Illegal immigration is a hot topic in our culture. What would it mean to think about this issue from a Christian perspective and to apply biblical principles to a complex social, political, legal issue? Here is a great example that is worth the read. You or I may not agree with every conclusion of the author, but it exhibits the kind of thinking that Christians are called to demonstrate. Well worth the read!
Yours in Christ,
Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2010 by Mark D. Roberts
Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you acknowledge the source of this material:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/. For all other uses, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Immigration, especially illegal immigration, is one of the most pressing and distressing issues in the United States today. Bring up the subject, and you’re almost certain to get passionate opining. Bring it up in settings where people hold diverse viewpoints, and that passion will often explode into open conflict.
Nowhere do we see this kind of dispute more clearly than in the debate about the recent legislation passed in Arizona, which is meant to strengthen anti-illegal immigration efforts in the state. For some, the health, integrity, and safety of our country are at stake, and Arizona is doing what is necessary to preserve them. For others, the state is perpetrating a gross injustice upon innocent human beings, based on racism and xenophobia.
Not surprisingly, Christians differ widely in their estimation of the Arizona law in particular, and illegal immigration in general. As I have listened to Christians debate these issues, I have heard a wide range of opinions. And, believe me, I have heard plenty, since I have lived in California for most of my life, and Texas for the last three years. In states that lie along the Mexican border, immigration is probably the hottest and move divisive issue we face.
I have been concerned by what I have perceived to be the absence of serious, theologically-probing, mutually-respectful conversation about immigration and illegal immigration in the Christian community. Oh, there have been plenty of proclamations and diatribes, but relatively little conversation where people with differing convictions work to understand each other and, even more importantly, to understand what God might have to say about the matter. Conversation about immigration among Christians has mostly resembled what we see in the secular arena, with people talking mainly to those with whom they agree and blasting away at those with whom they disagree.
Now, I must confess that I have not contributed to the conversation about immigration, so my criticism of Christians applies equally to me. So when Patheos, an outstanding website that promotes religious conversation and understanding, asked me to contribute to such a conversation, I felt both honored and obliged to say “yes.” They were not asking for a dissertation from me, only a few paragraphs of reflection in their Cross Examinations series, part of their Cross and Culture conversation.Patheos also asked a number of other Christian leaders to offer their thoughts. All of us share a common commitment to Christ and the authority of Scripture. Yet we represent a wide variety of perspectives on immigration and its connection to our faith.
Here’s the question that Patheos posed to me and eight other Christian thinkers:
Immigration and illegal immigration are matters of grave ethical concern. Does the Bible give principles or insights that should guide Christian thinking on this issue? Is there a ‘Christian position’ on illegal immigration? Would it be un-Christian to expel illegal immigrants who have built their lives in the United States?
In the next couple of days, I’ll summarize the answers given to these questions as well as present and explicate my own position. You can read all the answers and comments in this Cross Examinations conversation at this link.
As always, I’m interested in your observations and opinions. Feel free to add a comment or email me with your thoughts. Perhaps we can in some small way grow in mutual understanding as well as understand of how Christians should approach the issue of illegal immigration.
A Variety of Christian Perspectives on Illegal Immigration
First, I want to thank those who commented yesterday. Your honesty, insights, and charity encourage me to believe that it is possible to have a constructive conversation about this divisive issue.
As I explained earlier, I started writing about this issue by participating in a Cross Examinations conversation with eight other Christian thinkers. Some of you may have checked out that conversation already. You’ve seen the diversity and thoughtfulness of the answers there. Today, I’m going to put up some excerpts from several Cross Examination articles, along with links to the whole article and a comment or two from me.
Jeff Barneson is a longtime staff member for InterVarsity’s ministry to faculty and graduate students at Harvard University.
What if God’s intention in the hyper-diversification of our country is akin to what happened when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.? Historians question whether the message of the early Christians, without the presence of the Romans, would have spread beyond the local setting of Jerusalem. What if the present situation in the United States is just another accelerated opportunity to bring good news to people who are more than ready to hear it?
I believe it with all my heart: If we spend all our time and energy on the policy discussion, and never reorient our perspective and realign our congregations to engage with actual immigrants and their actual circumstances, we may miss out on the extraordinary opportunity that God has placed in front of us.
MDR Comment: Barneson’s challenge is for Christians to seize the missional opportunity afforded by the immigration of diverse peoples to our country. He is not dealing here with the legal and political issues. Though Christians need to weigh in on these matters too, Barneson reminds us not to let the social matters keep us from seeing the ministry potential before us.
M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Theological Seminary and author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible.
What has been disconcerting to me is that all too often Christian responses in the United States to immigration are not different in any substantial way from the responses of those who do not profess the faith. Discussions tend to be limited to protecting national borders and “the American way of life.” There are complaints about the supposed economic costs brought on by added pressures to schools, hospitals, and law enforcement. These are legitimate issues, but there is no explicitly Christian orientation to the debate. If there is, it usually is limited to quoting the call (in Romans 13) to submit to the governing authorities.
What might a more fully biblically informed response to the immigration challenge look like? Where would it begin? The starting place of a discussion determines in large measure its tone and content. If we begin with Genesis 1 and the fact that all humans are created in the image of God with infinite worth and great potential, the debate will be quite different than what is witnessed now in media sound-bites. It will focus on persons with needs and gifts that can contribute to the common good, instead of taking a default negative defensive posture against newcomers in our midst.
MDR Comment: If you read my introductory post in this blog series, you know that I share Carroll’s concern about the lack of distinctively Christian reflection on the immigration issue. I also agree with Carroll that the starting point in this conversation is crucial. He begins with Genesis, which is never a bad idea for Christians. I am impressed enough with Carroll’s thoughts that I have recently purchased and begun reading his book on immigration, Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible. So far, I am quite engaged.
John March is a church planter, a pastor in Edina, Minnesota, a writer, and a blogger at Pilgrim March.
