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A Christian conversation on immigration

"A Christian conversation on immigration" Continued...

All sides in the debate over U.S. immigration policy involve Christians and others of largely good will, to the extent humanly possible, seeking legitimate self-interests while also professing some notion of the common good. Christians on all sides of the issue, while rightfully deploying their best rhetorical fisticuffs, should be wary of claiming certainty about God’s will or consigning their opponents to the moral outer darkness. And church leaders who are dogmatically pressing for a particular legislative political solution might more helpfully offer their members broad principles that should guide our national conversation. Those Christian principles, of course, should include compassion and forgiveness. And they should include Christianity’s understanding of the state’s divine obligation to enforce laws and protect its people.

Both sides of the immigration debate might also consider that fast-changing demographics might swell over the current political realities. In recent years, during a depressed U.S. economy, and with strong Mexican economic growth, net illegal immigration, including illegals who quit the United States for their home country, is estimated to have been about zero. A stronger future U.S. economy, or turmoil south of the border, might shift that trend. But birthrates in Mexico and Latin America, as throughout the world, are plunging. Possibly the era of mass Latin immigration is closing. Asian immigration to the United States, which often includes a cohort with more advanced education qualifying for professional jobs, now outpaces Latin immigration. Meanwhile, birthrates for Hispanics in the United States are also plunging toward the below-replacement levels of white Anglo Americans.

How will these evolving demographic and immigration trends affect immigration political debates of the future? None of us know for sure, which is all the more reason for restrained political rhetoric, demands and expectations, especially when professing to speak for the churches or in the name of the gospel.

Immigration legislation and the Bible

By M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas)

carroll0511.jpgImmigration reform continues to be a hotly debated and polarizing topic, within both secular and Christian circles—but talk of immigration reform within the framework of Christian faith is often shallow. We typically encounter broad appeals to a few Bible passages by both ends of the spectrum to establish the theological legitimacy of their points of view. Reform advocates cite Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:31-46 concerning God’s desire to welcome the foreigner with compassion. Those reluctant to support reform turn to Romans 13:1-7 and stress the government’s right to set its laws and the duty of Christians to respect them. This battle of the verses will not do. It does not make for the substantive give-and-take needed for such a contentious issue.

In what follows I would like to suggest three elements that should be integrated into a more useful appropriation of the Bible for the national debate. As one who supports immigration reform, what concerns me is how Christians talk about immigration.

Awareness of our theological backgrounds

To begin with, the question of the role of the Bible in regard to immigration legislation actually is part of a larger conversation about the relationship between the church and the state. Over the centuries Christians have understood this relationship in various ways. For example, Catholic social theory compels Catholic church leaders to speak directly into the public square, Lutherans work from a two-kingdom framework and the notion of the Christian vocation in society, Reformed theology emphasizes bringing everything under the lordship of Christ, and Anabaptists combine a suspicion of government with the mission of incarnating an alternative community.

Each perspective has its own way of defining what Christian social and political involvement should look like and how to use the Bible in that engagement. In my experience, the two traditions that deal most self-consciously with immigration from their theological convictions are the Roman Catholic Church (there is even a Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (a PDF of its report, Immigrants Among Us, can be downloaded). At the same time, there is a growing consensus on immigration that stretches across Christian denominations. Go online, and you will find positive statements on immigration from Southern Baptists, the Evangelical Free Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Assemblies of God, and others. Clearly there is something about caring for the foreigner that resonates with a wide range of Christian traditions.

The church-state frameworks mentioned above all have experience working with public policy. We may not agree with some of those efforts or models, but this long history is a resource from which we can draw. The loss (or ignorance) of this rich heritage has left us without the skills we need to speak as Christians on public matters. Without that solid theological grounding, many base their view on immigration on only a few Bible passages and theological concepts. If we were to be brutally honest, that view may have been made on other grounds (such as our political ideology or our economic convictions), with the Bible brought in secondarily.

Photo of Mark Tooley by James Allen Walker for WORLD

Photo of M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) courtesy of Denver Seminary

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