Over at the American Spectator, writer Mark Tooley takes to task the Episcopal bishops of the United States for promoting the notion that impenetrable national borders may immorally block access to basic human rights such as employment, health care, food, education, and other necessities, and that the criminalization of those who seek to cross the border is wrong. Under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the bishops met in Arizona last month to bring attention to the risks, often fatal, that Mexican migrants face when trying to cross the desert into the United States. Tooley, incensed at photos of some bishops carrying white crosses that symbolize migrants who perished on their way to the America, says that the Episcopalian bishops are “caricatures” of themselves, “Like many Mainline Protestant elites who blithely have not yet realized their own cultural marginalization.” What pushes Tooley over the edge is this passage from the Episcopal pastoral letter:
Ours is a migratory world in which many people move across borders to escape poverty, hunger, injustice and violence. We categorically reject efforts to criminalize undocumented migrants and immigrants, and deplore the separation of families and the unnecessary incarceration of undocumented workers. Since, as we are convinced, it is natural to seek gainful employment to sustain oneself and one's family, we cannot agree that the efforts of undocumented workers to feed and shelter their households through honest labor are criminal.
The letter affirms the right of the United States to defend itself against drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals, but asks: does the United States have a moral right to deny human beings the chance to seek basic human rights here?
This thesis is hardly exclusive to a dwindling Protestant elite, as Tooley would have his readers believe. Take a look at Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the jointly released document by the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico in 2003. The document speaks to the themes echoed by the Episcopalian bishops last month. Strangers No Longer states that nations have a right “to control their territories,” yet, “More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.” Further, the right to control borders is contingent upon the understanding that borders must promote the “common good” for all. Human beings, the bishops state, have a fundamental right “to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights.” The document goes on to offer appropriate pastoral responses to migration as well as policy options that, if enacted, would begin to alleviate the symptoms that cause mass migration in the first place.
Tooley makes the startling and baseless claim that, “Like most on the Religious Left, the Episcopal Bishops seem uncomfortable with national sovereignty in the political sphere, just as the Religious Left is often theologically uncomfortable with Christianity's exclusivist truth claims, or the expectation of monogamy in traditional marriage, and the loyalties inherent to traditional families.” As a bloc, Roman Catholic bishops in the US can hardly be considered part of the “religious left,” or uncomfortable with traditional marriage (Catholic bishops offer some of the strongest voices against same-sex marriage in the US) and strong truth claims (the driving mission of Pope Benedict is exhorting the acceptance of Truth). Yet they share a similar view on immigration with their Episcopal brothers and sisters. How can this be? Tooley writes, “The Gospel commands the Church to offer its message ministry to all persons, from sanctified saints to incarcerated murderers. But the Gospel does not command the U.S. government, or any earthly civil regime, to offer universal hospitality.” The bishops of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches seemingly disagree with Tooley. This suggests that a wide range of Christian interpretation views divinely granted, universal human rights as superior to man’s creation of border enforcement and resource ownership.
Perhaps Tooley is simply wrong. Perhaps the Gospel message that tells Christians that to love God is to love neighbor speaks directly to the US government and other civil regimes that, despite their often-good intentions, fail to recognize the universal human rights of all. Perhaps the Gospel speaks to all earthly regimes--past, present, and future--offering a path radically different from the ways of man, hoping we instead embrace the way of love.