We are all immigrants and sojourners in the world. As Christians, our primary allegiance is to God and to God’s kingdom. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Often times immigrants understand this intuitively because they are outside the dominant power culture in the country to which they come. White Christians living in the suburbs of America (like myself) are wise to recognize this implicit advantage immigrants have in living as though they are aliens and sojourners in the world. There is much we can learn from them. (1 Peter 1)
Immigration reform is complicated. I get that we need laws that govern our borders. We need rules for how people enter our country, and they need to be enforced. Currently, those laws do not work well, and that’s why immigration reform is so crucial. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. I hope it includes some pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have lived here for many years and are more at home in this country than their country of origin.
In the meantime, I plan to love and welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of legal status. My allegiance is first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, and in God’s government acceptance is preeminent. Join me in loving immigrants and learning from them as we hope for immigration reform that results in a more just and equitable treatment of all people in this country.
MDR Comment: I agree with March concerning our need to love others, regardless of their legal status. But how does this relate to the government’s need, one might even say, the government’s responsibility, to insure order and punish those who have broken the law? Does the call to love illegal immigrants necessarily mean that we should grant them full and immediate amnesty? Or is love, in this case, more complicated.
Juan Martinez teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary and directs its Center for the Study of Hispanic Church and Community. He also blogs at Caminando con el pueblo.
I do not want to belittle the issue of undocumented migration. But as Christians we need to look at the log in our eye before we can remove the mote in the eyes of the undocumented. The undocumented desperately need fair and just immigration reform. But this will not solve the problem of undocumented migration into the U.S., no matter how much is used for border enforcement. As Christians we need to ask difficult ethical questions about the immigration issue. But let’s address the issues we have created, not only those raised by the weakest members of our society, the undocumented.
MDR Comment: I would be most interested in Martinez’s ideas on what would solve the problem of undocumented migration into the U.S. Some of what he writes in the rest of his article suggests the need for just economic development in Latin America. I’d like to hear more about this. I appreciate his looking at the issue in a perspective that is broader than simply the immigration issue in the United States.
Kelly Monroe Kullberg is an InterVarsity minister to faculty and graduate students, author/editor of the bestselling Finding God at Harvard, and founder of The Veritas Forum.
Ours is a God who breaks through barriers – and a God who cares about fair dealing and indigenous justice. Grace and truth, mercy and justice, God is too transcendent and too loving to reside in only one part of the equation. So we should be mindful both of welcoming the other and of establishing wise boundaries that defend and serve the communities in which we live. . . .
Naturally, those who honor God and his Word will love the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. The difficulty comes with the influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants into a region whose majority population is neither adequately equipped nor enthusiastic to receive them. In this context it’s appropriate to explore what is meant, in Scripture, by the usefulness of hedges and fences, the importance of just weights, and the sheer folly and even sinfulness of those who spend what they have not first saved. Individuals, groups and nations that put themselves in debt, especially severe debt, place themselves in positions of vulnerability and even enslavement to those whom they owe. As the author of the Proverbs tells us, “The borrower is servant to the lender.” At some point, it is neither wise nor right to put ourselves in deeper and deeper debt in order to provide greater and greater benefits to more and more people. We’re first to put our own house in order.
Let’s leave behind the rhetoric and the easy sloganeering and confront the hard task of discernment. Just as Paul taught the Church to delineate among widows in order to find those for whom the Church would provide, we are called, I believe, to make difficult and principled decisions about stewardship and about providing the conditions for healthy flourishing communities that can welcome many strangers not with hostility but with hospitality. With kindness and grace. Obedience to the whole counsel of Scripture yields sustainable growth and goodness to those in need.
MDR Comment: Kullberg sees in Scripture a precedent for national boundaries and, apparently, even fences. She challenges us to take seriously our need to be fiscally and morally responsible as a nation. Kullberg reminds us of the complexity of the issue of illegal immigration as we look for biblical guidance.
Glen Peterson is founder and President of the Capacity Partnership Group. He consults with non-profit organizations on matters of leadership and moral governance, and has abundant experience in developing community-based partnerships that serve the poor and the needy.
In the Christian and Jewish narrative of creation, God makes humans in his own image. Immigration cannot be discussed and debated only in the abstract, as it is ultimately about individual people, created in God’s image, who are immigrants. Each of these immigrants has value to God and to people who value what God has created. Christian attitudes and actions toward immigrants, informed by our belief in a common creation and our possession of God’s image, will inform the way we treat all people, immigrant or not.
This possession of God’s image also applies to the self-understanding of the immigrant. Some immigrants think of themselves as inferior to the majority culture in which they live because they may come from a place of economic or educational impoverishment. Immigrants who understand their own intrinsic value become better educated and participate more fully in the economic and cultural life of their new home.
MDR Comment: Peterson rightly points to the foundational question of how we think about those who have come to the United States illegally. Who are they, essentially? Are they illegal aliens? Are they undocumented workers? Or are they, most of all, human beings who bear the image of God? Our answer to these questions will determine our whole approach to the issue of illegal immigration and the even broader issues of justice of which it is a part.
Matthew Soerens is an immigration and citizenship counselor for World Relief Dupage, and co-author with Jenny Hwang of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Scripture is at the center of why I and so many American evangelicals have become vocal advocates of immigration reform. The Hebrew ger, which most versions of the Bible translate as “alien,” appears 92 times in the Old Testament. The words of Exodus 12:49 are repeated several times throughout the Pentateuch: “The same law applies to the native-born and the alien living among you.” God speaks repeatedly of His special concern for aliens, who are linked with other vulnerable groups such as orphans and widows (Ps. 146:9; Dt. 10:18; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10). God loves the alien, and commands His people to do the same, remembering their own history (Lev. 19:33-34). That love goes beyond a general sentiment to legislation, which God included in the Law He gave to the Israelites, mandating rules for the harvesting and gleaning of crops and for tithing that were intended to provide for the needs of immigrants (Dt. 14:28-29, 24:19-21).
