Written by Ian Danley
A response to the Question of the Week.
Cody has asked me to respond to a question asking what a Christian response to immigration issues might look like. Is there a necessarily Christian or biblical perspective in light of global migration patterns and their conflict with current policy? My response below will be cross-posted at UnDocumented.tv, which I highly recommend for further and deeper theological analysis.
First, invoking God in politics is common and clearly often problematic; I am not interested in a policy debate here and certainly not a partisan one. Having recently completed a Masters in Public Policy, I do have strong opinions on what good immigration policy should include also believing that comprehensive policy reform is the only real solution to a badly broken immigration system. But before all that, I want to focus on how scripture might orient us in a new way.
Dr. Danny Carroll Rodas, professor of OT at Denver Seminary, notes in his book, Christians at the Border, that inside immigration discussions among Christians he found little different from conversations had with others. The same media talking points were shouted at the opposition while the same stumbling blocks prevented much agreement. His book is a recommended resource for those who wish to begin a truly biblical conversation around immigration.
Usually immigration debates begin with a question of legality and the implications of law. Dr. Carroll reminds us that this is not where scripture begins; scripture instead begins with a creation narrative featuring a divine Creator bestowing upon the culmination of His creation a particular image: the image of the divine. God engineers humanity to represent Him on earth, and he calls it good, and also very good. This unique quality among all of creation means that humanity is supremely valuable and each life unbelievably precious. An attack on human beings insults their maker, whose image they possess. This is where we begin all immigration conversations. At the root of every immigration debate, anecdote, or label are human beings, loved by God and undeniably precious.
Reading the comments to online immigration articles or hearing honest speak regarding unauthorized immigrants reveals that we abuse this core biblical principle too often. We label human beings ‘illegals’ making faces, families and stories irrelevant and violation of their essential humanity easier. While beginning with imago dei does not ensure policy agreement, it orients the conversation and those inside it in a different way. It helps us stay closer to God’s heart for people.
Dr. Carroll also reminds us that we inherit our faith from migratory biblical heroes who give us an essentially migratory faith. Many of our best bible stories highlight famous immigrants: Abraham, Isaac, Daniel, Joseph, Ruth, Moses, David, and even Jesus of Nazareth. Our migrant friends can connect deeply with the stories of migration in the scriptures. This historic phenomenon is a dynamic used by God to bring about his purposes.
The nation of Israel also understands exile. Living enslaved in Babylon they are tormented by their captors in the Psalm 137. ‘Sing us your little songs, Hebrews! We know you like to sing! Come on, sing your silly songs!’ Their response is well known and powerful:
How can we sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land?
This becomes our inherited Christian mantra. How can we muster the strength to sing the songs of God living in this foreign and crazy place? Because, of course, this is not our home. Our Christian identity comes with a supreme citizenship in a different Kingdom; it trumps all other identifiers. Nationalistic tendencies become silly in comparison.
Stanley Hauerwas calls us Resident Aliens in his similarly titled book. For Hauerwas, in our context, it is most important that the church be less co-opted by the country we live in and more fashioned by the Gospel. Christ’s values and ethics are at odds with the world; the coin bears the image of Caesar, we bear the image of God. So, we give to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s. Those of us who place partisan or patriotic labels (which are not necessarily bad) before our primary identifier confuse our true identity. We cannot prequalify our supreme identity as God’s people, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Ian Danley, apart from being my brother-in-law and friend, is also a pastor at Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, AZ and an important advocate for immigrant rights in the Phoenix area. Ian has just completed his Masters in Public Policy from Arizona State University and writes for a number of blogs concerning the Evangelical response to the issue of immigration policy.