built fast enough. This will eventually end up corrected, but for quite a while you’re going to have people with nowhere to live.

    The next is the huge shakeup to the economy. Jobs are hard to find now, after an immigration surge? They’ll be impossible. This will, again, eventually correct itself (albeit probably not for at least a generation) but the short-term effects will crash the economy.

    Next, Canada expands by building over farmland, for whatever reason. So we’d have a huge reduction in that (with most of the country being…inhospitable for farming but fine for living in) which is also bad.

    Now, I think that countries could use far laxer standards for immigration: High school-equivalent education? Just take this test to confirm that and you’re in.

    In an ideal world we’d even have schools sponsored by our embassies to educate people to the point where they could immigrate and contribute lots to the country right away.

  • FangsFirst

    I’m going to bet I don’t get to post this. We’ll see.

    I appreciated that, in the midst of a pretty solid action from Willimon, he even took the time to note the exceptions–nevermind who the exceptions were or anything, but it said, “My group is to be criticized, but in fairness, let’s recognize those who DID do their job and say something before now.” That’s pretty cool. It wasn’t, “But *I* was always awesome,” it was “But they are.”

  • Anonymous

    Is there a means of contacting you (Fred Clark, if anyone else can answer) privately? I don’t want to derail a post with my irrelevant curiosity.

  • Anonymous

    @8c7e898f1b570760f834ecc03edf6b35:disqus : the “about” link on the top left ends with this:”A Baptist, an amateur, a Gen-Xer, a Gemini and a Mets fan, Fred lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two teenage daughters.You can reach him via email at slacktivist at hotmail dot com.”

  • Viliphied

    But all those pastors say its about the gay buttseks!!!

  • Tonio

    I really, really don’t get why people get upset about illegal immigration.

    For the most part, it’s simple ethnic bigotry.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Because illegal immigration is a crime, and criminals are exactly the sort of people we *don’t* want immigrating.

    Because anyone who goes outside the legally approved channels is clearly a lazy indigent who’s only looking to suck at the teat of our cushy private healthcare system, steal our faboulous free education, and take our low-paying jobs.

    Because our security demands rigorous screening of all incoming people to insure against terrorists sneaking into our country with the goal of raising cute little terror babies who would be INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM GOOD RED BLOODED PATRIOTIC AMERICAN BABIES until one day a special high-frequency tone goes off transforming them into suicide bombers….

    Sorry. I can’t keep doing this with a straight face. Seriously, it’s just because they’re brown-skinned. All that other jazz is just code for “because they’re brown-skinned”

  • Tonio

    It’s ultimately because they’re different, and skin color is a huge part but not the only one. The language is also a major factor, the nativist paranoia that one day the dominant tongue will be something other than English.

  • cyllan

    I think there are completely valid reasons for wanting to monitor the level of immigration in our current global political climate. It is helpful for governments to know who is in their countries so that they can provide for things like social services, appropriate numbers of firefighters, predict traffic, and so on.  It is useful to know where large numbers of your immigrants come from — maybe it would be better to provide more aid to those countries so they can better support their people instead of exporting them.

    It’s also reasonable to want to keep the level of immigration to something that the country can manage (note: I do not think we have ever reached the point where we can’t manage) instead of having completely open borders.  If you have an influx of people that you-as-a-country can not take care of properly, there could be issues.

    That said, I think the number of people we could handle is far far greater than our current limits. I think our current restrictions on immigration are ludicrous, and our process is arcane and laughable given modern technology.  I’m in favor of complete amnesty for anyone who has been in this country for a year, and I want the DREAM act passed yesterday if not earlier.

  • Lori

    The history of immigration control is long & complex and can’t be boiled down to a simple sentence or even a paragraph. Rather than do a total derail I’ll just say that there are reasons beyond simple bigotry why “in control of its own borders” is considered one of the definitions of a sovereign state. 

    There are legitimate debates to be had about whether or not those reasons still apply in a modern context, and if they do how they should best be applied. That’s not at all the same thing as saying there was never any reason for people to have decided that unrestricted immigration wasn’t a good thing. 

