thoughts on the immigration debate

Hi folks, sorry to have been silent for a while. I’ve been busy with some decision-making around the future (if and where to move, etc.). I’ll let you know the outcome when it comes.

Here are some thoughts on the current immigration debate I drafted and sent to the Peace, Belief and Justice Committee at my church. Take note that I’m addressing semi-liberal Mennonite Christians; if I were addressing someone more conservative (like, say, my parents), my tack might look a bit different.

Please respond below if there’s anything here to spark discussion. Thanks to Chris and others for sharing with me their perceptions of the matter.

1. I think it’s certainly within the bounds of Christian ethics to “welcome the stranger” and practice hospitality. But to what extent is this the duty of the Church and to what extent ought we to expect the State to perform this role? In other words, we have theological grounds to practice hospitality; but on what grounds ought the State to practice hospitality? There might be non-theological grounds to practice hospitality, but it seems to me that (as Christians) we approach those grounds through our theological lens and only AFTER coming to terms with our theological grounds. At the very least, this makes us biased toward hospitality; at most, it clouds our vision of what function the State should and should not have with respect to immigrants.
2. This is, in some ways, an extension of the above thought: One of the reasons I have been drawn to the Mennonite tradition is the theology of John Howard Yoder. While Yoder doesn’t speak for the whole tradition–and while the MCC obviously hasn’t adopted his theology as its official stance–I think he offers the most coherent and compelling presentation available of the Mennonite way to configure the problem of Church and State. His main object of criticism is a way of configuring these two which he calls “Constantinianism” and which boils down to asking the State to perform tasks appropriate only to the Church. His point is twofold: (1) the State must allow the Church to be the Church; and (2) the Church must not look for resources outside itself to accomplish its mission, given by Christ and enabled by the Holy Spirit. I don’t think this means that faith is to be “apolitical,” but I do think we need to examine the ways in which faith is called to be politically relevant and engaging.
3. Again, a continuation: If it is true that the political behavior of nonchristians is motivated by ideas and assumptions antithetical to Christian theology (and I think this IS true), then might that behavior be illegitimate for Christians to practice? (I’m trying not to talk in moral terms. I’m not saying it’s “wrong” or “sinful” to go about politics the way nonchristians do–but I am saying that it’s not accurately portraying our Christian identity.) In other words, we can’t just boycott Arizona because that’s the course of action others (i.e., nonchristians) have determined is the best way to proclaim justice in this situation. We need to think through what the proper way to respond is for us AS CHRISTIANS. This also means we need to be careful to whom and to what efforts we give our money (at least the money we offer as a church community).
4. Getting a bit more specific about the immigration/Arizona topic: To what extent is our reaction to this issue based on our Christian assumptions about practicing hospitality? And to what extent is it a “human rights issue,” in other words more global and fundamental than the Christian virtue of hospitality?
One more point with respect to this topic. It has to do with my preference for the local over the global, or even over the national. One of the reasons we have states and state constitutions and state governments is that the folks who began this country believed that local wisdom sometimes trumps the national eye. In other words, local problems need be solved by local wisdom–and that requires local eyes.
I think this presupposition involves some humility that doesn’t come easily in our current political culture. It requires that folks in Alabama admit–to some degree–that they understand the situation in Wyoming no better than folks in Wyoming understand them, and vice versa. I think we need to admit that we actually don’t know what things are like in Arizona and trust the folks there to offer some local solutions. Now, these local solutions do need to be tested against SOME universal principles; but we ought to be careful to select these principles AND we ought to be charitable when disagreeing with others’ local solutions.

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