Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigration and Christian Response

Andy Bryan has written two posts (hat tip) about how American Christians in general and Methodists (in reflection of our Social Principles) in particular should respond to illegal immigration and calls for reform.

As he says, the Bible seems fairly clear that the policy guidelines outlines by God for the Israelite state included generosity toward immigrants, especially since such foreigners could not own land and as a consequence, would likely be impoverished.

I am unsure if these features of Mosaic Law were intended only for the Israelites at the time or can and should be followed by all citizens of all future states that ascribe to worship Yahweh. One must be careful applying laws for the Israelites to modern times, lest you find yourself stoning homosexuals to death on an otherwise pleasant afternoon.

The New Testament has nothing specific to say about immigration policy, or political policies at all, since the Gospel is clearly presented as a transnational message.

That said, I think that a Christian response to immigration policy is part of the larger issue of the relationship between and within the individual Christian and the role of the state. For example, can a Christian use violence in the defense of his state against invasion? Can he kill for his country and remain a faithful Christian. I have no resolution to this issue, but my default position (until such time as I can find a solution) is 'yes'.

In the same respect, can a nation defend itself from an immigration invasion? Can Christians advocate laws to provide for the integrity of its borders? Again, there is muddling on this issue, so until resolution, I say 'yes'.

So I don't know about how to apply Christian ethics to national immigration policy, but on the political level, I think that the problem is pretty clear: we are facing the dissolution of the United States culturally and politically.

I really enjoy being in the dominant, majority culture. While my ancestors may have worn kilts and lederhosen and spoken Gaelic and German, upon arrival they soon dropped these identities and joined the dominant national culture of the United States, which is English-speaking and Protestant (literally or effectively) along with various other attributes that make American culture American. The experience of my ancestors is a common one, as immigrants rapidly assimilated into the dominant culture, whose descendants today have no real ties to their ancient homelands.

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 Balkinization, 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.

In America, this problem is seen in a large Mexican population which identifies with Mexico, has no plans to join the dominant culture, has less motivation to learn English, and sees the land that it populates as stolen from their homeland. In spite of efforts by critics to tie these fears into historical nativism, Americans have real reasons to worry, as Jonah Goldberg writes:

Obviously, there's some truth to this. Many of the complaints do sound similar. But that doesn't mean the arguments have the same weight. The arguments against interracial marriage sound very similar to the arguments against gay marriage, but that doesn't mean a black woman marrying a white man is the same thing as a man marrying another man.

Similarly, people may have complained about the ability of legal immigrants from Italy to assimilate, or fretted that these Italian immigrants were taking jobs from Americans, but that doesn't mean illegal Mexican immigrants in the early 21st century are indistinguishable from legal Italian ones a century ago. The fact is that America has never shared an enormous border with Italy. Large chunks of U.S. soil never belonged to Italy or Ireland. You can be as romantic as you like about the glory and honor of America's noble tradition of accepting the "wretched refuse" of the world: It won't change this very basic fact.

We are looking toward a future in which the majority of the American Southwest speaks only Spanish, has no ties to the traditional culture of the United States, and no plans to acquire them. They will not identify with the United States, and while for economic reasons they are unlikely to secede and join Mexico, the fact that they would have the capacity to do so should worry us. Last weekend, 500,000 illegal immigrants demonstrated in Los Angeles, along with other large rallies across the country. Many waved Mexican flags and said that they considered the land on which they were standing to be stolen from their homeland. That's called a 'clue': they don't consider themselves to be a part of America.

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.

UPDATE: Joe Cathey has a few practical suggestions for reforming our immigration policy. Richard Heyduck thinks that we should take a more organic view of immigration.


Andy B. said...

To be accurate, I cited more than Mosaic law in my post. Ignoring national boundaries in favor of compassion for the stranger was a part of the ministry of Jesus and the theology of Paul, also. Further, your assertion that the Gospel is a transnational message in fact seems to lend support to my position, doesn't it?
- Andy B.

John said...

Oh, I won't deny that the Bible has certain difficult teachings, including how we are to regard nations and nationality. I'm just reflexively disinclined to favor policies (however Biblical) that entail national suicide.

