The following is an open letter to Alexandria District Clergy.
I write to inform you of a special cause for prayer and advocacy involving one of our Alexandria District churches. On Wednesday morning of last week, Feb. 8, as a group of homeless men left the Rising Hope hypothermia shelter at 6:45 a.m., a contingent of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents were stationed just across the street from the church to stop these men. The agents gathered the men (all Hispanic) and forced them to stand against a wall for two and a half hours while they were questioned. Many of the men had green cards, and no criminal warrants that would justify this kind of treatment. Eventually, about six men were arrested and taken away in vans.
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Rev. Keary Kincannon was approached by a local television station about this incident, and he gave an interview with them. The next day, Thursday, he was receiving inquiries from the national media.
This morning, Friday, at 8:30, a prayer vigil and press conference was held at the ICE Field Office in Fairfax County (which serves Washington D.C. as well). The vigil was organized last night, with little time for widespread publicity. I found out about it when I checked my email this morning at 7:30.
I attended this prayer vigil, with about 30 other people of various denominations. Keary spoke, as did Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and others. Keary represented the call of Christ and the witness of the United Methodist Church very well. You will probably be able to see parts of this event on the news later today.
The organizers of this event are planning to hold more such events in the future, with more lead time to get the word out. I hope to inform you in advance, not in retrospect, the next time, so that many of you can participate in solidarity with our brother Keary and in support of the ministry of Rising Hope UMC.
As you know, Jesus tells us that “inasmuch as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me,” which specifies feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger. When government agents stake out churches who are fulfilling the commands of Jesus, and instill fear in people as they come and go to church, we are clear about our “Why.”
Jim Wallis said that, if the choice is between honoring a president’s campaign promise, or honoring the commands of Jesus, the Church has no choice but to follow Jesus, even if it leads us to stand up against the actions of the government.
Please keep this matter in your prayers in the days ahead. And please be prepared to stand up when the time comes.