DACA Dreamers

Bible, Politics & DACA

on September 6, 2017

Many religious groups and voices are fiercely denouncing the announced rescission of DACA, scheduled for six months hence. Ostensibly hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought to the USA as minors and given semi-legal standing in 2012 would begin to live in danger of potential deportation after their permits expire. Such permits, which last two years, can still be renewed over the next six months. Meanwhile, there could be congressional legislation addressing these “dreamers,” or the administration could in six months postpone, amend or cancel the recension of DACA.

That any significant number of the dreamers, ahead of millions of other illegal immigrants, will ever face serious threat of deportation seems unlikely. It’s understandable that religious groups are eager to show solidarity with young adults not responsible for their parents’ violation of immigration law. But the often shrill religious rhetoric on DACA is not helpful to the debate. Nor do its calamitous prophecies demonstrate a judicious Christian political witness anxious to seek the common good through a balanced and lawful society sustained by social consensus.

Particularly of concern are claims that the Bible offers definitive guidance on this policy issue. There should always be great caution in claiming direct biblical commands for political specifics. Evangelicals, who historically emphasize Scripture alone as authority, are especially prone to this rhetoric of “biblical” policy goals. Official Catholic bodies are much more experienced in explaining policy positions as developed through an historical process of church teaching, often informed by both Scripture and natural law. Political policy statements from Catholic bishops are not typically doctrinally binding on church members, except when addressing moral issues central to the church such as abortion, marriage and euthanasia.

Protestants and Evangelicals, especially if outside large historic denominations, usually lack any semblance of a systematic corporate process for developing Christian political witness in the church’s name. So there’s the tendency to claim that a set of Bible verses points specifically to particular political objectives. There’s no reason Protestants and Evangelicals must think and act this way. They have not only their own 500 year tradition but, as believers in the church universal, also access to earlier church insights and to contemporary Catholic insights. Most Protestant traditions also affirm natural law. They should understand that the Bible authoritatively offers the path to salvation and holiness for all who heed its message but it does not by itself offer a systematic description of government and its detailed responsibilities.

The New Testament broadly commends the rightful authority of legitimate rulers and their vocation for force in defense of justice. The Old Testament describes the holy standards governing the ancient Hebrew theocracy. Nearly every Christian tradition rejects the civil punishments of ancient Israel as binding. And usually most of ancient Israel’s laws for governance are seen as models in their aspirations for justice, but not binding in their details. Few if any major church traditions call for theocracy modeled on the Old Testament.

So it is facile to claim, as is routine for many religious activists, that divine commands to Israel about caring for the poor or sojourners directly mandate specific welfare or immigration policies for any nation state of today. Activists on these causes instead need actually to provide arguments and evidence for their perspectives. They also need modestly to accept the need for compromise in a consensual modern society not governed by kings and prophets with access to direct divine inspiration.

One prominent and justifiably admired evangelical pastor in the DACA debate has tweeted: “It’s an odd thing…watching Bible believers actually set the Bible aside as insufficient in order to cling to fallible human laws.” And: “I actually think the Bible is enough for us even when it comes to thinking through matters it’s not explicit about.” And: “One wonders if we revere our Bibles more or the framing documents more. Some talk with more passion about Constitution than scripture.”

These assumptions are shortsighted and dangerous to assert the Bible by itself claims specific authority in a political debate over important but prudential issues. This attitude precludes compromise and effectively demonizes any opposition. He also tweeted: “When the Bible says LOVE the sojourner/foreigner and treat them justly, we should be able to reach some conclusions easily.”

But in fact, most political conclusions for Christians cannot and should not be reached “easily.” Instead they should be reached in most cases modestly, admitting we cannot claim complete divine sanction for our political preferences. Love and justice are indisputably always goals. But we as fallen creatures, even at our best, are flawed in our pursuit of both.

Ideally Christians strive and pray to discern the divine will while thoughtfully proposing their arguments for consideration by others, winning them by persuasion, not by presumptuous claims of heavenly mandate.

  1. Comment by Geoffrey on September 6, 2017 at 9:20 am

    This prophetic call to complacency is moving and resonates with so many Torah and Jewish values. Oh, wait, you didn’t cite one. The solutions may be political, but the values at stake are Jewish, and you’ve offered not one shred of evidence that Jews should think otherwise. Impressive.

  2. Comment by René on September 9, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I disagree with this article which unfortunately does not base its argument on any biblical, theological or traditionally Christian documents, but more on nationalist point of view. I’m disappointed that this organization has decided to take this stand.

  3. Comment by Ted R. Weiland on September 9, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Rescinding DACA should only be the beginning.

    Unlawful immigrants often include both illegal and legal immigrants. The problem is, most Americans do not know the difference between what’s illegal and what’s unlawful. What man makes legal is often nonetheless unlawful.

