By Jessica Connor
CHARLESTON—Led by bishops of four major denominations in the state, a crowd of advocates gathered outside the federal courthouse in Charleston Dec. 19 for an immigration prayer service.
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, resident bishop of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, was joined by Dr. Herman R. Yoos III, bishop of the South Carolina Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Robert E. Guglielmone, Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Charleston; and W. Andrew Waldo, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
The service came the day U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel heard arguments in a challenge to South Carolina s immigration law, which was signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in June.
Three days after the service Gergel issued his ruling, blocking the most controversial part of the law, which required law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of any suspect they believe may be in the U.S. illegally. Gergel also blocked some other aspects of the law, including the part that makes it a crime to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant.
Gathering outside the courthouse steps that Monday, the bishops and other immigrants rights supporters prayed for God s guidance and support in the contentious matter. Following a march to the courthouse grounds, the bishops timed prayer to begin just as court went into session.
Our covenantal commitment includes a call to ˜cooperate in welcoming the immigrant by working together to promote justice, provide social outreach and advocacy, Guglielmone prayed during the service. We ask God to guide us as this court reviews and rules on SB20, the immigration enforcement law passed in 2011 by the South Carolina Legislature and signed by our governor. We come here in witness to our pastoral concern for those who will be affected by this legislation.
The prayer service cited concern that the law would have unfortunate repercussions on the livelihood, safety and integrity of families, both citizens and undocumented; concern that anger directed at immigrants will harden prejudices in a state that still needs racial healing; and concern that financial resources will be taxed by enforcing unnecessary laws.
Taylor, after reading from Luke 10:33-37 on the Samaritan traveler, prayed during the service that the decision handed down would lead to renewed efforts for this nation to address immigration issues humanely and with courage.
We claim our conviction that there is no dividing wall of separateness or alienation that cannot be overcome by seeking the mind of Jesus Christ, Taylor prayed. Stir up in the hearts of all South Carolina citizens a deep desire for the good of all people whether they are here as citizens or without the permission of our laws. … Give us eyes to see each other as brothers and sisters with a common desire for our families to flourish.
The Rev. Emily Scales Sutton, one of the United Methodist pastors in attendance at the service and pastor of West Metro Hispanic Ministry in West Columbia, said the prayer service gave her peace and hope for our immigrant brothers and sisters in Christ and for the church. She said those in attendance demonstrated to all that God desires unity rather than more division.
There was no better way to demonstrate this to our state and our world than to have our bishops join together in prayer over an issue that seems to divide our nation and continues to create divisions within our communities, Sutton said. We still have a long way to go in order to unify our communities and churches, but we took the first step on Dec. 19.
The South Carolina immigration law was challenged by the Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups.