Christians & Illegal Aliens (III)
Dr. J. Allen Thompson, Coordinator of Multicultural Church Planting, Mission to North America in the Presbyterian Church in America, has written a rather lengthy article entitled “The Stranger in Your Midst: Attitudes and Actions toward Undocumented Aliens in the United States.” The article has four main chapters (Entry Point: Poverty, War, and Political Repression; Reflection: The Law of Love of the Law of Subjection?; Theologizing: The Search for Biblical Principles; and Action: The Word of God Applied Compassionately), a preface, some brief conclusions, an appendix, as well as a reference list.
In the last two issues of Ethos, we discussed two articles by Dr. David Moran, both dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. Clearly, Dr. Moran and Dr. Thompson rely rather heavily on each other to draw their conclusions. Since I have dealt with Dr. Moran’s papers there will be little or no need to repeat myself on those matters. So we now take a look at what Dr. Thompson would have us know and believe about illegal immigration. In addition, when I wrap this discussion up, I intend to devote one issue to answering many of the questions that I’ve heard raised about illegal immigration. For now, however, we’re going to focus on Dr. Thompson’s article.
At the close of his Preface I must admit that I am not entirely certain what he’s getting at when he asks, “What is our Christian obligation to refugees from war-torn countries?” Since when does Mexico qualify as a “war-torn” country? Even Colombia with its rampant drug cartels does not officially qualify as “war-torn.” But if Dr. Thompson’s question is not rhetorical, then I would answer from experience. When I was the pastor of a multicultural congregation in Toronto, Canada we sponsored two or three Vietnamese families where Communism had taken over after the fall of Saigon. Our attitude was that these people needed refuge and therefore we started the process and brought them to Canada—legally. We followed every procedure; jumped through every hoop, and complied with the immigration laws to get them to Toronto. From their end, the families that we sponsored did the same thing. That’s my answer, but I still don’t understand why in a paper dealing with illegal Hispanic immigrants that the notion of a war-torn country is even mentioned.
Next Dr. Thompson asks, “How do we show compassion and humanitarian concern when our actions may be viewed as illegal?” The short answer is: I’m not sure, since I really don’t have enough information to begin to make a decision in a situation where actions may be viewed as illegal. The concepts of how to show compassion and humanitarian concern take on a different shape, however, when I’m dealing with a circumstance where my actions are viewed as illegal—as in illegal immigration. That is to say, when someone broaches the subject of helping someone enter this country illegally, the case is very clear cut if we’re discussing illegals, which we are. It is precisely because we are treating—and so is Dr. Thompson—this subject that I’m so confused by some of his initial questions.
For example, he wants to know, “What does the law of the United States or Canada say?” I’ll leave it to the Canucks to tell us what Canadian law says, but does Dr. Thompson really not know what U.S. law is regarding illegal immigration? Has he not been reading the papers, listening to the radio, or watching the news on TV? You’d almost have to live in Canada not to know what our laws are. Further, he wants to know “When is it legitimate to serve a higher purpose and break the law of a nation?” In other words, when is civil disobedience demanded? The question itself is very vague since “higher purpose” can take on a host of meanings.
To further complicate and confuse matters, Dr. Thompson inquires, “What Biblical principles can be isolated that will govern Christian workers having differing values and convictions?” Where to begin? I think the smartest way to approach this is to ask a question in return. If, say, an illegal immigrant is a Christian wouldn’t you think that, as a Christian, he or she would be compelled to play by the rules; to obey the laws of the sovereign nation in which he or she is attempting to enter illegally? Christians, above all others, ought to have a clear concept of right and wrong, good and evil, and that which is pleasing and displeasing to God.
In the Introduction, Dr. Thompson continues to follow the same deceptive, disingenuous ploy that Dr. Moran utilizes: they both refuse to refer to illegal aliens as illegal aliens, choosing rather to refer to them by the euphemism “undocumented aliens.” Dr. Thompson breaks down an open door when he states, “The underlying thesis is that the Church of Jesus Christ has a mandate to offer the Gospel to new immigrants whether they are documented or not.”
If that were all there were, we could close up shop and go home. No one that I know has ever questioned whether it’s right or wrong to witness to an illegal alien. Christ calls us to witness with love and compassion and that is what we are to do irrespective of whether we’re dealing with an undocumented or documented (have you ever heard anyone call a naturalized citizen that?) alien. But that’s not what either Dr. Thompson or Dr. Moran actually mean. Everyone knows the answer to that question. What underlies not only the thesis but the implication is that the undocumented, illegal alien should be able to stay here because he or she offers an unequalled opportunity for the Church to obey the Great Commission.
