Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Arizona Law and the Church

The recent Arizona Law (SB1070) that makes it illegal for undocumented aliens to live in or travel through the state has caused significant reaction across the country. Entire cities have boycotted the state while others celebrate the proactive stance. While Christians might have social and political views that line up on one side versus the other, there is a larger question that must be asked:

What is the church's proper response to these kinds of social realities? Is it sufficient to simply pick a side and join in?

A friend of mine who is a Christian leader in Arizona advises the people he influences to use this situation as an opportunity to bring a new kind of leadership to the table. I think this is appropriate counsel. Rather than Christianize the political posturings of one side or another, a different kind of leadership is required--a leadership that is informed by Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced this in Germany at the beginning of World War II. He was horrified that the state church had submitted itself to Hitler's National Socialist agenda and called upon the "confessing" church to take a new stance of leadership. He insisted that, when the state acted unjustly, the church's role was to confront with state with its wrongdoing. If that did not end the oppression, then the church's next step was to shelter and protect the oppressed. If that failed, then the church had to act, albeit tragically, by shoving a spoke in the wheel of the state. In other words, take steps to stop the machinery of injustice. For Bonhoeffer, that resulted in his (as a pacifist!) joining the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

It would be a gigantic and inaccurate leap to equate Arizona's recent move with the Nazi terror of the last century, and that is not my intent. Instead, I would challenge us to think of a way that the church brings the leadership of God's kingdom to bear in an unjust world. Yes, illegal immigration has problematic social, economic, and legal results. But we do not begin with people as immigrants (or as any other imaginable label). We begin with them, as we do with all people, as co-humans made in the image of God. As such, we are called to bring a new kind of leadership in a broken, unjust world.

I would also add that the instigators of these laws are also co-humans made in the image of God. Redemptive leadership should reach into those places as well.

Is such leadership possible?


Tim said...

I will begin my comment by quoting Henri Nouwen at length.

Living in a World of Strangers

The first characteristic of the spiritual life is the continuing movement from loneliness to solitude. Its second equally important characteristic is the movement by which our hostilities can be converted into hospitality. It is there that our changing relationship to ourself can be brought to fruition in an ever-changing relationship to our fellow human beings. It is there that our reaching out to our innermost being can lead to a reaching out to the many strangers we meet on our way through life. In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Although many, we might even say most, strangers in this world become easily the victim of a fearful hostility, it is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings. The movement from hostility to hospitality is hard and full of difficulties. Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting and enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. But still—that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and experienced.

-Henri Nouwen from Reaching Out

I don't think I have any especially insightful contribution to finding a solution to the difficult issues surrounding immigration, but I am convinced that we must think creatively and with God's kingdom in mind rather than baptize either side with a an argument based only on a few Bible verses.
Could it be that our perspective on this issue should be shaped more by the contours of the kingdom of God than the borders of our nation-state?

Mike McNichols said...

Well said, Tim. Thanks.