Any vision that would reshape our current and future ministry with the Hispanic and Latino communities in the U.S. begins with two facts. First, one in five U.S. Hispanic residents is here without official governmental authorization. Second, a fair number of those unauthorized Hispanic residents of the U.S.A. will continue to reside here in the shadows for a long time to come.
Duke Divinity School student Adrian Federico Apecena has shared an excellent paper titled “The Undocumented Immigrant and the Implications for Christianity in the United States.” Below are some excerpts from it that we hope will give us pause to reflect and share. In the text that follows, we have added parenthetic content to demonstrate the continuity of Mr. Apecena’s argument.
“The church in the United States has been divided in regards to what it means to view and deal with this in a Christ-like way. Should (our church treat) one who trespasses these immigration laws… as a criminal, even when it is an issue of their very survival?”
“My quest is to aid in educating the Christian community on what its role should be in this matter…. The question here would be: who is my neighbor? Does a legal document define who our neighbor is? Or does language? Particularly, if we are referring to those who are also Christians, are they not our neighbors? Should we… consider them (not to be) part of the body of Christ because they are in a country without permission of the government…?”
“An analysis of Romans 13: 1-7 is valuable in this discussion…. The first verse (says)… ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God….’ To be ‘subject’… means primarily… that one is in a position of subordination to the governing authorities….”
“An example of this subjection, though not one of obedience, can be found in the Book of Acts: ‘So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, <Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard>…. (Acts 4: 18-20) For them, there is a higher authority than that of the men who put them on trial…. I believe there is something important happening in this passage that must be pointed out. The apostles are not arguing that their incarceration is unjust…. They face the Jewish authorities and they subject their lives to them, yet they openly express that they are not willing to obey their orders…. We see a similar type of occurrence, to a more extreme measure, in the Old Testament with Daniel and his three friends…. Despite their disobedience to (K)ing Nebuchadnezzar, they remained subject to his authority and accepted their punishment, the consequences of their defiance.”
“The focus now turns to what Jesus’ life demonstrated for us in regards to this matter and how he acted in relationship to the foreigner/stranger. Let’s take a close look at the situation between Jesus and the woman from Samaria in John 4: 1-42… he was talking with a woman with the burden of a bad reputation. This is a burden that undocumented immigrants carry today because they have no ‘papers.’ Most of the time, (they’re) not given the opportunity to show that they, as we… see with the Samaritan woman, have value in the eyes of the Lord and could be a great gift to other believers and to their community.”
“Many in the church are of the understanding that we must care only for the widow and the fatherless…. James expresses very clearly what religion should look like, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’ (James 1: 27) If this is (all there is to) Christianity, (then) it makes sense that a big number of Christians do not see caring for the stranger or foreigner as God-ordained…. We cannot read Scripture as thousands of separate precepts… as if they each were separate from one another…. Throughout the Old Testament we see how God cares for the foreigner…. It is God’s desire that we not close the door in the face of those that are what Israel once was.”
“When they (Peter and John) faced the council they said that there were two authorities, one was God and the other was the council, but it was God’s call they were following. In the same way, presently in the U.S. we have two ruling authorities…. Sometimes when we are obedient to God’s will for our lives, we could end up in a situation in which we must face seemingly unfair treatment from earthly authorities, to whom we are called to be subject.”
At the end of the day, the church is not called to reenact within its own body the divisions of the cultural politic. Rather it is called to view the scriptural and historical struggles with this issue within the church, and then to act as logically and practically as we can – as the church.
When we consult together as a church, how shall we envision a future that includes these strangers and sojourners?