A Theological Resource from the House of Bishops
Summary of the House of Bishops’ Theological Resource on Migration and Immigration:
The Nation and the Common Good: Reflections on Immigration Reform
The House of Bishops’ Theological Resource on Migration and Immigration is a thoughtful approach to the questions the United States faces concerning immigration. The document points out, in the “Introduction,” that the earliest followers of Jesus “organized themselves as a community geared to transform Jesus’ personal example into a collective way of life that could challenge prevailing cultural and social norms.” The Bishops point out that this has “practical consequences … since it shifts the focus away from advocacy to formation, from the voting booth to our prayer life.”
The Bishops examine the “Problem of Nationalism” and then discuss the issue of “Resident Aliens: Then and Now.” In that section, they examine Leviticus 19:330-34 and point out that the idea of citizenship has greatly changed since that passage was written. The modern state only developed in the last 500 years. Prior to that, there was no such thing as “illegal immigration;” rather, people were considered “resident aliens” if they did not belong to the ethnic group of a nation-state. Since 1500 C.E., however, with the rise of the modern state, nations are defined more by borders than ethnicities; now, where a person is born is more important than ever.
Under the section “Church and Nation,” the Bishops ask how it is possible to respond to Jesus’ call for radical openness in a modern state with laws governing who is a citizen. To answer that question, the Bishops turn to Richard Hooker, architect of an Anglican theology of nationhood. Hooker, they say, “seems to be suggesting that … governance must function not simply to protect us from one another, but to maximize the opportunities for communion and fellowship with one another.” After presenting a synopsis of Hooker’s thinking about nationhood and his “vision of the nation as a laboratory for the love of neighbor,” they go on to say, “If Hooker is right that this emergent national covenant implies a decision to value all human beings without distinction (including those who are not born or naturalized into the nation), then it is no surprise that our nation began instantly to welcome wave after wave of immigrants.”
In “The Challenge Before Us,” the Bishops acknowledge the harsh history of the United States’ treatment of African slaves, Native Americans and many waves of immigrants throughout the past 200+ years. They also point out the “tension between embracing and excluding the other,” both as a nation and as individuals.
In “Witness and Action,” the Bishops state: "As a spiritual body politic whose emerging goal is to display Jesus’ radical welcome to everyone, it is clear that we have an obligation to advocate for every undocumented worker as already being a citizen of God’s reign on earth and one for whom Christ died. This must always be our starting point."
The Bishops present the competing calls on immigration reform and take into consideration the competing concerns voiced by many in this country. “The voice and perspective of our fellow citizens deserves attention. However, it does not mean that we turn our backs on resident aliens and the world community they represent, still less that we place our fellowship with fellow citizens above our fellowship with Christ, but that we remain true to nationhood’s more limited and preliminary goal, which is to strive for genuine communion and fellowship within its own borders, for the sake of a wider communion even now.”
They add: "We do not discount the concerns of our fellow citizens regarding the threat uncontrolled immigration poses to our safety and economic well-being. We insist, however, that these concerns be approached within the broader context of a national commitment and covenant to inclusion and fellowship across all lines for the sake of the common good.Furthermore, we profess that inhumane policies directed against undocumented persons (raids, separation of families, denial of health services) are intolerable on broadly religions and humanitarian grounds … With that in mind, we look to another passage from the Torah: 'There shall be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the Lord' (Numbers 15:15)."