While the scriptural mandate to care for the immigrant is clear, many Christians wrestle with what to do with those immigrants who have overstayed a visa or entered the country illegally. Romans 13 makes clear that God has established governing authorities and we are called to submit to them.
MDR Comment: As you’d expect, I am encouraged by Soerens’ effort to ground this conversation in Scripture. He rightly points to biblical passages that seem, at least at first glance, to point in opposite directions with respect to the policies and laws of the United States. How can we show appropriate biblical concern for the “alien” if that “alien” has entered and/or remains in a country illegally?
Miguel de la Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology and author of Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration.
Let us begin by pointing out that the way in which the questions are formulated betrays Eurocentric biases. The usage of the term “illegal” is not a neutral word; it connotes criminality – that those who are illegal are somehow inherently bad, if not evil. But do we call a driver who is driving without a license an illegal driver? Or do we call a taxpayer who fails to file his documents in time an illegal citizen? Of course not. Not having proper documentations, either as a driver or filing one’s taxes, does not make the person a criminal. The reason migrants without proper documentation are called illegal has nothing to do with their character, or their moral framework; they are illegal because those in power have the legislative authority to impose their definitions on society. This is nothing new. We have a history where the biases of past Americans in positions of power made their worldview the legitimate norm. For most of this nation’s history, it was illegal for blacks to experience the freedom of whites. It was illegal for women to vote. When such laws restrict humans to participate in their full humanity, it is not the individual who is illegal; rather it is the prevailing laws that rob a certain group of people of their dignity that are illegal. And as such, Christians have a moral obligation to disobey such illegal laws. Immoral laws are usually ignored, not out of disrespect for the rule of law, but because the lack of justice erodes compliance. When the people continuously disregard the law, it indicates a lack of consent; and without the consent of the public, laws ceases to hold society together. For this reason, Christians realize that justice and equality toward the least always trumps any laws of nations that disenfranchise portions of the community. Whenever immoral laws are in place, a moral obligation exists to be illegal.
MDR Comment: De la Torre’s critique of the word “illegal” points to legitimate problems, but avoids the most obvious meaning of the word “illegal” in the phrase, “illegal immigrants.” They are immigrants who have broken the law in the way they entered and/or remained in the country. But, because de la Torre believes that the immigration laws of the United States are themselves “illegal” (which he uses in a way that apprears to mean “immoral”), he seems not to acknowledge that undocumented immigrants have done anything wrong. I think de la Torre is raising crucial issues here. But his use of language muddies the water rather than making the issues clearer. The rest of his piece is quite engaging, raising historical issues and ethical implications that deserve serious consideration. De la Torre believes that the United States has caused the present immigration dilemma through its unjust practices in Latin America.
Tomorrow I’ll share my contribution to the Cross Examinations conversation of illegal immigration, and begin to offer some reflections that go beyond what I had written earlier.
Why Are Christians So Divided on Illegal Immigration?
If you’ve been following this blog series on illegal immigration, or if you’ve been listening to Christians talk about this issue, then you know there is a wide array of opinions, many of which are contradictory. Consider, for example, the question of whether people who are in this country illegally should be deported. For some Christians, the call to love and respect all people and a commitment to the family means that we must not deport undocumented workers, especially parents of children, who have not committed a crime (apart from being in this country illegally). Other Christians, emphasizing the need to uphold the law and to respect the rightful authority of the government, argue that deportation, however painful it might be, is the only just starting point for those who do not have the legal right to remain in this country. Then there are many Christians who viewpoint is somewhere between these two poles. And this diversity concerns only the matter of deportation. You’d find a similar breadth of opinion about other matters related to the larger issue of illegal immigration.
Why is there such a vast difference of opinion among Christians concerning illegal immigration? Of course this is nothing new. You’ll find similar diversity among followers of Christ when it comes to many other socio-political issues, including: abortion, taxation, the military, the role of government, etc. Any complex issue, and illegal immigration is surely one of these, inevitably divides the Christian house. (Some people on either side of this debate insist that this issue is not complex. For them, it is simply a matter of legality or justice for the poor or . . . . But denying the complexity of this issue is both intellectually wrong and practically unhelpful. If we aren’t willing to deal with intricacy of this issue, we won’t ever be able to make headway in solving it.)
One obvious reason why Christians differ so widely on illegal immigration is that Christians differ widely on theological matters. This is true even among those who affirm basic Christian orthodoxy. It is even truer when you take into account the fact that many who consider themselves Christians do not believe what orthodox Christians have believed throughout the centuries. So, for example, while many Christians would seek to build their understanding of how to deal with illegal immigration on the basis of Scripture, others would see Scripture as one part of this foundation at best, and a erring one at that.
The diversity of Christian opinion about illegal immigration reflects that fact this issue is not merely a matter theology. It involves theology, legal theory, economics, political theory, sociology, and history, just to name a few disciplines. Thus, Christians who agree strongly on the theological statement that we must love our neighbors, including undocumented workers, might disagree on the right of a sovereign nation to establish and defend its borders, or to pursue the economic benefit of the nation even if people right across the border are poor.
Often, what leads Christians to differing conclusions on illegal immigration is a matter of their starting point. If, for example, you start with a deep concern for national security and fear that a porous southern border is an open door for terrorists from around the world, then you’ll usually end up at a different conclusion than if you start with a deep concern for the well-being of families who have undocumented workers as parents.
One of the reasons that people seem to be talking right past each other in this conversation, without being heard and without the slightest chance of actually influencing those with whom they disagree, is that they come from such different places, not just intellectually, but also experientially. If you work in a job, say, in construction, and have lost opportunities for work because of undocumented workers who are willing to work for less, then you’ll tend to be more worried about this problem than the average person and more inclined to be strict in enforcing immigration laws. If, on the other hand, you know illegal immigrants and their families, if you feel the pain that would be caused to innocent children if parents were to be deported, then you’ll be lean toward leniency.