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Oh, I get it. “Earth” backwards.

    But wasn’t Bizarro just a messed up clone of Superman’s?

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Yet another symptom of the disintegration of community in our culture, which has happened because…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sVUvpdT-NY

  • Jenny Islander

    Here’s a really simple way to keep immigration from Mexico “under control.”

    1. Do you have a job or a written promise of employment?  Great!  Welcome to the US!  If you want to stay, here’s the location nearest your place of employment where citizenship classes are held.

    2. If you don’t have a job or a written promise of a job, do you have a round-trip ticket back to somewhere in Mexico?  Good luck on your job hunt if that’s what you’re doing here, and enjoy your visit to our country if you’re just here to see the rels.

  • Tonio

    The premise for Bizarro has changed a couple of times. I had in the mind the original premise where he was a mirror image.

  • Tonio

    The idea of unrestricted immigration is largely a straw man, similar to how proponents of laws like Alabama’s accuse opponents of favoring universal amnesty. I know of no one who argues for either, and it’s obvious that nations can and should impose reasonable restrictions on immigration. But the operative word is reasonable. Historically, US immigration quotas have reflected ethnic and racial bigotry, usually favoring Northern European nations, and this was rationalized as preserving the culture.

  • P J Evans

    Yeah, you probably have noticed that they never seem to have a problem with people from Europe who come as students (or even as tourists) and never go home. There are a lot of those.

  • cjmr

    “Because illegal immigration is a crime, and criminals are exactly the sort of people we *don’t* want immigrating.”

    Actually, illegal immigration is a federal-level civil infraction.  That’s one of the reasons why the Justice Dept. is challenging AZ immigration law–it criminalizes a civil infraction.

  • Lori

    Related to the topic of immigration and who is American, this article talks about what’s wrong with Mitt Romeny’s use of the phrase “keep America America”:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/12/the-trouble-with-keeping-america-american/249960/?&utm_content=Google+Reader

    But there is another tradition of appealsto “keep America American,” at least as old, which strikes a very different note. As early as 1897, Universalist Minister John Coleman Adams gave voice to his doubts as to:

    whether we can keep America American, true to the principles on which her life was begun, to which it was rededicated when the Union was preserved. The hardest strain on our national life is to come in keeping the spirit of that life–freedom, equality, justice for all; the right to be one’s self, the government of the community by the people of the community, the supremacy of the law over the mob, the open door of opportunity to every citizen alike. Can America live up to her light?

    Adams was every bit as patriotic as his intellectual foes, and just as unsettled by the wrenching era of change through which they lived. His greatest fear, though, was not that America would change too much but that it would not change enough. He believed that embracing timeless ideals required continual progress toward the goal of crafting a more perfect union and a more inclusive nation.

    And he has been echoed down through the years. “Keep America American” was “no isolationist creed” nor a “yardstick of nationality” but rather “the defiant challenge of the finest idealism the world has ever known,” argued a 1945 column in Wichita’s Negro Star. Mary McCleod Bethune wrote in 1951 of the need to “keep America American — decently fed, decently housed, decently clothed — with all of [us] free to speak out and to pray together.”

  • CQAussie

    It’s kinda the whole “controversy” with the TLC show “All American Muslim”.  The Florida Family Association is upset at the depiction of Muslims as normal everyday Americans.  They say it’s a dangerous view because come on, we all KNOW that ALL Muslims are radical terrorists and jihadists.  Sheesh.

    The director of the group actually went on national TV to whine about how this show assaults his belief structure about Muslims.  With no hint of irony.  Heaven forbid we actually challenge the narrow stereotypes we hold with uh….facts.

    The Daily Show team kills it with their coverage of this “controversy”:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/14/jon-stewart-tlc-all-american-muslim-florida-family-association_n_1147927.html?ref=daily-show

    Be sure to watch Part 2 with Aasif Mandvi, Muslim Correspondent…..classic!  =D 

  • FangsFirst

    And then they never touch on the fact that a non-Muslim is claiming to know more about Islam than, um, the *Muslims* “depicted,” who are real people, however not-so-unscripted and on-camera they are…

  • Lori

     I grew up in Latin America and I’ve had family and friends who’ve traveled widely abroad, and I gotta say that this inhospitality is in many ways a largely North American failing (which we are, of course, rapidly exporting to the rest of the world through the crushing force of our homogenizing economics). Yet another symptom of the disintegration of community in our culture, which has happened because…? You tell me, oh wise internets, where we all can meet to form vapid groupings of dubious community-building value. Hmmm. 

