On Friday an illegal immigrant who had lived inside a United Methodist “sanctuary” church in Durham, North Carolina for one year was arrested at a federal facility where he sought reprieve. The church’s pastor and a crowd from the church among others tried to obstruct the arrest. These demonstrators blocked the van with federal agents and their arrestee for several hours until local police arrested over two dozen including the pastor.
Seemingly the church demonstrators even deflated the tire of the federal agents. Here’s video.
Should a pastor and church physically obstruct federal officers from implementing the law? They of course would insist the law is unjust. But to what extent should clergy and churches physically defy even unjust laws? Pro life Christians believe abortion is destroying human life, morally far worse than any immigrant deportation, yet typically don’t physically obstruct abortion clinics. Should they? What other laws merit physical obstruction?
In general, Christianity has taught compliance with the law, knowing the evils of anarchy, and preferring long term exertions to change unjust laws. The North Carolina Poor Peoples Campaign, headed by activist Disciples of Christ clergy Rev. Bill Barber, in rallying to this detained immigrant’s cause, promised: “We will stand against the evil of snatching up people and separating families.”
The implication is that “snatching up” anyone present illegally is immoral. In its Book of Resolutions the United Methodist Church opposes enforcement of any U.S. immigration law. Much of Christian immigration advocacy explicitly or implicitly asserts that living in the U.S. and receiving all benefits of citizenship is a right for anyone who so desires. By definition, from this perspective, border restrictions, fences, and detentions are intrinsically immoral and at odds with Christian compassion.
Such a sweeping utopian view is unsustainable and is not supported by traditional Christian political theology, which understands the political limits of the City of Man. Governments provide order. They don’t consummate God’s Kingdom. Expectations that they should can be destructive and ungodly. The church activists blocking federal agents in Durham think government by enforcing immigration law has become oppressive. But a state sufficiently large and powerful to offer endless hospitality to all will in the end become far more oppressive.
Christian immigration advocacy often sacralizes immigration, likening immigrants to holy sojourners in the Bible, including the Holy Family during their escape to Egypt. But immigrants are just fellow sinners like the rest of us. They shouldn’t be demonized or glamorized. As for us all, they should be expected to respect the law. Federal officials enforcing the law honestly should be respected for their vocation. The United Methodist demonstrators in Durham might consider that deflating tires of federal vans may not be respectful.
This activist Durham church in in their advocacy recited “The Immigrants Creed,” which is an adaptation of the Apostles Creed:
This “creed” strikes me as the sacralization of a political cause. The Apostles Creed affirms faith in God and His work in Christ. This declaration in contrast steers faith towards a contemporary political objective. Some political causes are righteous but none merit our faith or the crafting of transcendent binding creeds.