Adam Caldwell said...


Of which Kingdom do you belong? Ultimately we belong to God's Kingdom...why does "national suicide" matter that much?

John said...

I belong to the Kingdom of God, but honestly, I also belong to the United States. It'd be a shame if it were destroyed. I'd miss my country and my culture.

Wouldn't you?

Michael said...

As a white male with no real knowledge of his ancestry, I have to say that I cannot lay claim to a particular "culture". I see the Greek Orthodox church in Little Rock have an annual feast that celebrates their heritage. I attended worship at a Jewish synagogue and witnessed an entirely different culture though oddly similar in nature to the Greeks. The tie? A celebration of the past. Assimilated into American society is their own unique cultural identity. I have nothing like this that I can call my own.

Still, your point about varying languages in the former Soviet Union was also a point that was made to us in the Marine Corps about how difficult the Soviets have in communicating with one another. Now, like you say, look where they are.

Interesting thoughts.

Brett said...

I'd miss America and it's culture if it were gone.

j2 said...

Being transnational is neither an endorsement nor a rejection of any particular socio-political structure. It isn't a contradiction to hold a firm national identity and an identity as a Christian. To present it as so is a false argument. There can be many forms of government and culture in this world that are all essentially equal on the earthly plane. As a Christian one always has to yield to God's law whenever there is a conflict with man's law, however, those moments are usually a particular exception to an earthly rule. Order, not anarchy, is a Godly trait of all societies even when they may seem opposed one to another. In most practical matters God grants our societies freedom to pursue the greatest good even as the individual may suffer.

Saying all that there is nothing particularly wrong with American culture that we should not embrace it and defend it. It would be folly to not be prudent in matters of cultural integrity and national sovereignty. Perhaps the more just change in law is to remove the obstacles that otherwise law abiding guests must endure to remain in our country legally. However, there may also be a need to evict the rude house guest that enjoys the banquet without paying the host proper respect.

In Israel of old the alien among them was treated with dignity in normal matters but was expected to be respectful of the Temple and the people of God. They did not remain without being assimilated into that very strict religious culture. Distinctions were made. Further, as prophet after prophet lamented, the Israelites invited their own doom whenever they didn't keep their cultural and national sovereignty intact and became enmeshed with the culture and religious practices of the pagans among them.

Eight Iron said...

The United States has de facto two languages now: English and Spanish. People are operating in both, as far as I can tell, in all 50 states. Is this so dissimilar to Canada, where English and French co-habitate? For all their threats to secede, Quebec remains part of Canada. If you go to Miami, the Cuban immigrants, while speaking Spanish, clearly identify more with the U.S. This tricky balance can be maintained, without sacrificing national identify. Bi-lingualism is here to stay.

Adam Caldwell said...

A culture of mass consumption and an insatiable desire for more. I wouldn't miss that so much, no. Admittedly, I take advantage of the situation, but would love to see it changed.

MaoBi said...

Christianity and illegal migrants. The bible doesn't speak of illegal economic migrants but it does speak about another group of people who were equally seeking better times.....runaway slaves. Anyone want to look up what it said to them? By the way, that's something that troubles me greatly but then it boils down to whether God is subject to my standards or I am subject to God's standard as set down in his word.

John said...

J2 -- a voice of reason. Let us not destroy our nation on a whim of interpretation.

Greg -- yes, we are de facto bilingual. Now let's not make the problem even worse. Remember that Canada remained unified by .1% of a plebiscite a decade ago.

Adam -- this is where we part ideological company. I'm rather fond of American culture, or else I would adopt another. I think that what we have here is worth defending and that the alternative would be much worse.

Adam Caldwell said...

I only fear that some how some way, we can't even "imagine" what an alternative would be. Our imaginations have been stripped away. We can't imagine what an alternative life would be like. And in most cases, we don't want to even try.

I think that's what Christ was trying to get us to do. Imagine life in a new way, out of the control of the "empire" (I use this term lightly, if that's possible) in which we now live. The question is...can we?

