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Immigrants and others

Immigrants at Ellis Island (Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)


Immigrants and others

A look at the church’s historical perspective

Evangelicals and Immigration by Ruth Melkonian-Hoover and Lyman Kellstedt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) gives good historical perspective on varying Protestant responses to immigration: welcome, evangelism, settlement, and pushback.

For decades Baptists and Presbyterians were “particularly active at the southern border, establishing churches and services for primarily Mexican migrants” who went back and forth across the border and would sometimes “share their newfound Protestant faith with others upon return to Mexico.” Many Chinese immigrants also returned to their homes after several years in America, so B.W. Johnson, editor of The Evangelist, did not want to “prevent them from coming to our shores. The Christian should hail [Chinese immigration] as a means of carrying out the commission of his savior and sending the gospel to China.”

Attitudes varied by ideology and denomination: “Liberals of the Social Gospel variety were often supportive of immigration restrictions, while conservative Baptists often favored increased immigration,” as did others who emphasized evangelism. Some Christians emphasized “Americanization through Evangelization,” but conservative Presbyterian leader J. Gresham Machen waxed sarcastic about attempts “to proceed against the immigrants now with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other. … That is what is sometimes meant by ‘Christian Americanization.’”

Both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Assemblies of God in 1981 pushed congregations to sponsor refugee families and passed resolutions emphasizing “the Christian and moral obligation to respond positively” to refugees, in part because they “represent a very responsive people to the gospel.” In recent years the tide has turned, with many leaders supporting travel bans and strict immigration limits. 


The Other Press publishes books off the beaten track. Theodor Kallifatides’ The Siege of Troy, translated from Swedish (2018), is a lovely little novel of a teacher and students hiding in a cave from bombs in German-occupied Greece during World War II: She calms their fears and captivates their minds by telling them the story of The Iliad. Peter Stamm’s Agnes (translated from German) is a haunting tale of modern alienation, with intimations of sex and abortion. Ahmet Altan’s I Will Never See the World Again (translated from Turkish) is the moving memoir of an imprisoned writer. 

Hitler by Brendan Simms (Basic, 2019) brings 700 pages to bear on the question debated for decades: What made Adolf Hitler tick? Simms quotes Hitler’s statements that he “acted in the world as a representative of the ‘have-nots.’” His primary foes were capitalists, particularly British and American ones, and he portrayed Germany as a “socialist people’s state” opposed to “global high finance,” in which German Jews were involved. 

I’ve long contended that placing socialists on the left but national socialists (Nazis) on the right is a device to leave liberals in the middle, and a mistaken charting. Both kinds of socialists want more centralization: The difference is that socialists want government ownership of industries and Nazis are satisfied with governmental control of them by terrorizing their owners. 

Donald Whitney’s How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian? (NavPress, 2019) notes that assurance lies not in our works but in Christ’s finished work. The associate dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shows we should not expect perfection but should be able to answer this question positively: “Over the past few years, has it been your habit to do what is right more and more and to sin less?” 

Whitney writes that neither financial success nor perfectionism is an indication of blessing: “People with false assurance are either legalistic or loose.” He notes, “Concern about your inability to live up to God’s standards is also a good sign. … Don’t be so stringent and ruthless in your self-examination that you lose sight of the Cross and the power of Jesus to save sinners.”

Mez McConnell’s The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Childhood Abuse (Christian Focus, 2019) is a great book to give those who suffered greatly as children and are far from God. —M.O.