Book by local religion prof says: Jesus died for immigrants, too

M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas), in his fourth book, “Christians at the Border,” asks: What would Jesus do about Hispanic immigration? 

“For Christians there is an additional border. It is a metaphorical decision point. We must determine whether the place we choose to stand in the national debate will be based on the Word of God or whether we will ignore its teaching and defend our opinion on other grounds. This border, in other words, confronts us as a crossroads of faith and conviction.”

Carroll, a professor of the Old Testament at Denver Seminary, argues that the faithful should look through a biblical lens, which emphasizes compassion and hospitality, when approaching the complex immigration debate.

Although he does not offer policy solutions, Carroll does dig into one of the central questions his text seeks to ask and answer: What does the Bible say about immigration?

Carroll, who grew up in a bilingual and bi-cultural family with a Guatemalan mother and American father, bluntly reminds his readers that the debate around immigration policy may involve headline-grabbing issues such as homeland security and the U.S. economy, but that Christians in biblical times and now have an obligation to remember how immigrants are all the children of God.

“Immigrants are made in the image of God … The image of God should lead to an appreciation of the worth and potential of Hispanics, both as a group and as individuals,” Carroll writes.

The author gets off to a slow start, reviewing the current debate surrounding U.S. immigration policy as well as the history of immigration in America. Although he doesn’t focus on Colorado’s immigration woes, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo rears his loud head more than once, and the state is frequently mentioned as home to many burgeoning Hispanic congregations and as ground zero for the immigration debate with headline-catching incidents such as the Raul Gomez Garcia shooting of two Denver police officers and subsequent escape to Mexico and the 2006 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on the Swift meatpacking plant in Greeley, which resulted in the deportation of as many as 100 illegal immigrant workers.

Carroll, the author of texts exploring the Book of Amos, neatly divides his newest book between what the Old and New Testaments have to say about immigration.

The New Testament section portrays Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a strange land and “the migration of this family locates the Jesus story within a movement that spans history, of people desiring a better life or escaping the threat of death,” Carroll writes.

Carroll points to numerous Old Testament accounts of “sojourners” traveling into strange lands in an effort to survive or improve their lives. At times his writing becomes esoteric, but he always returns to strong examples that non-theologians will understand, such as Jesus’ travels, hardships and the help the son of God received from strangers along the way.

Carroll also selects biblical passages about immigrants’ plights that are especially relevant today, like the hard conditions the Israelites endured after they fled to Egypt:

“The empire needed those foreigners to complete their construction projects and to work their fields to feed its populace.”

Such examples may convince readers that the Bible does have a lot to say about immigration that can be applied to the current debate.

While “Christians at the Border” is sometimes a dense and cumbersome read, overflowing with biblical characters and their respective good or bad deeds, Carroll’s tome offers a well-researched, fresh perspective on the immigration debate. And he’s not opposed to directly challenging his audience to pick up where he leaves off by considering the possibility that God is bringing millions of devout immigrants to the U.S. as part of a plan to reinvigorate the country’s Christian faith.

“Could what we are witnessing in this country be part of a divinely directed global phenomenon?”

But Carroll’s message is clear: Love thy neighbor.

As he quotes from the Old Testament:

“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself, for you [the Israelites] were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

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J.C. O'Connell

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