For many in our country, their experience of illegal immigration is not personal, but mediated . . . literally. It comes through the media. But the media does not speak with one voice on this issue. Sometimes, the media exposes the plight of the undocumented, showing their poverty and, in many cases, oppression in their home countries, and the danger and abuse they have experienced in this country. At other times, the media focuses on the ways in which illegal immigrants have hurt this country, fostering violence or putting heavy demands on social welfare. So, your mediated experience of illegal immigration with be shaped differently depending on which radio station you listen to, which magazines you read, and which pundits you trust.
Given what I’ve said here about the intellectual and experiential diversity of Christians, not to mention a variety of other factors, it makes sense that Christians have so little unanimity about illegal immigration and what we should do about it, both as a nation and as a church.
This makes me wonder: Is there a place from which all Christians should start when it comes to this issue (and others like it)? If we want to think about illegal immigration as Christians, and if we want to treat all people, including undocumented workers, as Christians, then where should we start? I’ll wrestle with this question in my next post in this series, which will appear on Monday.
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Where Should We Start?
As I explained in Friday’s post, Christians differ widely on their understanding of illegal immigration and what should be done about it. This doesn’t mean that every Christian perspective is equally valid, however. Many are based on an inadequate grasp of relevant facts or on an incorrect theology. But the diversity of thoughtful Christian perspectives on illegal immigration does make me wonder if and how Christians can move toward any sort of consensus on this issue. Our goal would be not simply to foster agreement, but also to use that agreement as the basis for helping to shape a just world that reflects God’s own character and action.
As I have said before, how we think about illegal immigration is often determined by our starting point. Start with the threat posed to national security from porous borders and you’ll end up with a different conclusion than the person who starts with compassion for children with parents who are in this country illegally. Having listened to the debate about illegal immigration for many years, I have found that I can almost always tell you where a person will end up on the basis of where that person begins the conversation.
So, I wonder, is there a place where Christians should start if we are seeking a truly Christian perspective on illegal immigration? Or are there many such places? Is one starting place better than another? Or is every starting point equally valid?
It seems to me that the primary goal of theological reflection on the issue of illegal immigration is to discover what God thinks about it, what God is doing about it, and how we might both agree with God and cooperate with God in his activity. Of course such things are often not easy to discern. But this is what we’re seeking. (At least it’s what I’m seeking. I recognize that this can sound arrogant. But I don’t think it’s arrogant to seek after God. Arrogance comes into play when I am so sure I have God in my own little box of understanding that I jettison humility and refuse to listen to evidence that threatens my comfortable certitude.)
If what I’ve just said about the goal of our inquiry is anywhere near true, then the best starting place would be one that will help us discover the mind and activity of God with respect to illegal immigration. You won’t be surprised to learn that I, as an evangelical Christian, believe that Scripture is the first place to which we must turn if this is our goal. The Bible, when responsibly interpreted in the community of God’s people, helps us know the mind and activity of God. Moreover, Scripture reveals Jesus Christ to us, the Word of God incarnate, and any Christian theology of anything must be centered in him. (I realize, of course, that many people, even some Christians, do not share my commitment to the authority of Scripture. We can debate this at another time. Now, I’m simply laying my cards on the table.)
Yet even if we agree that we should begin with the Bible to determine what God is thinking and doing about illegal immigration, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll concur on where within the Bible to start. The Bible, after all, is a long book, or, better, a long collection of books that offers dozens of possible starting points. For example, should we begin a text like Leviticus 19:33-34?
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Or should we begin with Romans 13:1-2?
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
In fact, a truly biblical theology of illegal immigration will be a fully biblical theology, one that takes into account the diversity of perspectives in Scripture itself. This implies, by the way, that we must take seriously those passages of Scripture that make us uncomfortable, that don’t support our personal inclinations concerning illegal immigration. For the most part, when Christians talk about this issue, they draw from Scripture that which fits their predetermined perspective, ignoring that which doesn’t fit. We need to do better than this if we truly seek God’s mind and activity.
Though I take seriously the diversity of biblical passages and themes relevant to the issue before us, I do think that there are two starting points that can be defended as so essential to the conversation that they must be considered by anyone who is looking for God’s perspective on illegal immigration. I’ll explain what I mean in tomorrow’s post.
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: One Essential Starting Point
Though acknowledging that we might choose one of several valid starting points when seeking a biblical, Christian perspective on illegal immigration, I would argue for the precedence of two. These two starting points get us looking in the right direction and help us see more clearly how other biblical truths inform the issue of immigration and undocumented workers.
The first starting point is the first chapter of Genesis. Here we find one of two distinct but complimentary stories of creation. Here we start to learn who we are as human beings and what God intends for us, Genesis is a fine starting point for our conversation of illegal immigration, not only because it is the literal beginning of the Bible, but also because it begins to reveal the mind of God concerning the nature and purpose of human life.
In Genesis 1, God creates the heavens, the earth, light, darkness, the sky, the waters, the seas, the dry land, vegetation, the sun, the moon, the fish, the birds, and the rest of the animals (1:1-25). Then God creates human beings: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1:27). After blessing the first humans, God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). Having created human beings, God observes his whole creation and sees that it is “very good” (1:31).
What in this account of creation informs our thinking about illegal immigration? First, we learn that human beings are created in the image of God.Nothing else in the universe bears the divine image. As you might imagine, theologians differ on exactly what this image entails. Some point to rationality. Others emphasize moral judgment. Still others see God’s image as that which authorizes human beings to manage God’s creation. In spite of disagreeing about the precise nature of God’s image, virtually all theologians agree that it sets humanity apart as a unique element of creation.
Moreover, the fact that humankind bears God’s image reveals the sacredness and dignity of each and every human life. Every single person, without regard to gender, race, capability, appearance, popularity, citizenship, or accomplishment, reflects God’s own image and is, therefore, sacred and worthy of respect and honor. Just as it would be foolish to treat God with contempt, so it is in our regard for and relationship with each human being.