    This has been bugging me and I couldn’t quite articulate why, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I honestly think it’s unfair. I don’t want to rehash arguments that have been had a million times, but if a grouping on the internet is vapid, it’s not because it’s on the internet. Some groups just don’t have a lot of depth and that’s true whether they’re on the internet or in meat space. 

    It’s also not true that there was some golden age of wonderfully warm interpersonal interaction that has been killed by modern life/the internet/the evils of America. There is no style of interaction that works for everyone. What seems warm and supportive and welcoming to one person feels smothering to another. What feels cold and distant to one person feels just right to another.

    The other issue is that people and their interactions are complex. There are plenty of friends and family members who are physically together all the time and never say a meaningful word to each other. There are other who now have the majority of their interactions through (often impersonal) Facebook updates. I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I recently read a post by someone noting that she found out that her sister had a new boyfriend, who she had been seeing for quite some time, through a status update that indirectly mentioned the boyfriend. Note: these sisters are not estranged. 

    At the same time, groups that formed on the internet do things with real world impact all the time. Two recent examples, one quite sad and the other fun. 

    The sad: A Tennessee student named Jacob Rogers was the victim of anti-gay bullying and committed suicide. His family did not have the money to pay for his funeral, so 3 gay blogs did a fund raiser among their readers to raise the $5000 needed to cover the expenses. Response was so strong that, even though they closed donations as soon as the realized they had reached their goal, they actually raised $9000. The funeral home bill was paid with the first $5k and the the remaining $4k was split equally between 4 groups that assist QULTBAG youth. 

    The fun: Joy Wilson writes the very popular food blog Joy the Baker. She recently rented a house in Palm Springs and invited 20 readers to come for a weekend to talk about food and get to know her and each other.  

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/homefries-u-joy-the-bakers-unconventional-food-convention/249752/?&utm_content=Google+Reader

    There is no one good or right or best way for humans to connect with each other. The issue is not finding the “right way”, it’s connecting.

  • Lonespark

    …it’s almost like it’s more complicated…

  • Lonespark

    The thing about “immigrants will overwhelm the supply of jobs,” is that immigrants motivated by economics follow the jobs.  Arizona had a lot of undocumented immigrants when it had a booming economy, and more kept coming in, and a lot of businesses liked it that way.  When the economy slowed down, people did still come, but the rate decreased drastically.  And the right-wing politicians liked to credit crackdowns by sheriffs and so on, which really don’t make that much of a dent but are great for violating the civil rights of American citizens and resident aliens and otherwise instilling fear in the marginalized, or tough immigration legislation which had been passed but generally had not gone into effect at the time.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    The unspoken assumption is always that crossing the border without permission is instinctively known by all to be a primal evil on a par with the very worst crimes, and that therefore the federal government has no moral right to choose to treat the matter seriously or lightly.  In fact it is unnatural for the State to ever treat the matter lightly.  The mere fact that the US government has never considered Illegal immigration to be a serious crime doesn’t change the fact that it has always been the norm to see it as such.   It is indisputible: beyond all debate, question, reason, or thought, that sneaking across the border is profoundly evil.  This is so obvious that only political correctness or some other conscious self-deception could possibly deny it. 

    And the funniest thing about the  ‘illegal means illegal’ crowd is that they will on the one hand insist that ‘It’s not about race, it’s about the law’, while in the same breath insisting upon the absolute neccesity of assimilation and how ‘they’ are failing to do so.  The United States, you see, cannot possibly survive, unless we return to a level of cultural uniformity we have never had. 

  • FangsFirst

    And what, might I ask, is so wrong with returning to things that never existed and aren’t possible?

