Why You (and Your Church) Should Read Christians at the Border

This season of Epiphany the Anglican Multi-Ethnic Network (AMEN) is inviting all of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of North America to join us in reading Danny Carroll’s book Christians at the Border: Immigration the Church and the Bible. Danny is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, bi-cultural Christian and an Anglican. In his book, he gives a thorough and fair treatment of both the issues of immigration in the US, particularly regarding Hispanics, and of the Biblical picture of immigration. Professor Carroll explains the purpose of his book in his introduction: 


My intention is to try to move Christians to reconsider their starting point in the immigration debate. Too often discussions default to passionate ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or racial sentiments that pervade the national discourse. In the past there was little awareness among Christians of what might be a divine viewpoint on immigration. (xxv)


There are three crucial reasons we at AMEN believe the Anglican Church in the US needs to read this book at this cultural moment, which may surprise some of you. They are: 1) to empower and revitalize our witness of the Gospel before the watching world, 2) to guide our embodiment of the Gospel’s Good News through informed care of and fellowship with the immigrants among us, 3) to deepen our understanding of our own global Anglican identity in the North American context.


Reason #1: “To Empower and Revitalize our Witness of the Gospel.” 


1 Peter 3:15 urges Christians to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (ESV). While the truths of the Gospel are eternal and unchanging, the concerns of the world change from season to season. Part of giving a winsome and convincing apology for the hope within us is understanding the humanitarian and ethical issues facing our culture at any given moment and demonstrating the unique hope the kingdom of God offers for dealing with those issues. As we begin 2019, ethical concerns around immigration policy and the treatment of immigrants are undeniably major issues crying out for a response from the church. 


While immigration has always been a troubled topic in American politics and culture, the events of 2018 have brought the tension between national security and compassion for immigrants and their families to the forefront of our national consciousness. It began with a stand-off in Washington D.C. over the plight of the “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants who came to the US as minors). Then there was the erection of holding centers that separated detained minors from their parents at the US-Mexican Border and the subsequent tragic deaths of a number of detained children. More quietly, a series of executive orders have ended Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for immigrants who came to the US as a result of civil wars or natural disasters, such as the Liberian War of the ’90s or the 2008 earthquake in Haiti. Most recently, of course, a series of so-called “Migrant Caravans” have come up from serval war-torn countries in Central America claiming to seek asylum and overwhelming the Mexican-US Borders. Hanging in the backdrop of all of these events is the national controversy about President Trump’s requested border wall and a rhetorical environment that pits national security against racism and xenophobia.


The United States immigration crisis may seem at first like just a political problem disconnected from the Gospel imperatives of the church. However, the secular world does not see things that way. As a pastor deeply engaged in issues around immigration, I have been particularly surprised at how many comments, emails, and letters I have received that went something like this: “thank you for what you are doing for immigrants. I thought all Christians just hated immigrants, but you showed me that some Christians do actually care about those who are different than them.” 


In contrast, just last week while taking back a defective Christmas present, I spoke with a Hispanic customer service agent who told me that this year he and his girlfriend didn’t even bother going to church on Christmas Eve. When I asked him why, his answer broke my heart. He said,


You know with everything happening in our country, we were afraid that going to church would ruin Christmas. Who knows the pastor might say something awful like, we should support Trump’s Wall, or something negative about immigrants. So we decided to just stay home this year and imagine that we missed a nice church service in which no one said anything terrible about people like us.


This conversation demonstrates that in this cultural moment the issue of immigration is not just a political issue, but a spiritual issue, an evangelism issue. Though there are some beautiful exceptions, it seems that by and large, the church’s response to this immigration concerns has been to capitulate to the divided rhetoric of our culture. In a divided nation, we are losing an opportunity to talk about the reconciling power of Jesus Christ.  Our worldly response is also alienating many younger Americans, Muslims, Hispanics and the immigrant population in general. People are literally afraid to come to church on Christmas-Eve! Regaining a uniquely Christian voice on welcoming the stranger is an evangelism emergency. 


If the ACNA wishes to fulfill its mission of “reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ,” we must have a Gospel-centered, biblically informed approach to immigration. To do otherwise is to give up kingdom ground to the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Professor Carroll explains that the title of this book, “Christians at the Border, is a double entendre. “In a very real sense,” writes Carroll,


everyone in the United States has to take a political position about what is going on at the physical border with Mexico….But for Christians, there is an additional border. It is a metaphorical decision point. We must determine whether the place we choose to stand in the national debate will be based on the Word of God or whether we will ignore its teaching and defend our opinion on other grounds. (xxix)


How we answer this question will shape our Christian witness for years to come. 