    For more, listen to audio series “Immigrants: Lawful, Legal, and Illegal, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” beginning at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/tapelist.html#T1006.

    See also blog article “Right, Left, and Center: Who Gets to Decide?” at http://www.constitutionmythbusters.org/right-left-and-center-who-gets-to-decide/.

  4. Comment by Ted R. Weiland on September 9, 2017 at 10:42 am

    .This is good news but it’s only the beginning of what needs to be done.

    Unlawful immigrants often include both illegal and legal immigrants. The problem is, most Americans do not know the difference between what’s illegal and what’s unlawful. What man makes legal is often nonetheless unlawful.

    For more, listen to audio series “Immigrants: Lawful, Legal, and Illegal, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” beginning at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/tapelist.html#T1006.

    See also our blog article “Right, Left, and Center: Who Gets to Decide?”

  5. Comment by EdKe on September 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

    I read your article and saw it as typical Methodist tome trying to bring in all sides and through the pile of mish mash, make sense. When I finished the article I felt … what did he say and why? For example, I’m tired of the term ‘modern’ being related to ‘current’. Why don’t we just refer to culture as the ‘current, culture. Nothing modern about it. Frankly, the use of the term modern (modernism) has caused many problems in Methodism.

  6. Comment by Sandy James on September 13, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    Native Americans are the ONLY non-immigrants living in the United States. Mexican Americans occupied California, Texas, and New Mexico before all the whites took over. I’d much rather be in the company of Mexican people over Trump trash and his white supremacist goons. Whites and blacks were brought here by someone else. Trump, please take your immigrant wife and go back to Germany. Interesting that you’re German just like that other dictator Hitler.

  7. Comment by Salvatore A. Luiso on September 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Regarding the statement: “Such permits, which last two years, can still be renewed over the next six months.”

    I think that you may be referring to the work permits of DACA participants. Not all participants have a work permit–some, for example, are students.

    Earlier this week Slate published an article by Mark Joseph Stern entitled “The Slow Death of DACA Will Be a Rolling Catastrophe That Trump Can’t Escape “. It says: “Current beneficiaries whose status expires between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 must apply for a renewal by October 5, 2017. “

  8. Comment by Myron Heavin on September 9, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I was taught in a seminary preaching class that if you preach a sermon without adequately thinking through what the point of scripture was, your sermon will be perceived by the worshippers as muddled. Same is true of the above article – you read it and wonder what the point is.
    The larger confusing issue is the increasingly realization that our nation seems to be abandoning churches/ Christianity, and our democracy has has elected officials that pay lip service to Christianity while having hearts filled with hate, while Christians spend far more time listening to hate speech than pastors or reading the Bible. I suggest church leaders are about 10 -20 years behind where USA culture really is at as USA political parties have mostly already abandoned Him – but using His name because it is politically useful to them.
    Of course Jesus words speak to all cultures, and inform us about how we believe today. Did not Jesus say, “bring the children unto me, for if such are the kingdom of God?” Is not the Hebrew Scriptures inspired for our instruction today?

  9. Comment by Rebecca on September 9, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    It is interesting how Christians reinterpret the Bible depending on the times and especially outside influences. We’re dealing with purposeful mass movements of peoples from one territory into another. The people already in a certain territory are expected to be fine with the others moving in although the welcoming people would not be welcome if things were reversed.

  10. Comment by Roy I Sano, Bishop, UMC on September 9, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Did I miss the reference to the treatment of “strangers in your midst” in Hebrew Scripture referring generally to cultural and ethnic differences?

  11. Comment by Janis on September 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Odd that very little discussion centers around issues of poor leadership in Congress, which is unable to forge legislation on this issue. It’s basically a systemic problem, caused by many factors, and calling for “grown-up” leaders to address. This article, like many approaches, overlooks that aspect of such a large, dysfunctional system. The question remains: what is our response, as Christians, to a complex and painful aspect of American life?

  12. Comment by Guillermo Yoshikawa on December 21, 2017 at 4:48 am

    I am a lay Methodist from Peru, I have lived and taught in Japan and I have lived in the USA, there is a great historical and cultural difference in these two countries. One is pagan and racially and culturally homogenous, another began with a group of migrants in search of religious freedom.
    Without being a theologian I can understand that the difference in political terms should be evident in relation to the underage immigrants who have grown up in the USA and have no idea about the culture of their countries of origin. I believe that without much theological elaboration we can understand that these young people should have greater stability and consider that because of their access to education they will not be a burden on American society but they will contribute for good.
    We have always heard that the USA is the champion of democracy and justice, so much so that it wants to export its model to other cultures and countries, with greater reason should exercise them in their own territory.
    May the Lord bless the United Methodist Church in the USA.

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