With tens of thousands of children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in what Pope Francis has called a humanitarian emergency, illegal immigration has become a more divisive topic than ever, even within Christian churches.
Several new books from Christian publishers tackle the issue, including Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (IVP, July) by Dale Hanson Bourke, president of PDI, a marketing and communications strategy firm, and the previous president of the CIDRZ Foundation (a NGO in Zambia focused on health care), and senior v-p at World Relief.
“I write as an ordinary Christian trying to make sense of difficult topics,” says Bourke, the author, in her Skeptics Guide series for IVP, of several books that seek to explain current issues and place them in context. “My book is not meant to advocate or to even suggest what the ‘Christian’ position is on immigration,” she says. “I recognize that Christians disagree on this and other topics, but what I hope we can do is speak respectfully to one another and learn to listen to each other.”
“Every country struggles to decide who belongs and who doesn’t,” Bourke adds. “I hope and pray that we can raise the dialogue about immigration to a higher level and talk about what we, as Americans, value. Our history of immigration laws has often been aimed at groups of people we want to exclude. We need to think about who we want to be as Americans and what we embrace.”
Deirdre Cornell’s Jesus Was a Migrant (Orbis, April) addresses the subject from a biblical and Catholic perspective. Cornell (A Priceless View; American Madonna) lived in Mexico for three years as a Maryknoll lay missioner and has worked with migrants in upstate New York for many years. She offers her personal experiences as a way of explaining what being a migrant means—and what the compassionate response should be. “Human mobility certainly entails sacrifice,” she writes. “Migration has caused—and been caused by—tremendous suffering. But it has also served as a source of great blessing.”
In January, Brazos Press released Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R., an updated and revised edition of the 2008 book that also encourages readers to think biblically about the immigration issue. Being both a Guatemalan and an American, the author (Theory and Practice in Old Testament Ethics), a professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colo., empathizes with both sides of the struggle, challenging each to learn more about each other.
In Bishops on the Border: Pastoral Responses to Immigration (Morehouse)—published last year but more timely than ever--editor Kirk Smith, himself the Fifth Episcopal Bishop of Arizona, compiles first-person narratives on immigration from an ecumenical group of bishops (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Methodist) who are based along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bishops work together to address theological and pastoral concerns, most specifically with immigration issues in Arizona, and offer prayers for all those affected.
With the U.S. still reeling from years of recession—and many Americans still out of work and struggling--immigration will remain a hotly argued topic. While not offering confident solutions to handling the influx of migrants to the U.S., these books try to explain both perspectives, in the hope that people will listen to each other compassionately and try to deal with a difficult situation with care and dignity.
Says Bourke, “My grandparents came to a country that was unlike any other on earth—a place where they could be free of persecution and could make a better life for themselves and their children. If we still hold to those ideals, what does it mean about how we set our immigration standards for the future?”