If all human beings bear the image of God and therefore are to be treated with dignity, then this surely includes those who are in the United States illegally. So called “illegal aliens” are, first and foremost, sacred beings created in God’s own image. Thus they, like all of humanity, should be regarded as sacred and treated with respect.
This does not necessarily require any particular solution to the problem of undocumented workers in the United States, however. After all, criminals are also divine image beavers and deserve respectful treatment even in their incarceration. So it is possible for someone to accept the sanctity of each human life and, at the same time, to believe that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to remain in this country. But if we think of those who are in the USA illegally as sacred beings, this will surely affect how we think about our treatment of them as a nation.
As listen to the debate about this issue, I am concerned that many people, including many Christians, talk about undocumented workers and their families as if they were something other than precious human beings created in the image of God. It seems, sometimes, that people speak of illegal aliens as if they were almost less than human. What defines these human beings, fundamentally, is their illegal status. Surely this kind of rhetoric, and the attitude it reflects, is inconsistent with a biblical understanding of human life.
Of course it is also true that all people impacted by the problem of illegal immigration need to afforded respect as sacred creatures. This includes, for example, ranchers whose lives are endangered by a porous border between the United States and Mexico, unemployed American citizens whose opportunities for work are limited because of undocumented workers, etc. Whatever solutions we propose for the problem of illegal immigration, Christians simply cannot compromise the divinely-created specialness of each human being.
Genesis 1 provides another crucial cornerstone for our understanding of this issue. It comes after God creates man and woman in God’s own image: “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28).
Taken literally, the command to be fruitful and multiply has to do with making babies. That’s how the man and woman will fill the earth and subdue it. They will exercise dominion over creation through their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth and so on.
But the command to be fruitful suggests a broader notion of fecundity. When read in light of the rest of Scripture, we can see God’s intention for human beings to live fruitful lives in a metaphorical sense. God created us so that we might contribute value to his creation through our active stewardship. In a phrase derived from Aristotle and often heard these days, Genesis 1 provides a vision of divinely-intended “human flourishing.” Human beings, as bearers of God’s image, are to live fruitful lives. We are to use our talents and abilities to exercise stewardship of God’s creation.
How might this picture of fruitfulness/flourishing impact that discussion of illegal immigration? It shows us what God intends for all human beings, including, of course, undocumented workers. God wants us all to live fruitful lives, lives that make a difference, lives that contribute to the goodness of this world, lives of fulfillment. Yes, to be sure, sin complicates this picture. But God’s original purpose for humankind remains, and this purpose helps us to see the issue of illegal immigration from a distinctive Christian perspective.
The most important challenge and opportunity set before us is not border security or amnesty for illegal immigrants or deportation or reformation of our immigration system. Rather, the question posed by Genesis 1 is this: How can all the peoples of the Americas (and ultimately the world) live fruitful lives? To put it differently, how can those who inhabit these two connected continents fulfill the vision of Genesis 1:28?
To be sure, this is a giant question. But it is a question that should lie behind all Christian consideration of illegal immigration. Our ultimate concern is not just the well being of our nation, nor even just the well being of those who are in this country illegally, but rather the fruitfulness of all people, regardless of citizenship or status.
I’ll have more to say later about an implication of this concern, but, for now, I want to offer this goal of fruitfulness of all people as a corrective to what seems to be common in many conversations of illegal immigration. Those who “take the side” of undocumented workers often speak as if they care mainly or exclusively about the fruitfulness of these people. Those who are concerned about the well-being of the United States often seem to care about the fruitfulness of our citizens to the exclusion of others. A biblical perspective, I believe, inspires us to shape a world in which all peoples in the Americas (and beyond) would have the opportunity to lives truly fruitful lives.
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Another Essential Starting Point
In my effort to view illegal immigration from a Christian perspective, I have suggested that there are two essential biblical starting points. The first is Genesis 1, a passage that reveals the unique nature of human beings as bearers of God’s image and our unique calling to fruitfulness in life. Christians are taught in through this text to treat all people with dignity and to shape a world in which all people have the opportunity to live fruitfulas you might have guessed that Genesis 1 would be one of my reliable starting points, given its placement as the first chapter of the Bible as well as its theological content, so you’ll probably be able to guess my second proposed starting point. When it comes to Christian reflection on any issue or concern, it’s always a fine idea to start with Jesus. He is, after all, God in human form. So if we want to know the mind of God about something, we do well to look to Jesus.
Jesus does not address the issue of illegal immigration in any specific way. Nor do we have a record of his relating to illegal immigrants per se. Nevertheless, Jesus provides plenty of grist for our mill as we consider the issue before us. I would like for us to reflect upon Jesus’ teaching, example, and impact. (Note: In the following discussion, I have been helped by a book by M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and The Bible. This is a very sane and wise book written by a biblical scholar who is also bicultural [American, Hispanic].)
Jesus’ Teaching and Illegal Immigration
The center of Jesus’ own preaching was the announcement of the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14-15). In Jesus’ words and works and ultimately through the community formed in his name, God was beginning to establish his reign on earth. Thus Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). The kingdom of God is God’s reign over all things on earth, a reality in which God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. This sort of kingdom, according to Jesus, was on its way, beginning in his own ministry. (For much more on the teaching of Jesus, see my blog series: What Was The Message of Jesus?)
The justice of God goes hand in hand with the kingdom of God. Jesus portrayed himself as the one who, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, was authorized to implement justice for those who needed it most: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sign to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, based on Isaiah 61:1-2). Thus, Jesus instructed his followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness [or justice, dikaiosune in Greek can have either meaning]” (Matt 6:33).
