OUR GOD IS UNDOCUMENTED by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell
The number of books being published that encourage a positive stance toward immigrants, especially the undocumented, is growing. These usually combine biblical and theological reflection with personal stories of immigrants. The former serves to establish the mandate for Christian involvement; the latter give the issue a human face. Our God Is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice (Orbis Books, 2012) is a good example of that genre, and it is written by two men who have long experience in human rights advocacy in California and south of the border. Theirs is a powerful appeal to rethink Christian discipleship, the person of God, and Jesus’ ministry in the light of biblical teaching and immigrant realities.
Ched Myers, who works with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and calls himself a “social justice theologian,” authored the biblical chapters in this book. Matthew Colwell, a Presbyterian pastor in Pasadena, wrote the accounts of significant players within the immigration reform arena. The book alternates chapters of biblical reflections with chapters describing the courageous and selfless commitments of activists from whom the authors have learned. This structure and personal touch keep the reader’s interest throughout, and both authors write well. The final chapter, in which Myers talks about his Mexican roots, is followed by two appendices. One articulates the goals of the reform of immigration legislation; the other provides guidelines for uncovering the ethnic, immigrant narratives of one’s own family.
“The question … is not whether Christians should be involved in immigrant solidarity, but rather how and why.”
– Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell
Unlike many books of this type, the engagement with the biblical text is substantive. Instead of simply citing briefly the usual few passages commonly used to validate God’s concern for immigrants (e.g., Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:31-46) before moving on to the stories, Myers offers extensive discussions of “powerful texts from each Testament that are rarely considered in the immigration debate.” In the introduction he deals with Ephesians 2 and its call to eliminate the walls of division. Later chapters interpret Genesis 11 and Acts 2 as celebrating the power of diversity, give a biblical rationale for radical hospitality, appeal to Isaiah and Luke to explain Jesus’ vision of inclusion, connect Mark 4-8 with the imperative to have communion with those who are different, and highlight the refugee realities of the narratives of Jesus’ birth and the flight to Egypt. There are stimulating and creative insights to glean from these chapters, and Myers has obviously thought deeply about these matters in real-life contexts.
There is much to commend in this book, but some features will limit its readership. I mention three. First, the authors constantly return to the decades of the ’70s and ’80s to connect present immigration reform to earlier protests against the wars in Central America. I wonder how many who work for reform today would make that link, however valid it might be at points. Second, some of Myers’ critical stances concerning the biblical text may alienate some. In the field of biblical research, several of these positions are contested and even discredited. On the ecclesiastical side, I fear that these views will unnecessarily turn some people off, because they run counter to the convictions of many in the pew.
Third, in several places the authors tie immigration reform to support for gay and lesbian rights. This is common among progressive immigrant activist groups, but it does not represent all within the broader movement. Also, although Myers and Colwell say that they “do not pretend to speak ‘for’ immigrants—only to stand with them,” at this point they interject an agenda that most of the Hispanic community, which is overwhelmingly traditional in their views of marriage and family, would not accept.
Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Brazos, 2nd edition, 2014) and is the national spokesperson on immigration for the NHCLC (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference).