CHRISTIANS AT THE BORDER by M. Daniel Carroll R.
Hispanic immigration is, variously, an ambivalent event, an engulfing wave, or an opportunity—depending on the perspective that one brings to an analysis of the situation. Immigration to the United States encompasses nearly every country and people group on the face of the planet, contributing to the census of both legal and illegal immigrants. It is one of the many points of historical demarcation in the history of the country: The original Puritan settlers who came in pursuit of religious freedom, West Africans brought as captured slave workers, Asians who labored under intense prejudice—all have struggled to find their place in the patchwork of the American cultural experiment. The movement of people into a society, bringing their cultural freight with them, has always been and always will be challenging.
Hispanic immigration crossing the southern border is the locus around which M. Daniel Carroll R. builds his argument in Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Brazos Press/2nd edition, 2014). Carroll's objective with this brief book is two-fold: to focus the hermeneutic through which we analyze and argue immigration policy and to establish a foundation on which possible solutions can be launched. On both counts he is successful.
Born to a Guatemalan mother and an American father, Daniel Carroll writes with the unique perspective of one who has known the tension of living biculturally in both North American and Latin-American cultures. His childhood was split between Texas and Guatemala, endowing him with an appreciation for the richness of both societies and the culture that underlies each. The short biography is included to establish Carroll's perspective as unprejudiced toward the superiority of one or the other.
Carroll's objective throughout the course of the book is to attune us to our own bicultural nature and to move the reader toward a view of immigration that utilizes both of these perspectives. He does so by first confronting what American-ness is in light of the history of mass movements into the United States throughout her history. Culturally based arguments can often be found to be rooted in ideologies to which many have not applied any measure of critical thought. If Hispanic immigration is indeed a threat to the American culture and way of life, in what fashion does this immigrant group affect the culture in ways that other mass immigrant groups did not? Carroll cautiously suggests that careful criticism will demonstrate the threat may be more hyperbole than fact.
The second cultural perspective that the book calls readers to consider is their Christian-ness. Carroll emphasizes this as the more important of the two, and asks us to consider the immigration issue through the lens of Christianity and to process the facts and possible solutions through our calling as disciples. When this light is used to illuminate the issues, we see the immigrant not solely in terms of their behaviors but as human beings created in God's image, people for whom the Lord died and who he unquestionably loves.
Addressing immigration as biblically informed Christians requires a substantial foray into the scriptures, and this volume does an excellent job of guiding readers through the Old and New testaments. The texts are not examined chronologically but rather systematically, as though Carroll were in the early stages of developing a theology of human migration. He catalogs immigrations of people in the Bible and demonstrates the wide variety of reasons given for people to flee their homeland in search of sustenance, safety, or serenity. Readers are not left to their own conclusions as Carroll develops the application of these themes to modern-day immigrants and the issues which can cause them to seek a new country of residence.
An intriguing meme develops as Carroll exegetes OT movements of people throughout the historical holy lands. When we read these accounts in the Bible we generally interpret them through a theological understanding of the entire book. In other words, we see the providential hand of God involved in these migrations and each as an outworking of his purpose in making God's truth known. Emphasizing the number of Christians that make up Hispanic immigrants, Carroll develops the proposition, "Is God bringing millions of Hispanics to the United States to revitalize the Christian churches here and to present to those who do not yet believe the opportunity to turn to Christ in their search for a new life?"
The book does not ignore the New Testament, focusing on Jesus and his interactions with outsiders as a model for our own interpersonal behaviors. It offers as evidence Christ's interaction and reflection on the Samaritans, posed here as a despised people group speaking to the way we interact with the Hispanic people group (as they are seen as a threat to American culture). Carroll reserves the discussion of Romans 13 until the end of the book, sadly giving it an unsatisfactory treatment that has the patina of moral equivalency. True to his stated objective, Daniel Carroll has done a fine job of describing a hermeneutic by which the Christian can analyze the issues surrounding mass immigration. At the core of the Christian view is to see the immigrant as fully human and to work outward from that center rather than accepting that as merely an adjunct fact in the argument.
Two problems in the book serve to diminish the power of this message. Carroll's language is cautious but freighted with advocacy highlights that scold readers who may hold to a counter position. He also minimizes the fact that, by and large, Americans are not troubled by Hispanic immigration per se. They are troubled by the immigrant who knowingly crosses the southern border illegally, taking up residence and contravening the legislative limits that US citizens have enacted. Carroll minimizes this fact throughout the text which will cause some readers to approach his work with a suspicious eye towards his neutrality. And that would be their loss, for there is much that is valuable here.
Warren Rachele is a pastor in rural Idaho shepherding a worship community devoted to seeking the peace for all people.