One of the distinctive features of the kingdom of God, according to Jesus, was a reversal of earthly fortunes. In the so-called “Sermon on the Plain” in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of god. Blessed are you who are hungry now, For you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Luke 6:20-21)
The news is not quite so good for those who are well off in this life:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to your who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25)
In the “upside down” kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, love becomes the distinguishing mark of its citizens. Yet love is not reserved only for God and our neighbors, but even for our enemies:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)
When we love people in tangible ways, this not only reflects the caring heart of God, but also it expresses our love for God. Jesus tells this story of the last judgment:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matt 25:31-40).
Notice who is included among those who received tangible acts of love: the stranger. The Greek word translated as “stranger” here is xenos, which can also mean “foreigner.” It denotes someone who is an outsider, who doesn’t belong. Jesus identifies with the xenos to such an extent that welcoming thexenos is welcoming Jesus himself.
In the parable we know as “The Good Samaritan,” Jesus paints a picture of the archetypal xenos (from the first-century Jewish point of view) who loves another xenos, and thus becomes a model for all who would follow Jesus. In the kingdom of God, that which divides people from people fall away, replaced by love that knows no national or ethnic boundaries.
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Another Essential Starting Point (Part 2)
The Actions of Jesus
When we consider the relevance of the actions of Jesus for the issue of illegal immigration, we must once again remember that Jesus did not encounter the same kinds of situations and challenges that we face today. Nevertheless, several of his actions bear witness to how Christians who seek to imitate Jesus might live in relationship with undocumented workers and their families.
It is worth nothing that Jesus was himself an immigrant during the first years of his life. Shortly after his birth, Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt in order to protect him from being murdered by soldiers of King Herod (Matt 2:13-18). When Herod died, Jesus and his parents returned to their hometown of Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23). About Jesus’ time in Egypt, we know very little, however.
When Jesus began preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, he demonstrated the presence of the kingdom in various ways. He healed the sick and cast out demons, showing that God’s power was indeed present. Jesus cared for the crowds, proclaiming the kingdom and healing the sick, because “he had compassion for them” (Matt 9:35-36; 14:14). His empathy for people in need led Jesus to minister, not just to souls, but also to bodies.
In one case, Jesus was approached by a leper who sought to be cleansed of his disease (Matt 8:1-2). Not only was this man stricken with a terrible physical condition, but also he was ostracized by his community because he was ceremonially unclean and a danger to the health of others. The fact that a leper was allowed to approach a holy man like Jesus is a testimony both to the leper’s desperation at to Jesus’ exceptional welcome of a person in need. When Jesus touched the man, thus allowing himself to become unclean, the man was cleansed of his leprosy (Matt 8:3). But this was not the end of what the kingdom of God meant to the former leper. Jesus sent him to the priest in his town, who would verify that the man had been cleansed and enable him to be restored into his community.
The fact that Jesus had intimate fellowship with a leper was scandalous, but, to make matters worse, Jesus often hung out with people judged to be unsavory and unacceptable. We read this in Matthew’s Gospel:
And as [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (9:10-13)
Jesus associated with people who were on the outs, those who were marginalized because of their behavior as well as their physical condition.
The activity of Jesus in demonstrating the presence of the kingdom may not tell us how the United States should deal with the issue of illegal immigration, but it surely guides Christians when it comes to how we relate to those who are in this country illegally, as well as to their families. Millions of undocumented workers live on the edge of poverty or on the downside of that edge. They are often victimized by people in power since they have relatively little legal protection. In the eyes of many Americans, illegal aliens are viewed rather like lepers, as outcasts who are not welcome in our communities, as people who threaten our way of life. Or they are seen more like “tax collectors and sinners,” people whose behavior excludes them from our fellowship, friendship, and compassion.
If we ask the classic question, “What would Jesus do?”, in reference to illegal immigration, we would no doubt hear different answers with respect to American legal and social policy. But it seems undeniable to me that Jesus would associate with and care for the tangible needs of undocumented workers and their families. He would seek their wholeness: spiritually, physically, relationally, socially. Those of us who follow Jesus are called to do the same.
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: What is Our “Big Goal”?
What should be our goal as Christians when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish?
For some Christians, the “big goal” has to do, first, with extensive legal and social reform. When confronted with specific problems, like the porosity of the border between the United States and Mexico, these people say something like “We can only deal with that problem in the context of comprehensive immigration reform.” At times, the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” is code for “some kind of amnesty for undocumented workers.” At other times, the phrase points to the huge need for the United States to deal with illegal immigration, not as a one-problem issue, but as a multi-faceted issue that comprises a multitude of problems and challenges. The ultimate “big goal” of those who talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” appears to be legal and social change that leads to merciful treatment of immigrants and potential immigrants.
For other Christians, the “big goal” is the well-being of the United States of American and its citizens. Whatever happens with those who are in the country illegally and with those who would like to immigrate to this country, the “big goal” is the security and prosperity of our nation. Once we’re well on our way to this goal, then can we establish a wise policy for immigration and for dealing with those who are in this country illegally.
Some folks try to find middle ground, arguing that treating undocumented workers and their families mercifully, thus allowing them to remain in this country, is, in fact, the best way to advance the well-being of the United States. Middle-ground people point to our need as a nation for workers who are willing to do various kinds of manual labor, as well as the contributions to American society made by undocumented workers and their families. The “big goal” of middle-grounders is the well-being of both undocumented workers and American society at large.
We find ourselves at an impasse when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration in part because we embrace different “big goals.” As I listen to a wide variety of voices, I find that most differences of opinion can be boiled down to a difference over the “big goals.” Some care most about the well-being of undocumented workers and their families; some care most about the well-being of the United States. Once you know somebody’s “big goal,” you can more or less predict their views on a wide range of issues related to illegal immigration.
As I think about this issue from a Christian perspective, it seems to me that something “big” is missing. We are missing an even “bigger goal” that flows from the teaching of Scripture and that can redirect our thoughts and efforts in a more fruitful direction. This “bigger goal” is suggested at first in Genesis 1 and God’s instruction to human beings to be “fruitful.” It is glimpsed again in Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God and his efforts to bring wholeness to broken people. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains his mission in this way: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). God’s intention for us, both individually and corporately, is that we live fruitful, abundant lives, both now and in the age to come.
