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On Friday, November 16, 2018, fourteen Columbus area residents will become part of the TEDxColumbus community when they present their talks for On the Edge.


Meet Rev. Joel Miller:

Love thy neighbor: A show of support, sympathy, dissent

by: Cheryl Forcina

America’s current immigration policies have forced many undocumented immigrants out of the country and away from their families, or to seek sanctuary in one of many communities and churches. One Columbus pastor continues to challenge the status quo, using his faith’s most basic teachings.


The Columbus Mennonite Church in the city’s Clintonville neighborhood sits on a leafy street block, bordered by tidy alleys and away from the bustling High Street intersection. You could say it looks peaceful. Even neighborly. Which makes sense for a church and faith born out of pacifist ideals.


So it’s no surprise when the Rev. Joel Miller explains his church’s stance on the government’s current hard-line immigration policy. “They say we need to obey the laws in place. But I point to a higher law: one of loving your neighbor,” Miller said. “This supersedes any national law and boundaries.”


It’s a resistance of sorts. And Miller’s Columbus Mennonite Church made its dissent publicly known last October when it became a sanctuary for Edith Espinal, a local immigrant facing deportation after having lived in Columbus for 20 years. Espinal still lives at the church, with her case ever evolving.


“Being in sanctuary with our congregation, (Espinal) is as protected as much as she can be,” Miller said.


It’s all thanks to Miller and his church’s game plan from the very beginning – to build public awareness around Espinal’s story.


“We were the first sanctuary in Ohio that went public. That was part of the strategy,” he said. “We wanted to build sympathy.”


What followed was an outpouring of grassroots support, with his congregation, local citizens and businesses stepping in and offering help.


It’s the kind of accomplishment fitting for Miller, who grew up among a small Bellefontaine, Ohio, congregation with 50 members – just the right size for a kid like him to be as involved and hands-on as he wanted to be. After graduating from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Indiana, he found his way to Cincinnati where he pastored for seven years before making Columbus home.


Along the way, Miller enjoyed looking inward and experiencing his faith on a more personal level. Only years later, he admitted, did he realize “it all connected – my faith, spirituality, social justice, everything,” he said.


And it all culminated last year when Espinal came into Miller’s life. “Someone like Edith is definitely living on the edge,” he said. “So I want to keep her story front and center, and elevate her voice. It’s one of many.”


The Rev. Joel Miller is pastor at Columbus Mennonite Church. He grew up on a farm in Bellefontaine, Ohio, but has lived as far away as Cairo, Egypt, before finding his way to Columbus, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. Learn more about Miller and his church at Get updates on Edith Espinal’s fight against deportation on Facebook’s Solidarity with Edith Espinal page.


Purchase tickets through Ticketmaster or by calling the CAPA Box Office at 614-469-0939.