The Easter season is a time to confidently celebrate the victory of Christ over death, once and for all. But the confidence of the Resurrection is too often missing from our lives as Christians — in our commission to proclaim the Good News, yes, but also in our call to faithful citizenship.
The radical social demands of the Gospel — to welcome the stranger, to prioritize the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, to protect life at every stage — can too easily be rationalized away as “naïve” and “unrealistic.”
I encountered this dynamic firsthand as a participant in a recent debate on the proper Catholic response to the president’s immigration and refugee policies. The debate showed that Christ’s commandment to selflessly love our neighbor (and our enemy) remains the hardest part of Christian discipleship.
It also exposed how easily we can turn from our Lord (and the social doctrine he has passed on to us through the church) when his demands involve hard work and uncertainty.
In other words, the immigration debate highlighted a crisis of confidence in Christ and his Gospel.
Principled, not fear-based
Let’s start with this fact: A faithful Catholic need not support the specific immigration and refugee provisions endorsed by the U.S. bishops. As migration policy is a matter of prudence, people of good will can come to different conclusions about specific policy outcomes, so long as their conclusions are the product of a prayerful, good-faith effort to apply the Gospel and the social doctrine of the church to complex problems.
But in my recent debate, my opponent made no such effort to ground his support for President Trump’s immigration and refugee policies in the church’s social teaching. Instead of appeals to Scripture or the Magisterium, he built his case primarily on a foundation of idolized nationalism and fear-driven consequentialism.
For instance, his final point against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, delivered as if it was the decisive word on the matter, was that migrants from Latin America were an invasion force being ushered in to further the progressive agenda.
Similarly, he opposed resettling Muslim refugees from Syria because Muslim newcomers, he claimed, would inevitably impose an Islamic theocracy upon us all.
These all-too-common arguments flow from an impulse that seems less concerned with doing the hard and difficult work of loving and evangelizing our neighbors, and is instead animated more by a kind of passivity unbefitting of Christians.
The doom-and-gloom outcomes forecasted — that people or their descendants to whom we offer hospitality will respond with malice or engage the social order in a way that some find harmful may, perhaps, be somewhere deep within the realm of possibility, but they are anything but inevitable. In fact, these scenarios seem possible only if Christians sit on their hands and do nothing.
Like with the Good Samaritan, love is a risk. Hypothetical outcomes don’t absolve us from our responsibility to do the right thing when the situation is presented.
Ultimately, scapegoating others, particularly Latino immigrants and Muslim refugees, as threats and harbingers of the inevitable downfall of the United States is a convenient way to avoid our responsibility to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of welcoming newcomers and reclaiming society for Christ.
Christ is risen!
Confidence in Christ is not stupidity, nor is it a suicide pact. We need not toss common sense and prudence out the window when it comes to crafting and enforcing just immigration and refugee policy.
But we must also not let fear obscure the fact that the millions of undocumented immigrants in the shadows of our society and the tens of thousands of refugees on our doorstep are providing us with an opportunity: an opportunity to love Christ boldly by welcoming the stranger, confidently accepting the missionary demands that might follow.
As Christ proved through his death and resurrection, we have nothing to fear when we follow him. His grace is sufficient. Like the apostles hiding in the upper room, we will be able to live confidently in this truth only when we allow the Lord into our midst and accept his spirit into our life, not clutching at the ring of power for temporal security.
Only we can separate ourselves from the love of Christ.
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.