Thus, as we think from a Christian point of view about the plight of illegal immigrants and their families, our goal should be that each one has the opportunity to live a fruitful, abundant life. How could we want anything else for these human beings who are made in the image of God?
Yet here’s where we come to a problematic assumption that is often not expressed, even though it is made by people on both sides of the immigration debate: It is highly unlikely that undocumented workers and their families will be able to live truly fruitful lives in their own countries. The realities of poverty, political oppression, economic injustice, poor education, and poor medical care, just to name a few, make it very difficult for millions upon millions of Hispanics to flourish in their homelands. Their only hope of a fruitful life is in the United States. So they come to this country, making large sacrifices and braving many dangers, because they expect a better life here. And, for the most part, if they can make it here and settle, they will have a better life . . . as will their relatives back in the homeland, who receive money from their kin in the United States.
As I think about this situation from a Christian perspective, I find myself wishing for a radically different reality. Wouldn’t it be best for everybody if no person from Latin America ever needed to come to the United States in order to flourish? Isn’t the best-case scenario one in which every individual in Latin American had the opportunity to be fruitful in his or her own land? Many might still choose to immigrate to the United States, of course. But nobody would come out of a desperate need for food, decent education, quality medical care, liberty, and so forth. All would have the freedom and opportunity in their own countries to life fully fruitful lives.
Wouldn’t this solve the problem of illegal immigration, even more than building a giant fence? Even more than comprehensive immigration reform? Even more than adding more troops at the border? Even more than penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers? Even more than providing a legal way for these workers to remain in the United States? Even more than sending them and their families home? Even more than any particular solution to any particular problem associated with illegal immigration?
As a Christian who is committed to the fruitfulness of each human life, I would argue that we need far more than comprehensive immigration reform. We need comprehensive hemispheric social, economic, legal, and spiritual reform. We need a hemisphere, not just a country, in which all people have the chance to flourish right where they live. Some may, of course, choose not to do this. But, ideally, nobody would be forced to live in poverty and oppression.
Yes, yes, I know that what I’ve just proposed is not just a “big goal,” or even a “bigger goal,” but rather a “humongous goal.” And I can well imagine that some will accuse me of being hopelessly idealistic. So be it. But, as a Christian, I am not motivated by what is humanly possible. Rather, I believe that all things are possible in Christ, even social reform that seems hopelessly idealistic.
I’m not suggesting that the United States should ignore the problem of illegal immigration and focus only on hemispheric change. Nor am I suggesting that we should not have some sort of widespread immigration reform. Nor am I suggesting that the United States should not work to secure its borders. Nor am I suggesting that the United States, as a nation, should be the exclusive or even primary mover for hemispheric reform. Rather, I am speaking now as a Christian to Christians. I am envisioning the church of Jesus Christ across the Americas mobilizing so as to improve the well-being of all peoples in this hemisphere. I am imagining Christians in church leadership, business, government, education, medicine, and other fields coming together to work on the “humongous goal” of hemispheric change that would make illegal immigration simply unnecessary. (In fact, many Christians are already doing this very thing. But there is so much more that needs to be done.)
So, there you have it, a “humongous goal” which flows from the biblical understanding of human life and the kingdom of God. Is it crazy to envision such broad change in our hemisphere? Perhaps. But I am encouraged by something Jesus once said when he spoke of something that seemed to his followers to be impossible: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: Living with Divided Loyalties
Suppose you live in a country that is home . . . but not quite home. You find yourself fitting in to the culture of the place you live, but not quite. You embrace the values of your current home, but sometimes find yourself at odds with those values. You want to see the place you live flourish, yet feel a deeper commitment to another place and its well-being. Your heart is unsettled; your loyalties divided.
Am I describing the experience of undocumented workers and their families who live in the United States? Yes, I am, given what I’ve read, seen, and heard. Many who are in this country illegally love the United States, yet they feel a deeper loyalty to their homeland, the place of their people, their family, and their culture. Their situation is similar to many first-generation immigrants to the United States, though it may be exacerbated by the trials associated with being in this country illegally. I can understand why undocumented workers live with divided loyalties.
But I did not write the first paragraph of this post as a description of the experience of immigrants to the United States, either legal or illegal. Rather, I was attempting to illustrate the experience of Christians who, though at home in this world, are not at home here. In particular, I sought to describe what it’s like to be a Christian and an American, especially when considering issues where our divided loyalties are felt most strongly, issues like illegal immigration.
Dual Citizenship in Philippians
Scripture helps us understand our situation as Christians in terms of living in one place while being a citizen of another. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, he contrasts those whose “minds are set on earthly things” with those who follow Jesus: “But our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Earlier in this letter, Paul urged the Philippians to live consistently with the good news of Christ: “Only, live your life [politeuomai] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. . .” (Phil 1:27). The verb translated here as “live your life” actually means “live your life as a citizen.” In other words, Paul was exhorting the Philippian Christians to live their life in Philippi as citizens of heaven.
It’s not just an accident that this language shows up in Paul’s letter to the Philippians but not elsewhere in his writings (politeia, a related word, appears in Ephesians 2:12). People in Philippi were familiar with a kind of long-distance citizenship. Because Philippi was a Roman colony, its citizens were also citizens of Rome, a city on the Italian peninsula some 500 miles to the west. Citizens of Philippi were given all of the rights and privileges of Roman citizens, and thus felt a profound connection with the capital of the empire.
In a similar way, Christians belong to this world. We are residents of the places where we live, citizens of our countries. Yet, at the same time, we are citizens of heaven and are called to live our lives according to the values and vision of that citizenship. This means that Christians who live in the United States are, in a sense, dual citizens. But our primary citizenship, and that which should always govern our behavior, is our heavenly citizenship.