 Reason #2: To Guide our Embodiment of the Gospel’s Good News through Informed Care of and Fellowship with the Immigrants Among Us.


Jesus never simply calls his disciples to think and speak the truth. His Gospel always calls us to also live out the truth through good works. In Christians at the Border, Carroll leads readers through a careful survey of the teachings of the Bible on immigration. He ends his book with a chapter entitled “Where Do We Go from Here?” This chapter is not so much a list of answers to the problems of immigration facing our country, as it is an invitation to individual Christians and congregations to consider how the Lord might be calling them to respond to the immigrants in their own lives. “What I have written here,” says Carroll, “is a starter, a primer that can serve as an orientation for grounding their views of the Bible [on this topic]” (132). 


There are very few communities in the United States without an immigrant population. If your church does not have immigrants within it, it probably has them nearby. Many immigrants struggle to adjust to our culture, maneuver our complex legal system and find their place in the church. Our prayer at AMEN is that as the ACNA reads and prays through the contents of Christians at the Border, the Holy Spirit will draw us into Gospel action towards the immigrants around us. For some that may look like offering tangible help, such as ESL classes, sponsoring refugees or opening an immigration legal-aid clinic. For others, it may look like allowing an immigrant congregation to meet in your building. And for still others, it may simply look like inviting the immigrants around you into your lives. 


Reason #3: To Deepen our Understanding of our own Global Anglican Identity in the North American Context.


All of us in the ACNA can appreciate the way in which the Global Anglican Church has blessed and protected our ability to live out our faith in Christ in ways that are faithful to the Gospel. It’s no secret that the majority of Anglicans in the world today live in African countries and that some of the fastest growing Anglican churches are in Latin America. What may come as a surprise to many in the ACNA is how many Anglicans from these places have actually immigrated to the USA. 


Some of the greatest spiritual resources for the Anglican Church in America today are immigrants. If we in the ACNA overlook the immigrant Anglicans among us, we will lose out on a major gift the Lord is giving us. We will also miss an opportunity to be a different kind of Anglican Church. In the past, the colonial model of Anglicanism failed to allow the theological insights of the 2/3s World to influence the theology and practice of white American and British Christians. The GAFCON movement is calling us to a different kind of Anglicanism in which fellowship and insights are shared across the cultures. But this calling is not just a global calling. It is also an American calling. We are an immigrant-rich nation. The gifts of GAFCON are here among us. Part of learning to see and welcome the immigrants in our communities is learning to receive those gifts in our own local congregations. 


Allow me to close with an illustration from my own congregation. Five years ago our parish started an immigration legal-aid clinic. Since then the Lord has brought many wonderful saints from around the world into our fellowship. Take, for example, Stewart from Malawi. Stewart walked through our doors about a year ago. He grew up as an Anglican. Like many of our African members, when Stewart came to our church he was thrilled to find out that 1) we were a GAFCON congregation and 2) the immigrants in our congregation played a central role in our leadership. Stewart jumped right into the life of our congregation. He started fixing things around our church; he started playing in our worship band; he brought other Anglicans from Malawi through our doors. We quickly realized what a gift God brought us in Stewart.


However, Stewart also came to us with an immigration need. He had a complicated legal situation (which I share with his permission). He is married to a US Citizen, but she does not have the financial ability to support him as a permanent resident. Our immigration legal-aid clinic director spent dozens of hours this year helping Stewart and his wife find a sponsor and fill out the paperwork to adjust his status. He needed us. Though Stewart has every intention of being a good, law-abiding resident of the US and a faithful husband, it is very unlikely he could have done either without the help fo the American church. 


But, here’s the thing, we in the American Anglican church need him too. He is a gift to our church and our community. He regularly shows us what it means to be committed to one’s church family and often demonstrates his profound faith in the Lord, saying, “whatever happens to with my immigration situation, wherever I am, I trust God to take care of me.”  We have a better picture of the kingdom because God brought us Stewart.


Our immigrant brothers and sisters are teaching us who the Lord is calling us to be. The ACNA of the future, cannot look like the American Anglicanism of the past. The Lord is bringing the nations to us.  Having a biblically informed, spiritual outlook on the migration of the peoples is an essential ingredient to becoming the church the Lord is calling us to be.


We encourage you and your church to pick up Professor Carroll’s book and see how the Holy Spirit leads you to welcome the immigrants in community.

Rev. Heather Ghormley is the founding pastor and rector of Tree of Life Anglican Church, in South Bend, Indiana. She also serves as the Director of the Anglican Immigrant Initiative (http://anglicanimmigrantinitiative.com). 

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