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Matthew Schmitz: Immigration Idealism: A Case for Christian Realism

Yet in my pastoral and educational journey I began to get to know some immigrants in a personal sense. A significant number of immigrants from south of the US border are Pentecostal Christian. I was impressed (and blessed) when I met these sisters and brothers in our churches and schools. Eventually, I traveled to Central and South America, mostly preaching and teaching but with some humanitarian efforts. I became much more aware of the deplorable conditions which drive immigration from that part of the world. It became increasingly difficult to be impartial and objective. However, I didn’t change my mind. I still believe sovereign nations have a divine right, and a responsibility, to secure their borders for the wellbeing of their own citizenry (Ex 23:31; Ps 147:15). As shocking as it may be to liberal idealists, it is quite possible that national borders may in some sense continue eschatologically as well (Isa 60:18). Yet the Lord of Israel will be magnified beyond Israel’s borders (Mal 1:5). And beyond America’s borders too. After all, Jesus traveled along both sides of the borders of his day (Luke 17:11). Biblically speaking, national borders are recognized and respected; they are not regarded as ultimate.

I particularly appreciate Schmitz’s compatible juxtaposition of Protestant ethical and social theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s realism and Catholic natural theologian Thomas Aquinas’s political theory.

Here’s how, in amicable conversation with Schmitz, I navigate the ethical and theological maze of immigration. First, I totally agree that heavenly citizenship and earthly citizenship be held together in careful relationship. The former does not entail the dissolution of the latter. Neither does the latter usurp the priority of the former. Yet it is not simply an equalizing balancing act. The reign of God is determinative in setting the direction of authentic Christian citizenship. Accordingly, Christian citizenship avoids idolatrous nationalism while embracing energetic patriotism. Significantly, Christian citizenship tends toward inclusion and universalization without diminishing distinctions of ethnic or national identity and responsibility (Rev 7:9).

What does a theology of Christian citizenship mean in terms of policy and practice? It is not enough to be committed to secure borders. At least equal commitment to reforming outdated and sometimes unjust and inhumane immigration laws is necessary as well. Christian citizenship must not become an either/or equation.

Second, like Matthew Schmitz I largely resonate with a political theology of Christian realism in the tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr. I am constantly reminding myself of two sides to Christian realism. On the one hand, are its concessions. Christian anthropology teaches that human beings are fallen, sinful creatures. Crime and violence do occur. Realists approach the world as it, not as they wish it were. On the other hand, are its aspirations. Progress—be it ever so incremental—is possible. Christian soteriology teaches that Christ redeems and transforms. Christian realists may never forget realism’s concessions but their focus must always be on its aspirations. Being salt and light (Matt 5:13-16) does not jell well with the status quo; in this specific sense, Christian ethical and social theology is genuinely progressive.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2019

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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