Immigration issues - faith and social justice teachings vs partisan leanings


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It's not just among Roman Catholics that politics lately creates fissures in the focus of community advocacy. Some interfaith social justice efforts have also been blowing up lately during the 2020 campaigns, particularly over issues like immigration. The latest brouhaha was over a September 15th interfaith webinar in St. Louis, "Immigration and the 2020 Election: Education and Action for People of Faith."

The event was part of a series on immigration sponsored by the St. Louis RC Diocese The archdiocese had been pressured to cancel the series by groups having other "hot button" concerns, some right wing and some merely more traditional.

At any rate the series is now canceled, an organizer suspended and a related Facebook group deleted. One organizer offered to sit down with an auxiliary bishop and go over the webinar's presentation "line by line" to learn where the group had "gone wrong" versus Catholic teachings, but the offer was declined, even though promises were made that the interfaith task force's voices "would be heard" at some indefinite time in the future.

Some backlash has risen among Roman Catholics in the area, expressing opinions that "voting your values" is about far more than just the abortion issue, and that the recent flare-up is about far more than the webinar, i.e. that fringe groups have been stirring pots ever since the arrival of an archbishop aligned with some of Pope Francis' views of church doctrine and social teachings.

Speakers at the interfaith webinar included Bishop Deon Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri; Kenneth Schmitt, a Catholic immigration attorney; Alyssa Banford, director of civic engagement for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Naomi Steinberg, vice president for policy and advocacy of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; and Sara John, the executive director of the St. Louis Inter-faith Committee on Latin America.

"For us, this is not about supporting any candidate over any other," Steinberg told attendees. While Schmitt voiced concern that "there's a lot riding on this election," no speaker offered an endorsement of any political candidate and organizers insist that the discussion was in line with Catholic social teaching and language used by the U.S. bishops' conference.

Days after the webinar, a St. Louis group known as Credo of the Catholic Laity circulated flyers and emails urging Catholics to contact the archbishop and "halt the campaign by the Archdiocese of St. Louis to elect pro-abortion candidate Joe Biden." Credo was founded in 1995 by men in the archdiocese concerned about its fidelity to church orthodoxy and wanted to help "save the church."

The action alert labeled the task force's "Vote Your Values" campaign as "diabolical" and also mentioned the Episcopal bishop's reference to his undocumented husband during the webinar. On Sept. 21, the website Church Militant, known for their aggressive smear campaigns against church leaders and events, said that the archdiocese was aiming to keep the issue of immigration "front and center" in the lead up to the presidential election and argued that the church is only interested in the issue of immigration as a source of revenue for church institutions.
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