Everybody likes simple answers to complex issues. If our highly polemicized society reinforces one thing over and over again, it is that the answers we favor are right, and those who disagree with us are at best misinformed or stupid, but at worst are evil or fanatical or fundamentalist. When we are feeling magnanimous we can pity those who disagree with what is obviously a truly simple and straightforward solution that we can see clearly. When we are less magnanimous (which is more and more of the time), those who disagree with us can be tolerated only long enough to solidify our position before we rout them thoroughly.
But, it may be argued, isn’t a complex issue made so by the fact that there are no simple answers? That whatever answers we may find could very well require a bit of this and a bit of that from both sides? Is there yet room for intellectual dissent without the character-maligning that more often than not accompanies it these days? To ironically quote a truly ironic figure, can’t we all just get along?
Lutheranism has a lot to contribute to this point of view, though one might not always guess it from the tone of our internal disagreements. So it is that the CTCR (Commission on Theology and Church Relation) explains the official stance of the LCMS in its latest release; Immigrants Among Us, (available for free download here: http://www.lcms.org/ctcr). This document may appeal to very few people with strong opinions on this topic, despite being a desperately needed summons back to our theological roots. If you want something that demonstrates the ease with which everyone should agree with your point of view on the topic of immigration issues, this isn’t going to give it to you. What it will give you instead (if you allow it to) is a reminder of core aspects of Lutheran theology such as vocation and “Two Kingdoms” thinking.
By now there are few areas of the country where the topic of immigration is viewed as irrelevant. As such, Lutheran congregations may well find that this topic is a source of division among members (whether the pastor realizes this or not). More specifically, there are few congregations that can safely say that they don’t need to consider the issue of how they interact with immigrants – whether legal or illegal, documented or undocumented.
Here the Lutheran teaching on vocation is helpful. Congregants have many possible vocational roles in society and in their personal life – spouse, child, sibling, parent, employer, employee, citizen – the list goes on. How does a Christian reconcile themselves to immigration issues? How do they perform their vocations faithfully – and what if two or more vocational roles seem to be in conflict regarding the issue of immigration? Is there a way to sort through the confusion personally and corporately to arrive at a faithful stance?
This document strongly suggests there should be, but pointedly avoids indicating what that might look like. After all, congregations and their situations vary considerably.
Or consider Lutheran theology regarding the Two Kingdoms – the left-hand kingdom of the political world and the right-hand kingdom of the Church of Christ. How does a Christian – who resides within these two kingdoms – reach a faithful response towards immigrants and/or immigration issues? Again, this pamphlet strongly indicates that this is possible, while also recognizing that the solution reached in one place or by one person may look strikingly different from the solution reached elsewhere or by someone else (even within the same congregation).
This document is helpful not only in reviewing Lutheran theology, but in calling on Lutherans to intelligently engage themselves in this complex issue in love and fellowship with other Lutherans who may reach different conclusions. It is a reminder that both/and is often times a more Scriptural response than either/or. It is a reminder that loving our neighbor means not just caring for the needs of the marginalized among us, but respecting and loving our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with our particular solution to or stance on immigration issues.
Particularly helpful in this document are the case studies included at the end. Eight case studies cover a variety of different situations in an effort to further stimulate thinking and practical application of the concepts the document reviews. Doing so pushes the reader to recognize the complexity of immigration issues, and hopefully as such drives them towards more loving attitudes towards those who disagree with them on this topic.
The document does a fairly good job of maintaining a neutral stance between Scriptural admonitions to love our neighbor and Romans 13 admonitions to obey our civil authorities. I detect a preference towards more mercy-oriented responses to our neighbors, but the document does demonstrate how someone committed to the letter of the law needs to be taken seriously in discussion rather than dismissed as somehow unChristian.