Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration. By Kristin Heyer . Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012. 198 pages. Asylum-Seeking, Migration, and Church. By Susanna Snyder . Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. 293 pages.
Article first published online: 6 DEC 2013
© 2013 by the Center for Migration Studies of New York. All rights reserved.
International Migration Review
Volume 47, Issue 4, pages 1039–1041, December 2013
How to Cite
Marquardt, M. F. (2013), Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration. By Kristin Heyer . Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012. 198 pages. Asylum-Seeking, Migration, and Church. By Susanna Snyder . Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. 293 pages. International Migration Review, 47: 1039–1041. doi: 10.1111/imre.12055
- Issue published online: 6 DEC 2013
- Article first published online: 6 DEC 2013
As the United States Congress moved toward immigration reform legislation in early 2013, virtually every major Christian organization in the nation offered decisive public statements in favor of comprehensive reform. Furthermore, many transnational Christian organizations, most notably the Catholic Church, stood at the forefront of advocacy on behalf of unauthorized immigrants. One theme ran consistently through these public statements: the call to welcome the “stranger,” which is embedded at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Two recently published books by migration scholars working within the Christian tradition delve into the complexities of this theme, while calling upon Christians to broaden and deepen their sources of solidarity with peoples on the move. Both authors are concerned with public policy, and they share a presupposition that, in the words of Kristin Heyer, “a foundational vision and the structures needed to realize and sustain [policy change] must precede concrete policy programs” (49). They believe that the work being undertaken by Christian NGOs, activists, and service providers can and should contribute to a reframing of public debate about immigration and aim to make such work both more effective and more fully grounded in the richness of Christian theological and ethical traditions.
Kristin Heyer's Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration analyzes immigration patterns and their socioeconomic context in light of Christian theology. Her method is to explore a broad range of scholarly resources on specific aspects of immigration policy and to view them thematically in light of central Christian ethical principles. Although she speaks more broadly of Christian Ethics throughout the text, Heyer identifies as a Catholic ethicist and relies very heavily on Catholic thought. She makes four basic claims: (1) the Christian view of the person (i.e., anthropology) profoundly challenges the commodification and exploitation that drive contemporary patterns of immigration; (2) the Christian concept of social sin clarifies the relationship between ideologies linked to immigration and unjust structures that drive immigration; (3) Christian family ethics make clear the unjust impact of immigration policy, particularly on women and families; and (4) Christian commitments to global solidarity draw attention to the need for a broader view of migration and public policy. Departing from the “stranger” motif, she develops and articulates a Christian ethic of immigration marked by kinship and explains what such an ethic implies for justice in the life of the state and civil society, the family, the economy, and the academy (135).
By contrast to the focused frame of Kinship Across Borders, Susannah Snyder's Asylum-Seeking, Migration, and Church undertakes a broad and ambitious exercise in Practical Theology. Practical Theology aims to bring current experience of Christians and their societies into conversation with Christian spiritual and theological traditions. Snyder's primary goal is to examine church engagement with immigrants critically as a means to bring about more robust and effective practices. She explores four types of “encounter” that Churches have with recent immigrants and asylum seekers: encounters of service (person-centered activities of offering friendship, emotional support, and social services), encounters with the powers (lobbying and public advocacy efforts), encounters in worship (engagement with asylum seekers in the context of Christian liturgy and prayer), and encounters in theology (engagement through theological reflection on Christian scriptures). The book begins by identifying what is happening on the ground in terms of Christian engagement with immigrants and, particularly, asylum seekers. Then, it moves to analysis of the cultural, economic, social, and political factors that have shaped this situation. As a third step, Snyder engages in theological reflection upon what she has seen and analyzed, examining key biblical texts in light of contemporary migration issues. To conclude, Snyder formulates ideas for revised and improved practices in the Christian church of encountering and engaging with migrants and asylum seekers.
