A Few Theological Lenses for the Immigration Issue: Part 2

Written by Ian Danley:

This is a continuation from the previous post, A Few Theological Lenses for the Immigration Issue: Part 1 and is the response to this weeks question of the week.

Even a cursory look at Hebrew scripture and law reveal an almost constant concern for those on the margins: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  Knowing that in an agrarian economy, women without men, children without parents and people without land and family are often vulnerable, God sets up rules to protect them.  When Israel ignores these rules, the prophets rail.  Laws regarding hospitality, gleaning laws, a special three-year tithe, workplace protections and in legal proceedings all exist to keep the vulnerable from abuse.  God says to Israel, ‘You know what it is like to live in exile under Pharaoh.  Don’t be like Egypt.  Be like me.  Love these precious to me, because I love them.”  Dr. Carroll reminds us that inherent in Old Testament law is the person of God, a God who commands the Israelites to love the widow, the orphan and the stranger because He does.

But this is risky business.  Walter Brueggemann labels the anxiety in the face of a risky loving, generous God, ‘the myth of scarcity.’  Instead of obedience and faith in our ‘liturgy of abundance’ where God continues throughout history to provide, we believe the myth that there is not enough and so we hoard.  Brueggemann finds Pharoah introducing scarcity into the biblical narrative.  His scary dream quickly turns into administering, controlling and monopolizing the food supply.  After it’s done, Israel has traded their money, means of production, land and eventually themselves into bondage.  It takes 40 years in the desert for them to believe again in God’s promises to provide, that unlike Pharaoh they can take a day off to rest, that they don’t have to hoard like in Egypt, that there is enough for everyone.

The water metaphors are pervasive in immigration dialogues:  waves, tides, drowning, sinking… This is scarcity talking and it is a myth according to scripture.  Scarcity-think also necessarily leads to violence.  If you threaten my survival than getting rid of you is almost compulsory, let alone excusable.  Brueggemann points to an abundant God in Genesis who commands, ‘be fruitful, multiply’ and the Psalmist in Psalms 104 and 150 calling us to ‘abandon’ ourselves to God, to let go.  That God promises to feed everybody and that He is in control.  We don’t have to worry so we only take only enough.  Like with the manna rained on the Israelites, hoarding doesn’t make sense in God’s Kingdom.  Generosity reigns.

Finally, we get to the life of Christ.  I love Virgilio Elizondo’s image of a ‘Borderland Reject Jesus’ growing up in the nowhere place of Galilee.  Like many of the students in my youth group, he was an infant refugee carried across a border without knowing.  Finally landing in the ‘Land of Cabul’ a displeasing place ‘like nothing,’ Jesus of Nazareth forms in this outsider hole, which helps him identify with other nobodies and outsiders.  Jesus’ ministry is defined by a rhythm of identification and movement towards these outcasts.  He personally understands rejection and so the Kingdom he ushers in invites everyone, especially those who were previously discarded, rejected or illegal.  Those who used to be deported are now given special seats of honor in the Kingdom that Jesus ushers in.  This offends worldly power today as much as it did when Jesus walked the earth.

Romans 13 must be addressed in Biblical conversations regarding immigration as it surfaces often from those using it as a proof text to defend current immigration policy.  Many policy debates around multiple issues occur among Christians and Romans 13 is rarely introduced with the exception of immigration dialogues.  This is an interesting dynamic that deserves deep heart searching and honest reflection.  Why do we mention Romans 13 in immigration conversations while neglecting it inside conversations concerning abortion, for example?  Both clearly deal with issues of legality.  It seems we choose which laws are biblically sound and which are not, almost subconsciously.

This begs the question; does Romans 13 imply blind authority to the state forever and always?  Surely we can all come up with a long list of examples where we would as clear-headed Christian believers defy the government and feel good about it:  Apartheid in South Africa, child labor laws or Jim Crowe in the U.S., Chinese policy regarding public Christian worship or the possession of a Bible.  I don’t even need to mention Hitler.  Christians have ignored and even conspired against these authorities; did they (do we) ignore Romans 13?

Dr. Carroll asks us to read Romans 13 in light of Romans 12.  Romans 12 calls us to ‘not be conformed to the things of this world… to hate what is evil and cling to what is good… to share with God’s people who are in need… to practice hospitality.’  This is the standard for leadership that is instituted by God in Romans 13.  When leaders fail this standard, we do not blindly follow but instead call them back to biblical values.  Our prophetic tradition confirms this model.  Romans 13 as a simple black-and-white defense of ‘what part of illegal do you not understand’ is quickly found to be lacking.

Blind followership of our immigration policies is similarly problematic.  Widespread agreement exists that current immigration policy is obsolete, inadequate and essentially broken.  A schizophrenic approach has been the defacto position of not only big business but government and consumers alike as we collectively and simultaneously scream: ‘help wanted / don’t enter.’  We are all complicit in creating the system as it is; now we punish the weakest without a political voice ignoring all other guilty parties.  Growth built by immigrants has fueled our local economies and when changing demographics, economic downturns or political expediency require, we simply turn our backs on these workers and their contributions.

But now they have families, lives, children and histories here and they are here to stay.  Many times there is nowhere else to go.  Economists say they help more than hurt; historians find nothing new in current immigration patterns and criminologists discover immigrants unlikely to be dangerous or involved in crime.  The border is more secure than it has been in decades.  But now I am getting into the policy instead of letting the Bible percolate…

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.

4 thoughts on “A Few Theological Lenses for the Immigration Issue: Part 2

  1. Ian, thanks so much for writing this article. I always learn so much from you. Thanks also for helping to shed light on how often Christians pick and choose how they will apply Romans 13. It has always troubled me how this passage seems to be used exclusively in the Immigration debate, but nothing else. You put your finger on it so well!

    Much love for my two brothers, Ian and Cody,


  2. What great thoughts and writing. I am so glad there are no laws against extending grace, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, saving the children, healing the sick regardless of how you got where your at because if there where I would certainly need to rebel and I think I would be good and right in doing so. Why are we so threatened? We try and dictate who can and can not take part in all the blessings God has given us here in this country. We try and stop folks at the border and at the womb. I understand we need imigration law for protection but they should be laws knitted to gether with grace and mercy. As for me I wont ask you what you problem is or how you got here, why your in prison or sleeping in a ditch I just want to know how I can help. Love the writing keep it coming

  3. I have learned much from Ian over the years. I have also learned to understand the life of Jesus by understanding the lives of immigrant peoples with whom I have become friends in my life.

  4. Pingback: Question of the Week: When Should Christians Not Obey? « Shouts From the Wilderness

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