by Jenny Crosswhite and Michelle Melton
Jenny Crosswhite was one of 20 students, staff, and faculty who joined hundreds of other Kentucky residents in the City of Frankfort to express their opposition to Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), an immigration reform proposal.
“As a group we were protesting the potential impact of SB 6 on the way people of faith worship, serve, and educate, if the bill passes,” said Crosswhite, a third-year Master of Divinity student at Louisville Seminary.
The group had an opportunity to speak with legislators and then participated in a rally that took place on the capitol steps, February 8, 2011. For several of the students, this was their first rally of any kind.
“If passed, SB6 will give local law enforcement the right to question anyone for whom ‘reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an unauthorized alien,’” Crosswhite said, quoting directly from the bill.
“We worry this will lead to increased levels of fear among both documented and undocumented individuals and to the fragmentation of already vulnerable communities. Some feel the legislation could lead to discrimination and racial profiling,” she said.
Melissa Gee, a student in the Seminary’s Master of Divinity/Juris Doctor dual degree program with the University of Louisville, is concerned with the way the bill defines “assistance.” “It will be a crime to assist an undocumented person so that they can stay in the U.S. This can include things such as providing an English class, giving a ride to the doctor, serving a meal, etc. In fact, the definition is so broad it could include worship services. A person who is transporting an undocumented person could have their car impounded, which can be costly and time consuming,” she said.
"The language in the law needs to be changed, yes; I'm for immigration reform, but SB 6 is not the answer," said Erin Gill in a Fox41 television interview. Gill, a first-year student in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy program at the Seminary, anticipates the bill, as it is written, could impact various areas of ministry.
“As Christians, it is important for us to be aware of, and informed about, what is happening in the larger context of our city, our state, and our world so that we can truly live into our call to be the hands and feet of God in the world,” added Crosswhite. “We are called to seek and discern, to the best of our ability, where God is calling us to take action and to take a stand for the rights of our neighbors—to take a stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The students who participated in the rally consider such experiences as an important part of the educational process and their development as Christian leaders.
“We are not doing ministry in a vacuum,” said Crosswhite. We live in a world filled with turmoil and chaos, and the church is called to live out its mission in the world.”
“In the church where I grew up, there is a sign over the ‘exit’ door of the church that says, ‘Servant’s Entrance.’ The purpose of this sign was to remind us that God is calling us to live out our mission in the world, not just within the four walls of the church building. Participation in public theology is an opportunity to practice what we preach. It is an opportunity to truly stand in solidarity with all God’s children, regardless of their status, religious affiliation, or the color of their skin.”
Master of Divinity student Alex Becker said he participated in the rally to oppose SB 6 “because of a mandate I received from Christ and the church to seek justice for the oppressed. As I've come to know the Presbyterian Church, I've discovered a deep passion in our community for public action in the name of Christ. I came to Louisville Seminary for its emphasis on practical theology, and to me practical theology means engaging in public discourse as part of ministry and Christian life.”
Crosswhite said she hoped the group’s presence communicated that as church leaders “we will not remain silent in the face of injustice. We will speak truth to powers and principalities. We will rise to the occasion and be a light in the darkness so that the darkness will not prevail. We went to Frankfort to send the message that SB 6 is not congruent with our values and Christian faith.”