Immigration, the Church, & the Bible: A Review of “Christians at the Border”
By Guest-Contributor On May 20, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Guest Blog by James Fischer Written by an accomplished professor at a prominent evangelical seminary, Christians at the Border is an important resource for anyone exploring biblical perspectives on immigration in America. Daniel Carroll speaks with a balanced and insightful voice in a tone becoming of healthy Christian discourse. His experience as a biracial and bicultural Guatemalan/American professor and church leader gives him unique perspective in assessing immigration on personal, societal, and ecclesial levels. Carroll begins with an overview of immigration in America, focusing on Hispanics coming to, leaving, and living in the USA. Placing immigration in its historical context, Carroll shows that the issue is not new, though its contemporary manifestations provide unique challenges and opportunities. Hispanic immigration to the USA has always been tied to other factors, like immigration from other countries, politics, and labor needs. Legislation has long allowed for immigration, but the higher demand for workers has led many Hispanics (past and present) to enter the country unofficially. These undocumented Hispanics live and work in American cities, usually paying taxes and getting involved in civic life. The response of mainstream USA to immigration and the changes immigrants bring has ranged from open arms to violent opposition. These responses, Carroll asserts, are based primarily on economic concerns (labor needs, remittances, healthcare, etc.) and social considerations (a changing national identity). Many of the opinions people hold rise more from rumor than fact. Christians, Carroll, says, must hold informed economic and social considerations in tandem with the fact that the immigrants in question are Christian brothers and sisters, members of our own body. More than anything, Carroll is trying to show in this part of the book that immigration is a complex, nuanced issue that can’t be handled simplistically (as it so often is). Carroll then turns to the Bible, highlighting key ideas, terms, and events pertaining to immigration. Appropriately, he begins in Genesis 1, affirming that everyone, regardless of legal standing, is created in the image of God. Sadly, this is a necessary reminder as debate all too often portrays immigrants solely in terms of population statistics and economic interests. Carroll notes that the Bible is filled with refugees and immigrants. He shows that migrations play a huge role in the Bible and that, as it is today, biblical immigration is complex and multifaceted. The Israelites move to and from Egypt. Later, they’re deported and live in exile. The movements of Abraham, Ruth, Daniel, and Joseph are especially pertinent. Carroll shows that hunger, force, and reuniting with relatives are the root causes in most instances of Old Testament migration. Sound familiar? The Old Testament law is especially important in Carroll’s assessment. The mandate for hospitality, which is unilaterally applicable but intended especially for people in vulnerable situations, is at the center of his discussion. Carroll looks at various Old Testament terms used to discuss foreigners and their meanings, showing that the Bible distinguishes between good immigration (which involves cultural adaptation and inclusion) and bad immigration (in which people aren’t incorporated into the culture). This distinction helps us understand why some Old Testament passages demand hospitality for immigrants and others encourage exclusion. The Old Testament mandate to be hospitable to everyone, particularly immigrants, is essentially undisputed and very relevant today. Turning to the New Testament, Carroll points first to Jesus. An immigrant himself, Jesus made it clear that the cultural norms which defined people were irrelevant. This is nowhere more evident than in his encounter with the Samaritan woman. He taught people to care for everyone, particularly the disenfranchised. Christians need to love people without getting hung up on their social standing. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he made them immigrants and demanded that people accept them. Carroll wonders if, in a similar way, modern immigrants should be treated as missionaries. As in the Old Testament, sacrificial hospitality is to mark followers of Christ. In 1 Peter, Christians are said to be aliens. This reality should temper discourse on immigration, particularly as it relates to national identity (and the confusion of patriotism with faith). Romans 13 (on submitting to authority) is intentionally addressed last. Though Carroll certainly affirms the teaching of Romans 13, he says that we need a more nuanced, holistic approach to assessing the legitimacy of immigration law. Jumping right to Romans 13 and condemning everyone who violates immigration law doesn’t allow us to see the complete biblical picture. He suggests that current legislation seems in many ways to contradict biblical teaching on hospitality and human dignity, which would make violating these laws acceptable. He also notes that those responsible for our legislation have unanimously acknowledged its shortcomings. In light of this, Carroll asks if it may be not only permissible, but morally necessary for Christians to violate or ignore certain laws as we welcome the strangers among us. Naturally, we should also advocate for new laws–laws that better reflect biblical hospitality and respect for all people. It is important to note here that at no point does Carroll refute Romans 13 or advocate disregard for the government. Christians need to live in respectful submission to the law, so long as it doesn’t contradict biblical truth. The question for Carroll is not whether Christians, generally speaking, need to obey the law–they do–it is whether immigration law is just. In other words, the issue is more hermeneutical than exegetical. It is encouraging to see here that most evangelicals agree on the interpretation of Romans 13 (something that people on both sides of the discussion need to understand). Differences lie primarily in the assessment of immigration today and the question of whether or not US immigration law and its effects go against biblical teaching. Christians at the Border is an important resource for Christians considering the issue of immigration and, in fact, a call to this pursuit. In the midst of polemic debates and volatile media presentations, Carroll’s peaceful, biblically-founded voice should be heard above the cacophony of divisive forces that erect literal and metaphorical walls between American Christians. Though he doesn’t prescribe solutions, many Christians will take issue with the fact that Carroll leaves the door open to disregarding immigration law in an effort to love undocumented immigrants. Though this is an important issue and part of Carroll’s discussion, it must not eclipse the bigger picture. Christians at the Border provides a foundation for Christian discourse on immigration that appropriately considers the complexity of the issue and relevant biblical teaching in a respectful, loving way that never loses sight of human dignity and Christian unity.
Tagged with: Abraham • Book Review • Christians at the Border • Daniel • Daniel Carroll • Egypt • history • Israelites • Jesus • Joseph • New Testament • Old Testament • Romans 13 • Ruth