The majority of Snyder's experience, as both a pastoral worker and a researcher, has been in the United Kingdom. For scholars based on the United States, her sustained attention to the situation of asylum seekers in the UK offers a fascinating comparative lens through which to see unauthorized immigration in the U.S. Throughout the text, Snyder offers a much more cosmopolitan view on immigration-related issues than most U.S.-based scholars (including Heyer), as she regularly frames her discussion in light of perspectives from other nations. Snyder's “bricolage” method, in which she deliberately “uses an assortment of materials and approaches, odds and ends from a variety of sources to piece together a jigsaw which can be interpreted” (22), contrasts markedly with Heyer's concise, tightly argued, and narrowly focused approach. Although it can be disconcerting at times, Snyder's method offers an analytical richness not present other texts on these themes.
In a welcome move, both authors address the disconnect between official positions of Christian organizations, which consistently promote “welcoming the stranger,” and the exclusionary attitudes of many Christians on the ground in the U.S. and UK. Heyer attributes fierce opposition to “an ethic of hospitality and justice” as the likely result of “Christian citizens' susceptibility to secular disvalues” (35). In her first and perhaps strongest chapter, “Christian Anthropology and the De-Humanization of Immigrants,” she draws upon a rich and underutilized tradition of Catholic economic ethics that “grounds its essential commitment to human life and dignity in a vision of the human person as created in God's image, social and political by nature, and endowed with inviolable dignity and human rights independent of citizenship status” (11). This vision, she explains, is the foundation for an ethic that consistently subordinates capital to labor, an ethical move that offers radical critique to current economic and political systems driving migration. She describes complicity with these unjust systems as a form of social sin and warns that Christians will need to engage in “repentance from complicity in patterns of imperialism and neocolonialism as well as from the sin of exceptionalism engrained in the [U.S.] nation's social psyche” (53).
Whereas Heyer sees the sources of these social sins as largely from outside of Christianity, Snyder boldly uncovers some of the sources from within the Christian tradition that perpetuate what she calls an “ecology of fear.” She closely analyzes two biblical stories as a means to better understand the tradition of fear and rejection of the stranger and to draw lessons for the present time. Her concern is with how to “transrupt” this ecology of fear and promote the more dominant and pervasive “ecology of faith” present in the tradition. Again, her careful analysis demonstrates an “ecology of faith” and highlights that, within such an ecology, migrants and members of the established population engage in intimate face-to-face encounter, take considerable risks, honor particularity and difference, and encounter significant obstacles along the way, including their own tendency to slip “back into an exclusionary mentality” (187).
Both authors attend to the pitfalls faced by Christian service providers who work with migrants and asylum seekers. For instance, Snyder explains the problem of becoming “monsters of concern” who create service and charitable organizations that may help asylum seekers meet their basic needs but do not enhance their flourishing – “something that involves the intangible qualities of love and belonging, dignity and respect, and ultimate meaning” (83). She explains that, in some cases, Christians in established populations engage in service work as a means to promote their own sense of well-being and perceive asylum seekers as object of charity rather than as complex, fully human persons. Similarly, Heyer introduces the concept of solidarity as “the key virtue demanded in a globalized era” (114) and as one that will facilitate an understanding of the poor and those on the move as “agents rather than beneficiaries of forbearance, philanthropy, or pity” (115). She argues that adopting this virtue will help to “reframe migration as an international issue linked to trade and geopolitics” (114). Heyer helpfully distinguishes three features of solidarity that must be employed: institutional solidarity, incarnational solidarity, and conflictual solidarity.
Most Christian advocacy organizations promote tradition of “welcoming the stranger” in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the primary source of their ecology with regard to migrants. While important, this narrow focus contributes to an unnecessarily narrow message from Christian NGOs. As both texts draw attention to the breadth of resources for Christian ethical and theological positions on immigration and offer practical guidelines for engaging with migrants, they should help to build a broader base of support among Christians for solidarity with people on the move, which will enhance public support for immigration policy reform.
The primary audience for both books is Christians who are working alongside immigrants and theologians, ethicists, and other Christian scholars who may inform Christian practices on the ground. Nevertheless, because of the central role of Christian NGOs in promoting immigration reform both inside the United States and throughout the global North, scholars of international migration would be well-served to read these texts. Their insights will help scholars both to examine the crucial role played by Christian organizations in the U.S. and U.K. in supporting recent immigrants and asylum seekers and to understand the foundations for Christian support of immigration policy reform.