Courageous Conversations About Immigration
For more information about Goals, Setting, Design, and Use of Scripture,
see the Sample Outlines Introduction »
Setting for a Safe Environment:
Set up the room with tables (round tables are preferable) with no more than six chairs per table.
Place Guidelines for the Conversation around the room in large print or on a projection screen (See Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations).
As participants enter the room have them choose a number from a basket. Invite them to sit at the table marked with the number that matches the number they have drawn.
- Basket with numbers
- Tables for small-group discussion
- Printout of prayers (see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
- Printout of Open Dialogue Sentences
- Bell or chime for silence
- Microphone — to enable all to hear the speaker(s) clearly
The following is based on a 90-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed.
Opening Prayer (3 minutes)
Overview (10 minutes)
Setting Aside Baggage (10 minutes)
Guest Speaker (25 minutes)
Open Sentences Dialogue (25 minutes)
Large-Group Reflection (15 minutes)
Closing Prayer (2 minutes)
Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
Give an overview of the main topic of discussion. Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this space is a safe place for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives.
Setting Aside Baggage*
Form people into small groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to name questions, fears, or hesitancies about the topic. Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.
Guest Speaker(s) or Q&A about procedures/facts about the topic
Introduce the guest speaker again. Make sure the speaker is aware of time constraints .
See below for Teachable Points possible for inclusion.
Open Sentences Dialogue*
This style of dialogue emphasizes clarity of thought and naming assumptions or perceptions about the topic. The focus here is on attentive listening, not debate. Break the participants into groups (no more than three persons per group). Have the questions posted on a screen or printed for each group. Once the participants are settled in their groups, give one minute of silence for reflection and private prayer. It can be helpful to ring a bell or chime at the beginning and end of the period of silence. As the facilitator, read the first question. Allow the first participant of each group time to repeat the sentence and complete it. Give a warning or use a bell/chime to signal that the participants have 30 seconds remaining to complete their statements. The other participant(s) listen without commenting. Complete all the questions before switching to the next participant(s).
Use some or all of the following sentences:
- The feelings or emotions I have about what I’m hearing…
- The questions I still have immigration are…
- My biggest fear is about immigration is…
- Printout of Open Dialogue Sentences
- A strength in the views I differ from is…
Large-Group Reflection Time
This time is for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the Open Sentence Dialogue, reflecting on the issues raised by the speaker. Allow participants to return to their seats at the tables.
This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments. Rather, the facilitator’s role is to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”
End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.
Teachable Points about Immigration
The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. Many others could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.
Distinguish between refugees and immigrants (or migrants)
- A refugee is a person who is forced to escape danger from his or her country of origin.
- A migrant is a person who settles voluntarily (short- or long-term) in a country other than his or her country of citizenship
Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling)
- Genesis 1:26-28 reminds us all persons are made in the image of God
- Genesis 11:31-12:5: The Old Testament patriarchs (Abram/Abraham specifically) often migrate across tribes and countries.
- Exodus 2: Moses escapes to Midian.
- Ruth: Naomi immigrates to Moab before coming back to Bethlehem.
- Daniel: Daniel is forced to move to Babylon.
- We see in these stories that some assimilate to new surroundings, while others maintain their unique identity in foreign lands.
- The practice of extending hospitality toward strangers was a virtue (Genesis 18:18).
- Gleaning laws (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19) provided for widows, orphans, the poor, as well as aliens (refugees and migrants). These laws remind the Hebrew people that they too were once sojourners (Leviticus 25:23).
- Many point out that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).
- Jesus interacts with “outsiders” or non-Jews. Jesus converses with the woman at the well (John 4), uses a Samaritan as a model of righteousness (Luke 10:29-37), and a Roman centurion as an example of faith (Luke 7:1-10).
- In the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:29-37), Jesus is answering the question of a religious leader seeking to justify himself by asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” How do immigrants and refugees qualify as our neighbors?
- The New Testament often images Christians as those without a permanent citizenship except for God’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 13:14; 1 Peter 2:9-11). Thus, as Christians our ultimate loyalty and allegiance is not to any nation-state, but as citizens of God’s kingdom. How might our government’s values and Christian values conflict on this issue?
- The Hebrews were not a homogeneous group (Exodus 12:38, Joshua 2:10-14, Joshua 9:3-27, Ruth)
- Jesus is the Messiah for all (Matthew’s genealogy that includes Ruth; Matthew 1:5; Simeon in Luke 2:31-32). Jesus’ encounters with Samaritans, Luke 10:25-37 and Luke 4.
- Early church ministry beyond Israel (Acts 8:26-39, Acts 10:34-35)
- Paul’s letters often reflect on the dividing wall between Gentiles and Jews being torn down. (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-22, Colossians 3:1-11)
Do not assume all immigrants think alike on any issue, including this one!
See also ¶162 in the Social Principles of the Book of Discipline. Particularly "H) Rights of Immigrants."
The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather these are some of many potential resources that could be of benefit for those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.
- Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang
- Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.
- Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell