For some people the Christian approach to those wanting to cross our border or who are crossing the border or who have crossed the border is simple: it’s against the law, so send them back. For others it’s an issue of love and compassion so welcome them.
One who has been thinking, studying, and addressing this very issue from a Christian angle – for years – is M. Daniel Carroll R.. (I know, How to refer to him? I will use “Carroll.”) His new and very accessible book is called The Bible and Borders: Hearing God’s Word on Immigration, and I recommend this book to all pastors, church libraries and especially to seminary and college libraries. Christian thinkers don’t put up with anything that is not rigorously biblical, theological, and respectful of law.
Many Christians don’t know the first thing about how the Old Testament approaches immigration, refugees, and asylum seekers. Instead of asking and inquiring, they go to the law. Many don’t bother asking what the NT says about the same thing and they, too, go to the law. Is that the first place to go for Christian thinking about this very public and moral issue? No.
Thank God for Carroll, who offers a sane biblical and theological approach.
Notice this number, and let this sink in as we contemplate what it means for a Christian to act about it.
The International Organization for Migration, drawing from United Nations data, puts the total number of international migrants in mid-2019 at over 270 million.
Let’s define three important terms before we ask about the foundation of a Christian theology of border crossing.
Three terms: refugee, asylee, immigrant.
Refugees are persons who have fled their country of origin (1) out of fear of persecution because of their race, religion, social standing, or political views; (2) to escape an armed conflict; or (3) because of an ecological disaster (such as prolonged drought or a devastating hurricane).
Whereas the refugee process is directed by the United Nations, asylees present themselves at international borders and ask for permission to enter for their protection and well-being. Each country has its own profile of who can qualify for asylum.
Immigrants, in contrast, are those who of their own volition move to another country for any of a host of reasons and usually petition for lengthy or permanent residence. Immigrants can enter legally – through official ports of entry and according to the rules of the admissions policies established by the host country – or not. Those who have come into the United States by other means are frequently called illegal aliens. [Carroll prefers “undocumented” or “unauthorized.”]
Where to begin? It’s so obvious because it’s where we begin with everything we like about Christian theology and especially any theology that touches upon humans: with the Image of God in Genesis 1.
Image: Cover Photo
This matters immensely and Carroll is right to guide the direction from this starting point. Many do say they take the Bible seriously but don’t let Image of God sink in deeply enough. When it permeates our thinking we learn to think in (Christian-ly) fresh ways.
If one takes what the Bible says in Genesis 1 seriously, as revelation from God, then what it communicates about humans becomes a divine claim on attitudes and actions toward those who come to this country – irrespective of whether they are here with or without the documents the government might mandate.
Carroll’s straightforward sentence next sets the right tone:
To turn away in a disinterested manner or to treat badly one made in the image of God is ultimately a violation against God.
And Carroll is right, too, about the most significant implication:
As a result, the topic of immigration at some level needs to be considered from a human rights perspective and not be defined soiely in terms of national security, cultural identity, or economic impact … [and a couple pages later he observes that for the one crossing into the USA] … being God’s representative is both a privilege and a responsibility.