A process and penalty for disobedience
Yesterday I was arrested out of protest of our immigration laws which I believe are unjust and unmerciful. Eleven hundred immigrants are deported everyday, including the parents of children born in the United States and are part of the DREAM act. These deportations separate parents from children and break up families for years. Hundreds of people came together in downtown Chicago to demand the end of deportations that break families apart.
It was a peaceful demonstration, beginning at the back of the sanctuary at the Temple (First United Methodist Church) in Chicago with about 50 United Methodists – laity and clergy from across the annual conference. We began with a joyful recognition of each other’s support and prayer. Then we walked down to Federal Plaza. There we heard from families who have been separated from their loved ones. Congressman Luis Gutierrez spoke of the importance of stopping the deportations as well as the hope for comprehensive immigration legislation. There were prayers and statements by religious leaders.
Several hundred people marched from Federal Plaza to the Homeland Securities building where some of us (about 12) participated in civil disobedience by blocking the doorway of the federal building, resulting in arrest. We received a ticket with a court date to pay the fine.
The Chicago Police Department was overseeing our gathering, marching, and eventual arrest. They were courteous and helpful as we were arrested and processed. They helped us up off the pavement and made positive comments about our El Salvadoran stoles. We broke the law and will pay the consequences.
Our Social Principles in the United Methodist Church, par. 164F, speak to this kind of action:
we recognize the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and, after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforced. Even then, respect for law should be shown by refraining from violence and by being willing to accept the costs of disobedience…We assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by nonviolent beliefs or acts.
But as I walked away at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but reflect on another struggle of conscience that many within the United Methodist Church find themselves: offering support to gay couples and families who desire the emotional as well as legal benefits of marriage. Many who protested and participated in civil disobedience yesterday also work for the full inclusion of GBLTQ persons in our church.
I’ve also struck by the process and penalty of our disobedience yesterday. We were treated graciously by the Chicago Police Department. They processed each one of us, giving us the opportunity to pull back from our actions, but then when we didn’t, they proceeded with a penalty that was commensurate with the breaking of the law.
Our conviction of conscience was recognized and while it was illegal, there was a pathway to protest without an over-reaching penalty. We left to continue to live our lives and do our work.
I believe that we need to establish clear pathways and penalties (working all the while to change the Book of Discipline to reflect full inclusion) for those who disobey the present law and to be consistent with penalties that are commensurate with the law and the spirit of the Book of Discipline, especially in light of par. 164F. And so at the end of the day, we can all continue to live our lives and fulfill the mission of the church.
Yesterday was a clarifying day for me…