Excerpted From: Jonathan C. Augustine, And Who Is My Neighbor?: A Faith-based Argument for Immigration Policy Reform in Welcoming Undocumented Refugees, 66 Howard Law Journal 439 (Spring, 2023) (150 Footnotes) (Full Document)

JonathanCAugustine.jpegFor evangelicals, domestic and foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. Christian nationalism--the belief that is God's chosen nation and must be defended as such--serves as a powerful predictor of intolerance toward immigrants, racial minorities, and non-Christians.

I am both a law professor and an ordained Christian minister. I studied law and had the benefit of both seminary education and subsequent doctoral study. The consequence of my bi-vocational callings and service, to both legal education institutions and the Christian church, is that I see immigration and the United States' failure to enact meaningful immigration reform laws at a time when they are most certainly needed, through both a legal and faith-based lens. That dual perspective is exactly why this Essay calls out America's “otherism,” and challenges readers to introspectively pose the question, “And Who is My Neighbor?”

Although I do not embrace the myth that America is a “Christian nation,” I do believe Scripture should be a moral guide for Christianity's faith adherents in America. As Glenn H. Utter writes in Mainline Christians and U.S. Public Policy, “Christian denominations express an openness to the immigration of people from other countries and a willingness to help them succeed in the United States. In justifying a humane immigration policy, members note a fundamental Christian value that strangers be made welcome. They cite scripture in support of this position.” Oddly enough, however, because of the reluctance of so many American pastors to be “political,” many evangelical Christians only see immigration as a political, social or cultural issue, and have not considered the Bible's teachings on the subject as part of their faith journey. This Essay challenges readers to adopt perspectives on immigration that are consistent with Scripture while simultaneously encouraging faith adherents to engage in civil disobedience or divine obedience when the “laws of the land” conflict with the “laws of God.”

With a nod toward Jesus's interaction with a fellow Jew, a lawyer, and one of the Bible's most popular discourse's deliberate ambiguity as to the definition of a “neighbor,” this Essay applies lessons from the Parable of the (Good) Samaritan to argue that its American readers should be guided by Jesus's teachings and reject the otherism that has become so widespread in America, especially since the emergence of the “Make America Great Again” (“MAGA”) political narrative, and the resurgence of Christian nationalism, specifically, white Christian nationalism. Indeed, this Essay's central thesis is that Christian nationalism's xenophobic otherism must be combatted with a faith-based theology of welcome, not open borders, that sees immigrants, in general, and refugees, in particular, as fellow human beings who are worthy of humane treatment.

A. The Parable of the Good Samaritan and this Essay's Focal Question

In the popular parable, a lawyer--likely a pharisaic theologian who was well-schooled in Mosaic law, also known as the Torah--tries to trick Jesus with a question about how he would go about inheriting eternal life. While deliberately not directly answering the lawyer's question, Jesus tells him about three passersby who meet a man left for dead on the side of the road. Two of the passersby, a priest and a Levite, are both Jewish, just as is presumed about the wounded man in desperate need of assistance. They each go to the other side of the road to avoid any contact with their fellow wounded Jew. The third passerby, however, a Samaritan--someone of a different race and/or ethnicity--is moved to action.

Considering the well-known differences between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus was obviously trying to prove a point about moving past otherism and unconscious bias and embracing an ethic of empathy. With this famous parabolic discourse, Jesus also recontextualizes what it means to be a “neighbor” to someone in need. Consider the following:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. 'Teacher,’ he said, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, 'What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, 'You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But, a Samaritan, while traveling, came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.’

Rather than directly responding to the lawyer's question, Jesus creates a space for introspective reflection on the duty people of faith have in responding to those in need. Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed this parable while speaking the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, noting that although the priest and the Levite asked the question, “If I stop and help this man, what will happen to me?”, the Samaritan appropriately reversed the question, “If I do not stop and help this man, what will happen to him?”

As the Howard Law Journal 2022 Wiley A. Branton Symposium illustrates, so many immigrants are in the same position as the nameless man, “left for dead,” in that they desperately need assistance, too. Moreover, because of the parable's background--the cultural and ethnic differences that existed between Jews and Samaritans--Jesus is also giving a lesson on human commonality and the necessity that we move past social constructs, like race, to help one another, as fellow members of the human race. As an action item, therefore, this Essay also urges readers to contact their respective congressional representatives and demand that Congress exercise its plenary authority to enact meaningful immigration reform laws that are guided by a spirit of welcome for both documented and undocumented refugees, people in American communities who are already living as our “neighbors.”

B. This Essay's Structural Organization

To support this Essay's thesis, that the xenophobia of Christian nationalism must be combatted with a faith-based ethic of welcome and resistance, this Essay structurally proceeds in five parts. In building upon the foundation established in this Introduction, Part II contextualizes the xenophobic ideology of Christian nationalism by first looking at its most popular recent example, the January 6th insurrection, an illustration of how Christian nationalism attempts to preserve the status quo in America, with white Protestantism at its core. Further, with fear as a focal point, Part II also looks at America's practice of (un)welcome, in how immigrants have been treated in recent years, partially because of economic fears and the MAGA narrative's race-based politics.

In building upon Part II's contextualization of white Christian nationalism, Part III pivots to explore examples of the practice of welcome evidenced in Scripture, with Jesus as the ultimate example of an immigrant refugee. Part IV transitions from a scriptural to historical perspective, providing a high-level overview of America's legal history in immigration, while also highlighting the racial and ethnic discrimination that has always existed within the American immigration system, to emphasize that only Congress can enact meaningful reform laws in response to America's dire need for the same. Part V serves as a synthesis by revisiting Jesus's lesson, in response to the lawyer's question, “Who is my neighbor?” by encouraging all to welcome those refugees already living in America, while also urging readers to contact their congressional representatives to demand that Congress act.

[. . .]

The rise of xenophobic Christian nationalism in the United States, unquestionably embedded in the country's history and obviously exasperated by the Make America Great Again political narrative, has reinforced a culture of “us vs. them.” The “us,” or the “in crowd,” has largely been white and Protestants. The “them,” however--the proverbial Other--is comprised of minorities, Jews, and immigrants, the focus of this Essay.

By inviting readers to introspectively ask themselves the parabolic question, “And who is my neighbor?”, I have expressly shared that, while rejecting the myth that America is a “Christian nation,” I do embrace Christian teachings that foster human flourishing and create a space of welcomeness for immigrant refugees who are already living in America, as “neighbors,” while paying taxes and contributing to the American economy. Indeed, the position of Catholic Social Teaching embraces a penchant for the poor, and those likely be to the most necessitous state, just like the unnamed and unidentified (presumably Jewish) man who received help from the good Samaritan.

I hope we will all answer the parabolic question by recognizing that, although all of humanity is our neighbor, for the purpose of a palatable action item, we should call on members of Congress to enact meaningful immigration reform legislation designed to offer pathways to citizenship for the many refugee neighbors who are already living in our neighborhoods.

Senior Pastor, St. Joseph AME Church (Durham, NC); General Chaplain, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Visiting Assistant Professor, North Carolina Central University Law School; Consulting Faculty, Duke University Divinity School. More information about the author can be found at www.jayaugustine.com. He may also be reached on social media platforms via the handle @jayaugustine9.