The New York Times ran an article yesterday headlined “Obama Wins Unlikely Allies in Immigration.” According to the article, a group of influential evangelical leaders have joined President Obama’s efforts to promote immigration reform.
One of those leaders says in the article,
I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order….There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.
Why are these prominent evangelicals switching tracks on this issue? It’s because they’ve had a chance to build relationships with ministers whose communities are affected by current immigration policies. And they met those ministers working against marriage equality.
Their presence was a testament, in part, to the work of politically active Hispanic evangelical pastors, who have forged friendships with non-Hispanic pastors in recent years while working in coalitions to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. The Hispanics made a concerted effort to convince their brethren that immigration reform should be a moral and practical priority.
This is really painful, and it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around people fighting for their own civil rights, while also actively fighting to deny the civil rights of other people.
It makes me want to turn away from the immigration issue, particularly when there’s some logic to the argument that “Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial….They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.”
But if I turn away too quickly, I miss the gem hidden in this article: forged friendships led to real change.
Now, the word “forge” has two meanings, and both are helpful in this case.
One meaning, “to copy for the purpose of deception,” is what we mean when we talk about forging a check or a signature. In this case, I think it’s good to acknowledge that there’s sometimes a “fake it ’til you make it” quality to our friendship-forging with people who are different from us. If we act like friends long enough, if we practice the skills of friendship long enough, sometimes we may discover that we truly have become friends.
The second meaning, “make or shape (a metal object) by heating it in a fire or furnace and beating or hammering it” also reflects the reality of friend-making with people who are different from us. It is hard, painful, sweaty work.
At the Girdwood Forest Fair a few weeks ago I purchased a metal hook forged in the Matanuska Valley, home to Sarah Palin, home to a whole lot of people who really, really don’t like GLBT people. I had a brief, friendly conversation with the blacksmith who forged the hook, and the hook is now holding a birdfeeder on our deck. I have no idea how he feels about GLBT people, but we share a commitment to remembering how to make real things. Given more time, and enough energy and heat, perhaps we could forge a friendship on the basis of that shared commitment.
The idea that relationships change people is not new. When I began the process of coming out, I learned a lot from the Presbyterian group That All May Freely Serve. One of the primary strategies of TAMFS is “personing the issue.” It’s a slow and difficult process, but change happens when we know (and learn to love) someone who is GLBT, uses a wheelchair, has crossed the border “illegally,” and yes, even someone who voted for Prop 8 in California, even someone who wore a red shirt at the Anchorage Assembly last summer.
The work of love knows no limits. We live in a fractured world, and standing on the side of love will sometimes mean standing with those who stand against us. In the forge of such friendships, old ideas die and new ones come to life, and we all are changed.