Book Review: Immigrants Among Us

Book Review: Immigrants Among Us

By: LC-MS Commission on Theology and
Church Relations (CTCR)

Everybody likes simple answers to
complex issues. If our highly polemicized society reinforces one
thing over and over again, it is that the answers we favor are right,
and those who disagree with us are at best misinformed or stupid, but
at worst are evil or fanatical or fundamentalist. When we are
feeling magnanimous we can pity those who disagree with what is
obviously a truly simple and straightforward solution that we can see
clearly. When we are less magnanimous (which is more and more of the
time), those who disagree with us can be tolerated only long enough
to solidify our position before we rout them thoroughly.

But, it may be argued, isn’t a complex
issue made so by the fact that there are no simple answers? That
whatever answers we may find could very well require a bit of this
and a bit of that from both sides? Is there yet room for
intellectual dissent without the character-maligning that more often
than not accompanies it these days? To ironically quote a truly
ironic figure, can’t we all just get along?

Lutheranism has a lot to contribute to
this point of view, though one might not always guess it from the
tone of our internal disagreements. So it is that the Commission on
Theology and Church Relation’s  latest release, Immigrants
Among Us
, (available for free download here:
http://www.lcms.org/ctcr) may
appeal to very few people with strong opinions on this topic, despite
being a desperately needed summons back to our theological roots. If
you want something that demonstrates the ease with which everyone
should agree with your point of view on the topic of immigration
issues, this isn’t going to give it to you. What it will give you
instead (if you allow it to) is a reminder of core aspects of
Lutheran theology such as vocation and Two Kingdoms thinking.

By now there are few areas of the
country where the topic of immigration is viewed as irrelevant. As
such, Lutheran congregations may well find that this topic is a
source of division among members (whether the pastor realizes this or
not). More specifically, there are few congregations that can safely
say that they don’t need to consider the issue of how they interact
with immigrants – whether legal or illegal, documented or
undocumented.

Here the Lutheran teaching on vocation
is helpful. Congregants have many possible vocational roles in
society and in their personal life – spouse, child, sibling,
parent, employer, employee, citizen – the list goes on. How does a
Christian reconcile themselves to immigration issues? How do they
perform their vocations faithfully – and what if two or more
vocational roles seem to be in conflict regarding the issue of
immigration? Is there a way to sort through the confusion personally
and corporately to arrive at a faithful stance?

This document strongly suggests there
should be, but pointedly avoids indicating what that might look like.
After all, congregations and their situations vary considerably.

Or consider Lutheran theology regarding
the Two Kingdoms – the left-hand kingdom of the political world and
the right-hand kingdom of the Church of Christ. How does a Christian
– who resides within these two kingdoms – reach a faithful
response towards immigrants and/or immigration issues? Again, this
pamphlet strongly indicates that this is possible, while also
recognizing that the solution reached in one place or by one person
may look strikingly different from the solution reached elsewhere or
by someone else (even within the same congregation).

This document is helpful not only in
reviewing Lutheran theology, but in calling on Lutherans to
intelligently engage themselves in this complex issue in love and
fellowship with other Lutherans who may reach different conclusions.
It is a reminder that both/and is often times a more Scriptural
response than either/or. It is a reminder that loving our neighbor
means not just caring for the needs of the marginalized among us, but
respecting and loving our brothers and sisters in the faith who
disagree with our particular solution to or stance on immigration
issues.

Particularly helpful in this document
are the case studies included at the end. Eight case studies cover a
variety of different situations in an effort to further stimulate
thinking and practical application of the concepts the document
reviews. Doing so pushes the reader to recognize the complexity of
immigration issues, and hopefully as such drives them towards more
loving attitudes towards those who disagree with them on this topic.

The document does a fairly good job of
maintaining a neutral stance between Scriptural admonitions to love
our neighbor and Romans 13 admonitions to obey our civil authorities.
I detect a preference towards more mercy-oriented responses to our
neighbors, but the document does demonstrate how someone committed to
the letter of the law needs to be taken seriously in discussion
rather than dismissed as somehow unChristian.

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