In a figure that can only be appreciated by a Power Point presentation, Dr. Thompson regales us with the Triadic Model of “The A.R.T. of Doing Theology Cross-Culturally.” Quite honestly, when I did cross-cultural ministry in Holland and Canada I hadn’t even heard of the “Triadic Model.” How did we manage? A.R.T. stands for Action, Reflection, and Theologizing. The “entry point” of the Triadic Model—otherwise known as contextualization—is comprised of needs, worldviews, values, and issues. Between Action and Theologizing there exists the act—no relationship to the capital letters—of “Conscientization” that is comprised of conscience plus consciousness or moral oughtness. Under Reflection, which is supposed to clarify issues for us, we place problems that need solution as well as the crystal clear category of “mystery that longs for understanding.” I’m waiting for a Triadic Model tract—in Spanish, of course—to hand out to the illegal alien so that I can present him with the gospel of conscientization and explain the mystery that longs for understanding. We might even call our new tract The Three Spiritual Flaws.
But for those who are not into studying the Triadic Model in depth, Dr. Thompson offers a summary of the model: missiology. In other words, the Triadic Model is missional. Well, what is that? “Missiology as here utilized is defined as ‘critical reflection in the praxis of mission.’ It is reflection in that it attempts to interpret phenomena that emerges [sic] from real contexts through analysis and synthesis using the reflector’s categories and culture.” Now see; we’re all on the same missional page—or are we?
Christians agree that we are called to fill the Great Commission. In that sense, we are all called to be engaged in both domestic and foreign missions. Our “critical reflection in the praxis of mission” ought to be formed and informed by Scripture, which, by the way, seems to be missing from this definition, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I am getting very weary of phrases like “real contexts” and “authentic” ministers. Those words are about as war-torn as still calling our governor the Governator. Please. Give it a rest. What other types of contexts do we have except real ones—unless you’re Michael Jackson? But Dr. Thompson provides this explanation of the Triadic Model concept of missiology: “It is critical reflection in that it probes, corrects and proposes action grounded on the normative Scriptures. It is praxis in that the theological outcome is applied in a concrete missionary context. It is mission in that the action represents part of the Church’s missionary obedience to and participation in God’s mission.”
Now that we have described the “real contexts” and are looking at words like critical, praxis, and mission, we also need to ask how this is different from previous notions of missiology. I have known a number of missionaries in my life and I am hard pressed to decipher how either the Triadic Model or the somewhat less than helpful definition differs from past generations of missionaries.
Three More Definitions
Before Dr. Thompson launches us into the body of the article, he wants to clarify three more terms for us. If the clarification is anything like the Triadic Model, we’re going to be in for a real treat.
First, he points us to this: “Documented aliens refers to those person who are residing in the United States under some status authorized (these italics mines) by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).” Let me unpack that for you. Documented aliens simply means those who have gone through the process and are in the country legally. They are naturalized citizens who played by the rules, waited their turns in line, and became American citizens the proper way. That’s what is signified by “under some status authorized by the INS.” Why in the world couldn’t Dr. Thompson have just stated that?
Second, comes undocumented aliens. That phrase “refers to those persons who have immigrated without INS authorization (read: illegally) or who have overstayed the terms of their entrance. These persons are not illegal in the sense that they have committed a crime. They are unwelcome by the government.” Oddly, this is precisely the same sentence Dr. Moran used to describe illegals. Someone needs to footnote his source. Quite simply, if “these” refers to those who have immigrated without “INS authorization”—you know, without INS authorization means slipping across the border illegally—then both Dr. Moran and Dr. Thompson are dead wrong and one has to wonder how in the world they don’t know that.
Third, is the term that is the “darling” of the modern Church: contextualization. In passing, I should note that even some who once showed affinities with the emergent Church realize that the over-use of the term contextualization gives us, at best, a relevant heterodoxy. When I think of contextualization I am reminded of the former Jew Paul taking the gospel to the Gentiles. That would give substantive meaning to Dr. Thompson’s definition when he states that contextualization is “the translations of the unchanging content of the Gospel of the Kingdom into verbal form meaningful to the peoples in their separate cultures and within their particular existential situation.” Right. That’s what Paul did. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12 the apostle issues a charge (marturómenoi) that calls upon the church members in Thessalonica to live in a manner that is worthy of the one gospel in spite of their separate culture and particular existential situation.
Since we are on the topic of Scripture, it is remarkable that by page five of this article on how to minister cross-culturally we have not had one shred of Scripture to substantiate any of Dr. Thompson’s points. We have, however, been blessed by the Triadic Model. Scripture, to this point anyway, falls into the category of one of those “mysteries that longs for understanding.”Well, four pages is sufficient for now. In our next issue we shall delve further into Dr. Thompson’s article. Suffice it to say at this point that the first major section (The Contextual Entry Point: Poverty, War, and Polictical [sic] Repression” hardly seems an apt context for a discussion on illegal immigration, but that’s for next time.