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A Brief Review of
Bishops on the Border: Pastoral Responses to Immigration
Mark Adams, Minerva Carcano, Gerald Kicanas, Kirk Smith, and Stephen Talmage
Paperback: Morehouse Publishing, 2013.
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Reviewed by Gil Stafford
Living in Arizona, immigration and border issues confront the average citizen almost every day. The news and political advertisements remind everyone living here that Arizona is a border state held hostage by volatile polar opinions. Even the church cannot avoid the controversy. Parishioners stand firmly in their opinions on both sides of the aisle. Any pastor who dares takes sides will suffer the wrath of one or more passionate parishioners. As with any political issue, religious people have their own personal opinions, some formulated by scripture, others by popular media, and a few by personal experience. However, there are few issues, if any, in Arizona that can inflame more people quicker. Arizona’s Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith wrote, “I have received far more hate mail (and to be fair also many complimentary letters) for positions I have taken on immigration than on any other actions that I have ever taken as a bishop. I know that my coauthors have also experienced verbal abuse, and even threats of physical violence.”
As a pastor in Arizona, I know this heat because I have been vocal about my theological perspective that as Christians we are called to follow Jesus’s imperative of Matthew 25:35. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” I must offer this as a disclaimer as I review the book Bishops on the Border: Pastoral Responses to Immigration by saying I work for Kirk Smith, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona. I also have had conversations about these and other issues with each author of this book. Not to say I agree with them on every issue they hold regarding theology, church, and politics. On the issue of immigration, however, I stand firmly in their camp. Jesus’s imperative in Matthew is quoted in almost every chapter. I do offer, however what I believe is a fair review of their book.
This book is missing two important components. First, they have not included an evangelical voice. One Roman Catholic and four mainline Protestant authors wrote the book. I am confident each of the writers knows more than one excellent evangelical church leader in Arizona they could have included as an author. I think the exclusion of an evangelical voice limits the book’s reach into the broader church community. Evangelical leaders might face serious push back from their congregants in using this book as a primer for a conversation or book study simply because it does not include an evangelical writer. This is unfortunate. On a side note, slightly related, while the scope of this book is a Christian response, I would love to read a volume including the pastoral responses from other religion’s leaders in Arizona. Maybe someone should take up that project?
Second, the book is absent of the dissenting opinion. Because church’s members stand on both sides of the immigration issue, to use this book for study in our congregations, the pastor must provide each voice a say in the dialogue. If the book would have included one chapter from the opposing side, I believe the message of the book would have been much stronger and have broader use.
My critique aside, this book is an excellent resource for three reasons. First, Mark Adams’ introductory chapter is one of the most concise and informative essays on the history of the Arizona border and the subsequent consequences of these issues that I have read. Adam’s points to the one major conundrum of the Arizona border. The border itself has migrated. In the 1400’s, the First Nation peoples occupied this land. By 1550 it was under the tenuous control of Spain. In the early 1800’s Mexico claimed this border region. After the Gadsden Purchase of 1854 the land south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande became a part of the United States, first New Mexico territory, then Arizona territory, and finally in 1912, the state of Arizona. To understand the issues of 2014, we must be familiar with the complicated history and politics of the region. Adams provides both.
Second, the four bishops, Carcano, Kicanas, Smith, and Talmage each put a face on the immigration issue by telling their personal stories. These church leaders have lived the story of immigration in their own lives in Arizona. Each of these pastors connects their story to their theology. The reader of this book will leave the pages well equipped with the biblical resources needed to preach the perfect exegetical sermon on immigration.
Finally, Talmage’s concluding chapter provides some well thought out solutions to the messy political maneuverings necessary to take the slow steps towards immigration reform. His ideas are a part of a wider strategy to bring some resolution to this prickly subject.
This 125-page easily accessible volume would be an excellent parish book study on the topic of immigration. Aside from the absence of an evangelical voice and dissenting opinion, Bishops on the Border is an excellent resource for any pastor or church leader.