Joining the Conversation on Immigration

Enter the Rainbow (Andy Bryan) and Locusts and Honey (John the Methodist) are writing on the recent immigration debate here, here, and here.

Andy offers several scriptural texts that encourage loving attention to foreigners, a care rooted in Israel’s status in Egypt and the Christian status as foreigners in the world. Hebrews, instead of urging xenophobia enjoins philoxenia – love of strangers (usually translated “hospitality”) instead of fear of strangers.

He then claims:

This is one reason we should care about immigration in our country today. It should be important to us because it is important to God. This is why we cannot allow U.S. House Bill 4437 or U.S. Senate Bill 2454 to slam shut our border and harshly penalize our brothers and sisters sojourning in our land. Rather than chase foreigners home, we should welcome them with the radical hospitality that our faith calls for. In Christ, there is no Mexican, Sudanese, Belgian, or American, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

In his second post Andy summarizes what the relevant comments in the UM Social Principles (a good place for UMs to look) and comments:

The Social Principles of our denomination say, “The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons.
“We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.”

Interpretation of this principle hinges in part on what is meant by “those who comprise [a society].” If “those who comprise” the United States are only legal citizens, then this principle does not apply to undocumented immigrants. But if the phrase, “those who comprise it” is an inclusive phrase that takes into consideration all people who are living in the society regardless of official status, then we must conclude that no consideration of legal status ought to be made when affirming a person’s inherent value in God’s eyes, and therefore in ours. We cannot accept policies that deny rights to a particular group of people and devalue them based solely on whether or not they have jumped through all the necessary hoops, themselves flawed, of becoming legal citizens.

Rights and privileges are bestowed by a system of laws. Citizenship is a right offered under certain conditions, and with citizenship comes other rights. Are the Social Principles suggesting that there should be no differentiation between citizens and non-citizens? From a US perspective, I don’t think that would work. From a Christian perspective, I think it’s irrelevant. As Andy notes, Christians are called to love and extend kindness to all. While some might infer that this means Christians must confer the status of citizenship on all who come into our land, we certainly don’t even think things work that way in our churches. While we show love and kindness to all the people around us, we do not unilaterally confer membership upon all we see. There is even an ongoing debate in United Methodism about standards and processes of membership.

John the Methodist recognizes the same issues as Andy, but comes down in a very different place. He says,

That dominant culture is being washed away in favor of a different one from Latin America. The new wave of immigrants have little to no desire to assimilate to the dominant culture. In fact, they are becoming the dominant culture. That bothers me because I like my culture and I don’t want to see it go away. Many Americans agreed in the past, which is why immigration policies a century ago advocated assimilation, and largely succeeded. We made a deal with immigrants: you can come to our country, but you have to join our culture. As an independent polity, I think that we have inherent property rights to our own territory and can therefore require such bargains. No one has a right to come to our country anymore than anyone has a right to walk into your house and start living there.

But beyond our lovely culture being absorbed into a different one, we Americans also face a real political danger from massive immigration from Latin America. Healthy states are ones that are largely uniform. Although multiethnic societies can thrive, multicultural societies fail, almost without exception, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (which don’t exist anymore. Guess why). Multiple divergent cultures within one polity ultimately lead to Balkanization, a process exacerbated if those divergent cultures actually have different languages. If people can’t even talk to each other easily, they have trouble forming a cohesive society…
So culturally and politically, let’s do the smart thing: drive the illegal aliens out, keep them out, and wait a couple generations for the Mexican population here legally to be absorbed into our culture before resuming large-scale immigration from Mexico.

Clearly John’s perspective is more “Americanist” than Andy’s. I don’t know if he’s read Samuel Huntingdon’s Who Are We? But the points he brings up are discussed in great detail in that work.

Here’s my take.

First, both Andy and John need to tighten up their use of “we”, “us”, “our” language. Do these first person plural pronouns speak of us as Americans, Christians, Anglos, Caucasians? Is it our relation to a culture, a nation, a polity, a race or Jesus and his kingdom that most determine our action?

Surely “in Christ” cultural and ethnic variance is unimportant (which is why we United Methodists make no ethnic distinctions in our churches and ministries), but are we such a Christian nation that what is said about the church applies to the nation? As a non-Constantinian, I’d say not.

Second, with John, I’d say that traditional American culture is greatly weakened by a flood of immigrants who do not assimilate to American culture. But that semi-mythical American culture has first been weakened from other sources. It’s been weakened from within by the exaggeration of its traits of radical individualism and consumerism. It’s been weakened from without by the type of multiculturalism that insists that no culture is “right” – except the other guys.

This view is found not only in American culture, but in the church. When found in the church (which is all to easy to do), this view seems to say that Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc., are all right – but Christians, if they are right about anything (and not doing crusades or inquisitions), are only right about the platitudes that “everybody” agrees about anyway.

The USA is a sort of organism. As an organism, it, like all cultures, has a sort of immune system. Not only is the US immune system not working well, but it has also become common to think the mere having of an immune system to be a bad thing.

We have come to think this in the church also. If orthodoxy can be thought of as part of our immune system – something that defends “us” against “not us,” – orthodoxy is thought of as an evil. Openness – apparently to everything – is much better than orthodoxy (which is inherently narrow).

Does the US need an immune system? Only if it wants to continue to be the US. If we’re happy becoming another Mexico/Guatemala/Colombia/etc. – which John the Methodist evidently doesn’t want to do (and which I’m not excited about either), then we’ll have to do something.
I’m pessimistic that American Christians can be very helpful in this debate. A generation or two ago we decided to minimize the boundaries in our traditions. UMs in particular (I know them best) continue to fall apart because of this. “You’re a Buddhist? Well sure, you can be a UM (bishop) too.” “You’re an agnostic? Well sure, you can be a UM too.” “You deny the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus? No problem – you not only can be one of us but we’ll either make you a bishop or hire you to teach in our seminaries to train our pastors.”

These questions of identity are huge. Treating the answers dichotomously – EITHER we’re completely open, to the point of having no boundaries, OR we’re completely closed, to the point of killing those who are different (which seems to be the current approach)- will be a huge mistake. We need to develop some nuanced accounts of identity that are healthier and more productive. That’ll take more work than I can give to the topic today.

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1 Response to Joining the Conversation on Immigration

  1. Wes says:

    Great post and some excellent points. Fixing the immigration problem is one of the most critical things we are facing in this country. Throwing out all the illegal immigrants currently in the country is not a good way to start. Making them all felons isn’t either. Some of our congressmen need to quit foaming at the mouth and realize this. On the other hand I don’t believe the demonstrations are helping the immigrants. It looks like things have calmed down a bit but a few more days of Mexican flag waving and there will be a huge backlash. To me closing the borders is most important. The flood cannot continue. A few more years of unmitigated immigration will put the U.S. into ruin.

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