In response to Arizona's controversial immigration law, delegates of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) agreed to refrain from holding national meetings in states where immigrant members might be subject to harassment.
The PC(USA)'s 219th General Assembly – the highest legislative body – voted 420-205 Thursday evening to stand with immigrant Presbyterians.
"It is not right to have meetings and do things as a church, when the entire church cannot be there," said Trina Zelle, a minister from Grand Canyon Presbytery, who submitted the resolution, as reported by The Presbyterian Outlook.
Rick Ufford-Chase, former moderator of the General Assembly, applauded the PC(USA)'s "historic concern for those who stand on the fringe of our society."
The resolution comes weeks before a new law that was passed in April takes effect in Arizona. The legislation requires immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times, gives police officers the power to question someone's legal residency if they suspect the person to be an illegal immigrant, and allows officers to arrest someone if they cannot prove their legal residency.
The immigration law has drawn fire from several religious leaders who argue that it could be abused and sanction racial profiling. It also currently faces a lawsuit from the Justice Department, which contends that the state law unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government's authority to set and enforce immigration policy.
PC(USA)'s former moderator of the General Assembly, John Fife, said the Arizona law amounts to racism and urged opposition.
Zelle noted ahead of the vote that she feels like the country is "infected with this disease of hatred and it has been spread all over."
Passing the resolution would signify that the church is saying "No, we are not going to let it go anymore," she said.
Delegates on Thursday also approved an amendment that encourages PC(USA) camp and conference centers to develop "sanctuary" responses in states where such laws as that of Arizona are passed. In other words, safe places would be created for immigrant Presbyterians.
In other business, the General Assembly approved recommendations for an immediate moratorium on all executions in all jurisdictions that impose capital punishment; to bring to the attention of the church significant trends and developments in human rights, particularly in the areas of trafficking, detention of immigrants and the continuing problem of torture; and to extend equal spousal and dependent benefits to same-gender domestic partners as it does to married couples.
The legislative body's biennial assembly concludes Saturday.