Here is a recent enthusiastic review that appeared in the Englewood Review of Books:
“A Promise Greater than that of Lady Liberty: A Featured Review of Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice, by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell. Reviewed by Jonathan Felton.
A Church without Borders
One could be forgiven for expecting this book to be a rehash of liberal arguments about immigration policy, anchored by a smattering of bible verses. It isn’t. Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell have something else in mind, and their short book contributes some big ideas to discussions of “biblical faith and immigrant justice.“
The authors acknowledge that the reflections in their book are “unapologetically theological and ecclesial.” This is a book about God and the church. They are more concerned with conveying “a faith-rooted ethic regarding the sojourner in our midst than with the current debates over U.S. immigration and naturalization policies.” Acceptance of their thesis does have implications for our attitude toward those policies. The authors hope we will approach them with a revised sense of loyalty, and therefore with a renewed set of priorities.
The authors urge their readers to realize “a church without borders,” a conviction which “arises from our own experience with immigrants as well as from our study of scripture. Both teach us that God has a special relationship with those marginalized by social and political systems and therefore that the church should as well.”
Myers locates the theological heart of their thesis in Jesus’ death on the cross, through which “all walls of division have been broken down, and all laws legitimizing enmity have been nullified.” They mean to stand with the apostle Paul who in his letter to the Ephesians proclaims the mystery of God’s will—God’s dream—of the unification of all things in Christ.
In Christ, he says, we are welcomed into a new social solidarity, an undivided house. “Pursuing this vocation in a world of division inevitably entails challenging statutory laws, cultural prejudices, and institutionalized separations,” Myers writes. Since Christ has declared shalom “to those far off and to those near,” he concludes, the church should not live peaceably with walls of hostility.
The authors ask two questions outright. What does it mean to be faithful to an “undocumented God and refugee Christ,” and what is the biblical basis for such a church? The authors have organized their book in keeping with foundational assertions of liberation theology: “the conviction that Bible study and practical discipleship help interpret each other.” In a sympathetic dialogue of “ancient word and contemporary deed,” we get a chapter of biblical exegesis by Myers, followed by a chapter relaying the story of a particular witness who “faithfully exegetes and embodies” this vision of a church without borders.
What is the biblical basis for such a church?
Myers approaches this first task in earnest and with zest. While certainly not overlooking texts like Matthew 25:35-46, in which Jesus judges the responses of those who meet him as a stranger seeking hospitality, Myers is clearly more interested in the deep cuts, applying his exegetical muscle to less-obvious selections from both testaments.
Myers reads the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as an indictment of imperial homogeneity. A key characteristic of human diversity, linguistic diversity, is absent, and this atmosphere of centralized power and cultural conformity is linked to oppression of people and rejection of God. He contrasts it with the “insurrectionary heterogeneity” of Pentecost in Acts 2, in which God’s proclamation is heard by everyone in his or her own language. As a rich range of other biblical, historical and anthropological information is brought to bear, Myers makes an argument in favor of cultural diversity and warns against linguistic hegemony.
In his next chapter, he argues that biblical principles of “sanctuary and prophetic hospitality” are central to the contemporary immigration debate. Eager to unpack them, Myers takes us on a thorough scriptural tour. Like an enthusiastic guide, he is careful to point out every relevant landmark along the way; and he doesn’t mind stopping the tram to do a little language study. If it is somewhat exhausting, it is worth it because it is so exhaustive. It also elicited in this reader a renewed appreciation for the richness and depth of the bible.
This is also where they explain the notion of an “undocumented God.” Suffice it to say here that Myers writes: “…from beginning to end, God too is portrayed as entering our world in the guiseof a stranger in need of hospitality.”
Subsequent chapters by Myers reflect on, to name a few, “prophetic inclusion” in Isaiah and Luke; “embracing otherness”, as Jesus does even if it takes walking on water; and a poignant meditation on the nativity story in a chapter called “Gospel Nativities vs. Anti-immigrant Nativism.” It is in this chapter that we meet the “refugee Christ” mentioned above.
What does it mean to be faithful to this undocumented God and refugee Christ?
Colwell’s chapters tell the stories of five individuals who tried to answer this question with their lives. It is hoped that their experience might suggest a trajectory for others. After a chapter of theology, it is refreshing to read a brisk story, and these are certainly brisk, compressing as they do entire adult lives into ten or so pages. But it is not always pretty. Even if led by the Spirit these lives, these experiments, are clearly, sometimes painfully clearly, improvised. It points distressingly to those nagging promises of Jesus that following him will bring trouble. It helps explain the gravitational pull exerted by places and perspectives outside of “proximity to the poor,” on those of us with enough privilege to experience it.
I don’t mean to give the wrong impression. The stories are inspiring. Certainly they were chosen to be so. Some readers will be hearing about the Sanctuary Movement for the first time. Their imaginations will awake as they consider possibilities for their own churches. But Myers and Colwell are clearly recruiting, and they don’t mean to sugarcoat the pill which recruits are asked to swallow.
Myers and Colwell’s argument is to believers, on behalf of the victims of imperial power. It is clear that they hold out more hope for help from the outcast church, the hands and feet of Christ, than from the state. However they do not ignore the role of citizenship, and they do not dismiss the concerns of patriots. In fact, the word citizenship and its use in the bible are important to Myers and receive treatment. A lengthy selection seems intended to address the common protest, sensible on its face, that ‘we don’t mind legal immigration. It’s the illegal part, not the immigrant part that is the problem.’ Myers asserts that almost no one wants to leave her home country. They are “pushed and pulled” by past and present global and economic forces. They are moved by impoverishment whose structural causes “lie on our side of the border.” These migrations are forced, he claims, and often by us. He offers a historical narrative to support this.
He and Colwell also express “a pastoral concern about our fractured identity as predominately a nation of immigrants.” Citing Exodus 22:21, Myers points out that it was “Israel’s own bitter experience of displacement that undergirded its ethic of just compassion toward outsiders.” He draws a contrast between the historical narrative mentioned above and the dream expressed in The New Colossus, emblazoned below the statue of liberty, and indeed much of America’s early press about itself. But the thrust of the book is that our obligation is to God’s dream. Some believers will find themselves insistent on maintaining “the dividing wall of hostility.” The authors state at the outset that neither they nor this volume are neutral, and their bias is clear: If we ultimately find that the call of Christ, the dream of God and the witness of scripture are simply unrealistic, we should know that about ourselves. But if we can be sure in faith of a lamp and a promise even greater than that of Lady Liberty, then we, the church, should hold it aloft and open our doors.
A Review of Our God is Undocumented
Here is a recent enthusiastic review that appeared in the Englewood Review of Books: