By Greg Bowman
Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, 2nd Edition (2013) by M. Daniel Carroll R.
This author makes a profoundly simple — but perversely challenging — request: Christians, please base your attitudes about immigration on the clear teaching in the Bible — in both testaments — before considering cultural, economic, and legal arguments. He acknowledges this might mean having to put aside convictions received from newscasts and cultural sources. Doing so, however, is key to sorting out many conflicting values that have been folded into the U.S. policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
He notes the continuing place of — and contention over — immigration into the United States throughout its history. The economic “pull” for Hispanic labor collides with the cultural “push” against immigration from nativism (a resistance to perceived “others” entering one’s country). In another contrast, compassion for families seeking safety and hope has to compete with legitimate concerns at the border about drug smuggling and, post 9-11, for anti-terrorism measures.
In this book, Carroll has tried to create “…a primer for a more biblically and theologically informed approach to the issue of immigration.” He works through the Old Testament, focusing on the equal value of each person created in God’s image from Genesis; Israel often being a migrant people who were saved by the hospitality of others; the commands to provide sanctuary to the migrant and stranger as a central expression of God’s nature; and God’s favor for the sojourner as one of the disadvantaged groups frequently mentioned. Engaging immigrants as sisters and brothers in God’s image is a powerful validation to them, as well.
He writes with the intention to “move Christians to reconsider their starting point in the immigration debate. Too often discussions default to passionate ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or racial sentiments that pervade the national discourse.”
Carroll also asks majority-culture Christians (the white church) to take note of the significance of newly arrived Hispanics on the religious landscape within the U.S. Immigrating and resident Hispanics constituted an estimated 8.85 million Protestants (2015) and growing, helping to off-set the continuing majority-culture decline in U.S. Protestant affiliation and identity.
The nature of the U.S. immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border confronts every citizen. “Consciously or unconsciously, we all take a stand that reflects our social, economic, and racial attitudes and situations,” says Carroll, asserting that Christians necessarily face another border. “It is a metaphorical decision point. We must determine whether the place we choose to stand in the national debate will be based on the word of God or whether we will ignore its teaching and defend our opinion on other grounds.”
He asks if it is precisely the majority-culture Christians — with their orientating anchor of the Biblical testimony — who can set an example for the rest of the nation of hospitality and a gracious spirit toward immigrants in every way we can.
Note: When Carroll wrote this book in 2013, he felt that immigration reform was imminent because the system was too broken to go on. He persists in his advocacy for a biblical witness in the current era of anti-immigrant speech and administration policy. He will release his further book on the topic in May 2020. It’s a call for an even clearer Christian-first leadership role for Christians in the immigration debate. In The Bible and Borders: Hearing God’s Word on Immigration, as Carroll surveys migration around the world, he brings fresh focus to the ways that the topic of migration is fundamental to the message of the Bible, as well as how it affects our understanding of God and the mission of the church.
Tip: A great resource for following up on Carroll’s recommendations is the Evangelical Immigration Table website at http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com. Its “Principles” begin with Carroll’s bedrock contention from the Genesis account: “Respects the God-given dignity of every person.” The “Biblical Resources,” “Take Action,” and “News” sections provide great inspiration.
Greg Bowman is a member of the Ohio Conference Immigration Resource Team.