What do we preach if it doesn't involve new constructs for daily living? What do I teach my youth, but to gain, cultivate and imagine a new way of living beyond the materialistic nightmare that is all around us?

Sorry...I ramble.

Kansas Bob said...

Border control and immigration are very difficult issues. I really resonate with taking care of the poor among us ... we should all be advocates for the poor and disenfranchised. What about protecting our borders against terrorists and drug dealers ... are these not valid concerns? What about the 'legal' influx of workers from Asia that seem to be grabbing up so many of our high tech jobs? Do you think that the church has any responsibility to advocate for people in our congregations that are losing jobs because of Corporate America's need for a cheaper workforce? Unfortunately I only have questions today ... don't even have an 'informed' opinion.

gmw said...

"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."

This seems to beg the question as to why all the English Protestants didn't assimilate into the dominant culture of the Native American Indians into who "house" they walked into and started living in...

John said...

Yeah, we were wrong.

So what? How is that revelant now? Should we tolerate the dismemberment of our nation because our ancestors did it to others?

gmw said...

It's relevant because some folks are now of the opinion that the shoe is currently on the other foot. If that's remotely true, or if our perception is such, our past ought to be a useful dialogue partner in the conversation about how to move forward in a better way.

I'm with Richard at Bandits No More on the fact that we've "dismembered" our culture somewhat ourselves already.

John said...

Yeah, some people now see that the shoe is on the other foot. It's a neat rhetorical device, but how is it actually useful for making policy decisions? The rational implication of the point is that the US should be disbanded because it's founded on stolen land.

See my point? The historical basis for US territory is handy for clubbing debate opponents over the head, but does not inform policymaking unless it results in the closure of the US.*

Ditto with the point of hurting our own culture. Good sermon fodder, but let's face it: our culture rocks. We live in peace, prosperity, and freedom. All relative, of course, but great nonetheless. We have problems, but harping on them amounts to nitpicking in the grand scheme of things.

So again, is our culture worth defending? Would you like to shut down American civilization? Nevermind the rhetorical points -- what do you want? This isn't merely a debate over evening coffee. Doing nothing about immigration has real and major implications for America.

*Another reason why this line of analysis isn't producive: Mexico is founded on stolen land. So are all of the Native American cultures, who warred with each other for thousands of years over land.

Anonymous said...

Liberals will point out that America is a nation of immigrants who founded a country on land they stole from so called "natives." But, every country contains people who moved there from the cradle of humanity and than defended their claim to it and often with violence including the Native Americans and the Mexicans.
Countries are neither morally wrong or morally right to exist. They just are what they are.
A smart country defends it's boarders and it's culture. Countries who feel they are above kicking anyone out are over run and taken over and eventually ruled by tyrants. That IS morally wrong!

Anonymous said...

Also, I've read a lot of people who hate materialism. I hate it to but I also see that it's simply an unfortunate but manageable side product of free enterprise. I would prefer to have the freedom to struggle against the temptations of liberty than to be kept practically safe from materialism at the expense of my freedom to choose. Freedom means moral choice! You can not ban sin or remove it by creating another economic social system. Greed and other sins will still remain. All the ill talk about America being commercial and material as a reason to let it be changed by an invader is the silliest thing I've ever heard. It's cutting your nose off to spite your face. It's throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's utter nonsense and the fools who repeat such talking points should bet better arguments. They bore me almost as much as they anger my sense of intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, these liberals talk as if Mexicans and other immigrants are not capable of materialism or greed. They certainly are, in fact, I would argue that it's exactly why some of them couldn't wait in line and invaded. They are not going to be changing our country for the better by spreading some sort of anti-materialism virus. There will be materialism but it will just be based on a poorer economic standard. Greed exists among the poor just as much as the rich. God does not look at your bank account to determine greed. He looks at your heart!

Also, I'm anonymous because I don't want to sign up for another stupid account. Yet, I had to share my thoughts because a lot of faulty assumptions have been printed on this thread. No offense intended but if you are one of those people with the faulty assumptions of which I speak, well perhaps you should be offended (by your own foolishness).