Monday, May 24, 2010
Immigration and Pentecost
By Dale Irvin
Two months ago the governor of Arizona signed into law an immigration bill that CNN called “the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in the country.” The bill sent shockwaves through the religious community. In the aftermath numerous religious leaders around the nation responded with alarm. Two weeks ago a group of national Evangelical leaders issued a statement titled “An Evangelical Call for Bipartisan Immigration Reform.” The statement noted the need for secure borders, respect for law, and the concerns of taxpayers, but at the top of its concerns was respect for the God-given dignity of every human being. On the ground in Arizona in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the law, a similar concern was voiced by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tucson, Gerald F. Kicanas. Bishop Kicanas noted that the effect of the law would be to split families and make criminals out of children who were brought by parents to the USA.
At the heart of the issue is the problem contained in the phrase, “illegal immigrant.” As my faculty colleague, Rebeca Radillo, points out, immigrants are human beings, and no human being is “illegal.” The act of border crossing might violate the laws of a particular nation state, but it does not make one illegal. Quite the opposite holds for Christian faith. Border crossing is necessary if one is to know Christ in his fullness through the Spirit. One cannot be a Christian without being related to others who are of a different culture, national identity, or place of origin. This is the very heart of the message of Pentecost. On that day in Jerusalem the Spirit fell on the relatively mono-cultural group of disciples of the Risen Christ and broke through the borders of their cultural or national identity by empowering them with the gift to tongues to speak to those of other nations. The church that emerged from that experience put border-crossing at its very heart. One could not be a member of the church of the whole, the church “catholic,” without being a part of a culturally and nationally diverse movement. No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead in Arizona, in the US Congress, and throughout the United States, Christians cannot lose sight of the center fact of their identity, that they are a community of strangers called to become neighbors in Christ.
See the American Baptist Church letter on immigration and Evangelicals for Social Action and more.
The Rev. Dr. Dale Irvin serves as the president of the New York Theological Seminary, in Manhattan. Among other written works, he is the co-author of Orbis Books' History of the World Christian Movement.