Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights, and the Church’s Prophetic Role

Throughout history people in the church have been called to a prophetic role—to use the lessons of faith and ethics to challenge unjust actions and decisions in the political realm. Sometimes, as church leaders and members, we don’t take that role as seriously as we should. Ironically President Trump’s executive order on immigration has awakened us to a new and widespread call to prophetic challenges and prophetic action.

Less than two weeks before the President’s executive order we celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday. In a special sermon delivered in St. John’s Chapel at EDS, I recalled how the civil rights movement represented a time when the Christian church, joining with our Jewish brothers and sisters and representatives of other religions, gave strong and meaningful leadership to bringing about much needed political, legal, and social change, including the end of terrible Jim Crow laws. It was also a time when many Democrats and Republicans actually worked together to forge important changes.

Now we in seminaries and churches (and our companions in other religions) are called again to fight for the rights of our “neighbors” of all ethnic backgrounds, religions, and countries of origin. We are called to “welcome the stranger” and, as the prophet Amos said to the leaders of his day, to “let justice roll down like waters.” I sense that, in large measure, both clergy and lay people are already responding and assuming this critical prophetic role. An unjust and unwise executive order has reawakened a large number of caring people to this call. Let the movement grow!

The Rev. Dr. William C. Nelsen
Interim President
Episcopal Divinity School

February 2, 2017