OPINION

Opinion: Deal faithfully, not fearfully, with immigrants

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland.  Eleven top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls face off in their second prime-time debate of the 2016 campaign Sept. 16, in a clash between outsiders and establishment candidates under a cathedral of political conservatism. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland. Eleven top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls face off in their second prime-time debate of the 2016 campaign Sept. 16, in a clash between outsiders and establishment candidates under a cathedral of political conservatism. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Words matter.

That is as clear in our daily discourse as it is in the Bible. To paraphrase Proverbs, with our words we can speak life or death.

Today, some of our would-be political leaders are not speaking words of life when it comes to immigrants and immigration. Their rhetoric fits the description of anti-Christian and anti-conservative, even anti-American, in that it runs counter to the values that form the bedrock of our nation.

We must recognize the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters and welcome them to an America rooted in faith, not fear.

- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

Presidential candidates who use inflammatory rhetoric are trying to divide us, not inspire us. Their words steer us toward nativism and xenophobia — in short, to our baser selves. That is not who Christians are, and it is not who we are as Americans.

There is a better way.

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Abraham Lincoln captured it when he wrote, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. pointed toward faith and freedom in his “I Have a Dream” speech that inspired a nation: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children … With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

More recently, President Ronald Reagan inspired us once again with a vision of an America that shines like a “city upon a hill.”

“If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here,” Reagan said. “That's how I saw it, and see it still. And how stands the city on this winter night? … She's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

A great many Americans, a great many conservatives, a great many evangelical Christians count ourselves among the multitudes who still believe this vision makes America better.

It is time to raise our voices and issue a clarion call. Our nation leads precisely because we are a beacon of freedom for so many around the world and so many already on our shores.

We must seize the mantle of Lincoln, King and Reagan. We must dispense with hate and dread and anxiety. Instead we must turn inward and look upward, that our words might shine the light of hope and peace, of respect and dignity.

“With [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). Our tongues must speak words of blessing. No longer shall we curse those made in God’s image, lest we ourselves be cursed.

We must recognize the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters and welcome them to an America rooted in faith, not fear.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

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