DACA: Mirror to the Church

September 7, 2017
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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an American immigration policy founded by the Obama administration in June 2012. DACA allows certain illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. On Tuesday, President Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation and urged Congress to pass a replacement before he begins phasing out its protections in six months. The staff of iAt has asked two contributors to write a response to President Trump’s decision. Today, Myles Werntz shares his viewpoint on how Christians can respond. Return to iAt tomorrow to read another response.

In the wake of the announcement that the DACA program would be ending in six months, numerous stories have emerged about how the DACA participants are. On the most basic level, the participants in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival (DACA) program are not the “bad hombres” which the President railed against in his first speech as a candidate. Participants in the program are those who have undergone education, not been convicted of any major offense, and pose no threat to national security. They are, as it were, the model immigrant. But beyond this, participants in DACA—for all their model behavior—do not access hardly any social programs available to U.S. citizens. They are persons in limbo, living in the only country they have known, having literally arrived under the supervision of their parents, and now asked to leave that country, expelled into a country they do not know.

The so-called “Dreamers”, as we have found out in recent days, are soldiers, doctors, rescue heroes, and priests. But for Christians, defense of DACA on the basis of the exemplary nature of these persons is precisely the approach to avoid. To hold up DACA recipients as exemplary is to say that they are worthy of our care precisely because they are exceptional. To support DACA in this fashion is to insidiously mirror the proposed immigration “points” plan, in which a person may immigrate and have opportunity in the United States only if they are already one who has had great opportunity. Proponents of DACA have likewise argued that the economy would suffer from having 850,000 persons who are employed deported; while true, arguing for DACA on the basis of economic benefits only encourages us to think of immigrants as valued because of their monetary impact and value.

One tempting—and increasingly frequent—alternative to this is to simply appeal to the Deuteronomic code, that it is flatly commanded by God to welcome in the outsiders. Appeals of this nature are, I think, mere cherry-picking, selectively appropriating the Law in the absence of better arguments; often, proponents of this approach likewise abhor the Old Testament’s position on any number of things, including sexuality, dietary restrictions, and gender relations. Hermeneutically, there are many other reasons to refuse this way of argument. But Christians should resist the temptation to appeal to the straight-forward command of the Old Testament, not because it is unclear or untrue, but because, as Christians, such a straight-forward adoption of the Old Testament sidesteps the New Testament in the pursuit of moral justification. It jumps over centuries of wrestling with the Old Testament, and appeals to Scripture as a law book when that law suits our need.

So, what should Christians do? Quite simply: consider who Christ is and what Christ has done. In Scripture, we find that following the Ascension, Christ sends the Holy Spirit, who continues the very work of Christ. This Spirit does the unthinkable: expand the work of God to global proportions, including persons from every language, culture, and nation in the world. In creating an international body—Christ’s own body—all other considerations of origin and belonging are given new meaning and importance, as Gentiles and Jews are knit together (not without great struggle) into a new community of the church. It is on this basis—that Christ is the one who draws all persons together across and through national divisions—that Christians advocate for DACA. For in Acts, we find that the church is a body without a center, without a place which should be geographically prioritized above other places; for the Christian, all places are equally prized as the origins of God’s work because the Spirit is everywhere.1 In the gathered body of the church, we find that immigration is not something external to the church, but internal to what the church is and how the church exists: as a transnational transgression of the borders which we take to be sacrosanct. God cares, it seems, far less about our national boundaries than we do.

The American church continues to be comprised increasingly of those not of national birth. If we care about the body of Christ, then we must care about those who are not only a part of it, but about those who are signified in their inclusion. In the same way that caring about the Gentiles of the church was to care about Gentiles writ large, so to care for the immigrant church is to care for the state of immigrants as such. The unthinkable alternative—that the American church cares about only those defined by nationality—is to sink into a new ethno-nationalism which threatens to make the American church apostate to its core.

There are many things to consider in what will happen with DACA now: that it was declared by presidential fiat, that it needs to be codified legislatively, that saving DACA politically will lead to selling out other immigrants. These are questions which, in this six months, will have to be resolved quickly, for without resolving them, America risks betraying hundreds of thousands of persons who have put very detailed information about themselves into its trust. What is presented now to Christians is an opportunity for us to see that the defense of immigrants is on no other basis than Christ’s own person: the one who draws unto himself a body of persons, without respect for origin or nationality, which is the first fruits of what all creation is to be.

About the Author
  • Myles Werntz is Director of Baptist Studies and Associate Professor of Theology at Abilene Christian University, where he directs the Baptist Studies Center in the Graduate School of Theology. He is the author and editor of five books in theology and ethics, and writes broadly on Christian ethics of war and peace, immigration, ecclesiology, and discipleship.

  1. See John Flett’s excellent work Apostolicity: The Ecumenical Question in World Christian Perspective (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2016) for a teasing out of this thesis. I have reviewed it here: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/webexclusives/2016/july/rethinking-apostolicity.html 

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  1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments about DACA. Much of what comes from the Evangelical Left–on this issue–is sentimental special pleading. Some–a relatively few, I think–on the Evangelical Right, may subscribe to a a nationalized/racialized view of the Church.

    On the one hand, the multi-ethnic, welcoming understanding of the Church is a baseline of orthodox Christian understanding of the nature and extent of Christ’s work of redemption. On the other hand, DACA is an opportunity for Christians to think through the hard, messy, and conflicting details of public policy.

    (Some related thoughts here: https://goo.gl/qS4QnG)