The New York Times just published a storyabout a cadre of Bishops in Alabama suing the state over the passage of a new and tough immigration law. They (rightly) claim that this law is so ambiguously written that it could disallow them the right to act toward immigrants as they claim Christians are commanded: as good Samaritans. I don’t pretend to know what the right answer for immigration reform is in the US; I tend to think that the way that each side often looks at the current issue is, on the right, xenophobic and, on the left, unsustainable. However, I’m not trying to conjure another simplistic debate one way or the other in this post. (I’m implicating my above views in this st
atement.) What I would like to say is that I’m in complete solidarity with my own Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the Roman Catholic Church of Alabama on this matter and that they and their suit will be in my prayers.
Perhaps more importantly from a theological-political level, however, the issue raises for me the importance of the separation of Church and State in the U.S. and the tension that exists between the ultimate allegences of each institution. On the one hand, the Church stands always and forever for a Kingdom that we cannot bring but must do our best to imitate in the here and now; they are right to see this as a “Kingdom issue,” for lack of a better term. In this Kingdom, there is neither Jew or Greek, man or woman. All tribalisms die. On the other hand, the State necessarily stands for the collective interests of its people, protecting them and their material and legal well-being first. (I’m not claiming that’s what the State of Alabama is actually doing, by the way; I’d probably believe just the opposite. I won’t doubt that the State is trying to protect its citizens, however.) This means the state is a tribal formation grounded in the idea of common-law and heritage.
However these tensions between Church and State ought to play themselves out within individuals and institutions, the beauty of this particular issue is how it exemplifies the impossibility of the situation: that these two institutions do and will butt heads. If they don’t, one of the two institutions is doing something wrong!