Would You Call Jesus 'illegal?'

Lucy Francis, of Lynn, Mass., center, displays a placard and chants slogans during a rally, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, on the st
Lucy Francis, of Lynn, Mass., center, displays a placard and chants slogans during a rally, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, on the steps of City Hall, in Lynn, Mass., held to protest what organizers describe as the scapegoating of immigrants for problems in the city. The mayor of Lynn and education officials complain their schools are being overwhelmed by young Guatemalans who speak neither English or Spanish as their first language. (AP Photo)

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible tells us to welcome strangers in our land and to love them as we love ourselves. That's why the media and all Americans should immediately stop referring to our undocumented brothers and sisters as "illegal." It is a divisive term that creates a hostile environment in our country, regardless of where an individual falls on the issue of immigration. We applaud The Huffington Post and other media organizations who have already stopped using this language.

The term has come to have racial undertones and has been used to denigrate human beings. It is immoral to continue perpetuating this word in the media. And, we implore the media and individual journalists to stop using a term that maligns, prejudges, and disrespects an entire people, most of whom are fellow Christians. As people of faith, we understand that words do indeed matter. Words shape perceptions, which impact actions. By calling the undocumented among us "illegals," the media is stripping our fellow brothers and sisters of their humanity, and setting a negative tone for the way they are treated by society.

That is why we are asking all Americans, journalists, and media companies, to refrain from calling our fellow human beings "illegal." Human beings are not illegal. They are God's children. Such language has created a moral crisis in our country. And, while the lack of political will to pass a just immigration reform bill lingers -- our outdated immigration laws along with it -- we are calling on those of good will to espouse love and compassion in their words. We call on all media organizations and journalists to publicly pledge to stop using the term "illegal" in their print, online, and broadcast work.

Some condemn those who came to this country as "law breakers." Yet, those same people do not question the very broken immigration system and antiquated immigration laws on the books today. A Central American loving mother who risks a long, treacherous journey with her children to escape the worst kind of violence, might be considered by some a criminal, but many would call her a refugee. In this sense, did Mary, the mother of Jesus, break the law when she and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape Herod the Great's violence? Based on the definition of word, Mary and Joseph were lawbreakers. And that is why semantics are important. Words shape our values, the way we look at the world, and the way we treat others.

The resurrection teaches us love, grace, and compassion -- these values are the cornerstones of the Christian life. Therefore, why can't we show the same compassion for those who were not as fortunate as us to be born in this great country; and who are seeking refuge from violence and turmoil? Why do we shun those who wish to live in a country where they can practice their religion freely and without reprisal? They are like Mary and Joseph, seeking to literally save their child's life.

We are both ordained Baptist ministers and proud, patriotic Americans. Two pastors, White and Black, from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Despite our different backgrounds, we are both confident that Christ's resurrection was a call to change our behavior and the way in which we treat others. Jesus, an immigrant himself, carried out his ministry amongst many people who were condemned by society throughout his life. Yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught us about love, humility, and compassion. Let's adhere to His teachings today when discussing the immigration issue in the public square.