    …Oh.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    *Worth noting: it is unclear whether Jacob was in fact gay. The only thing known for sure is that he was bullied for being gay. The blog owners and readers knew that, and understood why it was important to help whether Jacob was, as they say, “family” or not.

    I think it’s very important to point out that not all kids whio are bullied for being gay actually *are* gay.It seems like the media never points that out,  and in the absense of that realization, it’s far too easy for someone lacking in basic human decency to say   “Well, he really killed himself because being gay makes you committ suicide, and the bullying was just tangential”

  • Anonymous

    The other problem with the job-stealing myth is that my neighbor’s natural-born children are just as likely to steal my job as an immigrant is.  If we’re worried about scarcity of jobs, then increased population by any means should be equally concerning.

    Oh, also, the people who “steal” jobs also create them, simply by being consumers.

    It’s funny though that in this one case, the worshipers of the Almighty Invisible Hand of the Free Market don’t want to let their idol sort this out, and instead want to limit competition.

  • Anonymous

    It’s mostly out of fear that hordes of people with brown skin and funny-sounding languages will usurp our culture, rape our jobs and steal our women.

  • Hawker40

    Yes, the way the Germans, Irish, Chinese, Poles, Russians, Jews, Italians, Japanese all tried and failed to do.

  • Emcee, cubed

    I think it’s very important to point out that not all kids who are bullied for being gay actually *are* gay.

    Which is worse: being bullied about something that isn’t true, or being bullied about something that is true? (Hint: it’s a trick question.)

    One needs to be careful about how this is articulated. I understand what people here are saying, but it becomes way too easy to imply that gay kids are more deserving of being bullied than non-gay kids. Which is why I don’t get too upset at the media for not pointing this out. They are more likely to cross that line. Yes, anti-gay bullying affects everyone, and should be everyone’s concern. But even if it only affected gay kids, it still should concern everyone.

    (And yes, all bullying is wrong, not just anti-gay bullying. However, teachers and administrators don’t ignore other forms of bullying like they do anti-gay bullying.)

  • Anonymous

    I really, really don’t get why people get upset about illegal immigration. Why can’t there be open immigration? What am I missing?
    *is clueless*

    Well, some people think the immigration rate is too high.  Or at least the legal plus illegal rate.  They might have this opinion based on the unemployment rate (if you don’t have enough jobs to go around, adding workers isn’t going to help), simple racism, or other things.

    2. If you don’t have a job or a written promise of a job, do you have a round-trip ticket back to somewhere in Mexico?  Good luck on your job hunt if that’s what you’re doing here, and enjoy your visit to our country if you’re just here to see the rels.

    The problem here is that quite a few illegal immigrants enter on temporary visas, and just never leave.

  • Michael G.

    Please go pick some of Alabama’s crops for about 10 or 12 hours for 1.75 per crate and help your Alabama farmer.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Please go pick some of Alabama’s crops for about 10 or 12 hours for 1.75 per crate and help your Alabama farmer.

    This brings up something I’ve still been trying to get my head around, and I’d like to get it sorted out.

    My particular reading of left-wing critiques of these kinds of labor practices has centered around statements by employers that are considered specious: The claim that a country’s own workers are too lazy and too entitled to do this kind of work, so paying immigrants less than the legal wage is justified on the basis that “nobody else will do it”.

    The counterargument offered by leftists has, in my experience, always been, “people who are paid properly, be they domestic or foreign, will gladly work just as hard as “only the immigrants”.

    Yet your particular rejoinder to Base Delta Zero contains the unstated implication that of course a domestic Canadian or American is “too good” to do that kind of work and that the “fuck no!” implied by BDZ’s likely response thus justifies the status quo of keeping immigrants in a legal grey area so they can get exploited coming and going.

    So maybe I need it explained again why leftists are implicitly arguing for what amounts to an acknowledgement of an indictment of laborers profferred by the right-wing, which is that workers are too uppity and entitled to commit to doing “any job no matter what”.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t saying those things were neccessarily true.  Just that was why some people don’t  like the idea of open immigration.

    Please take your vitriol elsewhere. 


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