For most of us and for most of the time, we are able to exercise our dual citizenship without conflict. Because, for example, we are afforded exceptional freedom in the United States, we are able to practice our religion both in private and in public without fear of reprisal. Whereas millions of Christians throughout the world cannot be openly Christian without risking imprisonment or worse, we are free to live as citizens of heaven and citizens of this country.
But there are times when our citizenships pull us in different directions at the same time, forcing us to choose between our divided loyalties. Christian pacifists, for example, are never able to support American military efforts with their words or their participation. In the 19th century, many Christians who opposed slavery on religious grounds not only labored for a change in laws, but also helped slaves escape from their bondage. These Christians broke the laws of the nation because their heavenly citizenship trumped their earthly one.
When it comes to the issue of illegal immigration, most Christians feel a powerful tension between our citizenships. As citizens of the United States, we are concerned for the well-being of our country. We are distressed that so many people have broken and are breaking our immigration laws. We are worried that our porous southern border invites the influx of organized crime, and allows for the immigration of terrorists.
Yet, as citizens of heaven, we are deeply concerned for the well-being of undocumented workers and their families, not to mention our neighbors to the south who might seek to escape from poverty and oppression by entering our country illegally. We recognize that millions of so-called illegal aliens are contributing to the flourishing of our country through their work and their moral character. As Christians who are committed to marriage and family, we cannot imagine how it would be just, not to mention merciful, to divide families by sending undocumented workers back to their home countries. And as people who have a vision for the fruitfulness of each human being, we have no desire to maintain a social system that keeps people from flourishing.
Thus, when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration, Christians live with divided loyalties. There is no other way. But we cannot simply stand by and let injustice get a free pass because we can’t make up our mind on things. We have to think, speak, vote, and act. When we do these actions, we will feel an unavoidable tension between our citizenships.
I want to close with three interim conclusions. First, I believe it’s essential for Christians to admit this tension. Sometimes Christian on either side of the illegal immigration issue speak as if there is no such tension. This, it seems to me, is not truthful or helpful. Only when we can be honest about our divided loyalties will we be able to figure out how to work with them to forge a more just and godly society.
Second, I believe that our heavenly citizenship takes precedence over our earthly citizenship. If there is an irresolvable tension between the two, then we should go with God. This means, for example, that we must be committed to the flourishing of all people in the Americas, without undue regard for national borders. No, no, I’m not calling for an open border. But I am saying that God is not more committed to the well-being of someone who lives in El Paso, Texas than he is to someone who lives right across the border in Ciudad JuÃƒÂ¡rez, Mexico. As Christians, we must share God’s concern for and commitment to all people, regardless of national origin.
Third, as Christians seek a Christian perspective on illegal immigration, we must do so in community with other believers. All of us have the opportunity to learn from others, including and especially those with whom we disagree. It seems to me that when it comes to the matter of illegal immigration, the amount of genuine listening to folks who see things differently from ourselves adds up to about zero. Few issues bring forth such hard-headed and hard-hearted certainty as this one, even among brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, as we seek a Christian perspective on illegal immigration, we would all be well served to keep in mind a key passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:1-11)
May God grant us the mind of Christ when it comes to illegal immigration.
Appendix: Seeking a Christian Perspective on Illegal Immigration: A Helpful Resource
I have recently read a book that addresses the issue of illegal immigration from a Christian perspective and want to recommend it to you. The book is Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.
First, a word about the author. Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas is uniquely position to write this book. He is an accomplished Old Testament scholar who teaches as a full professor at Denver Seminary. Dr. Carroll affirms the authority of Scripture and cares deeply about the church of Jesus Christ. He is also bi-cultural, the son of a Guatemalan mother and an American father. He has lived both in Latin American and in the United States. Thus he understands the issues associated with immigration (including illegal immigration) in an unusual and unusually-valuable way.
Now, about the book, Christians at the Border. This book is mainly a careful study of biblical texts that are relevant to the issues of immigration. Carroll’s first chapter, however, offers a short history of Hispanic immigration into the United States, as well as an overview of the complex issues facing us today. I found this chapter to be extremely helpful, especially since I am not aware of much of the history. Because of this unfamiliarity, I am unable to evaluate the accuracy of Carroll’s historical observations. But, since my academic expertise lies in biblical studies, and since most of this book focuses on Scripture, and since I found Carroll’s work in these sections to be balanced and reliable, I am inclined to believe that his historical insights are accurate.
Given Carroll’s personal situation as a bi-cultural American with Hispanic roots and experiences, I wondered if his book would reflect some sort of bias. Frankly, I didn’t see this at all. In fact, he works hard to be fair to all sides in the debate. Carroll does not seem to be arguing for some particular socio-political response from the United States to the problem of undocumented workers and their families. Rather, he wants us to begin to think about this issue in truly biblical terms. Here’s his statement of purpose for the book:
My intention is to try to move Christians to reconsider their starting point in the immigration debate. Too often discussions default to the passionate ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or racial sentiments that dominate national discourse. Among Christians, my experience has been that there is little awareness of what might be a divine viewpoint on immigration. This book is a modest attempt to help remedy that shortcoming. It is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive. Rather, it is designed as a primer for a more biblically and theologically informed approach to the topic. (Kindle Location 133)
Carroll believes, as I do, that “Christians must think about and act on Hispanic immigration as Christians” (KL 143). Carroll elaborates: “The contention of this book is this: if Christians want to address the problems posed by the immigration of Hispanic peoples and contribute to possible solutions, then they should do so consciously as Christians and more specifically as biblically informed Christians” (KL 569).
The outline of Christians at the Border is simple. The first chapter focuses on the historical and cultural context in our time. The second two chapters deal with the Old Testament. The third chapter examines the New Testament. The final chapter offers a summation. Carroll does not propose solutions for the national problems. Rather, as promised, he offers help for those who are trying to deal with illegal immigration as Christians.
I found this book to be most helpful. It is focused, concise, and well-argued. I recommend Christians at the Border highly to anyone who is seeking a biblically-Christian perspective on illegal immigration.