Immigrants and the Image of the God (an Excerpt from Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R.)

The following is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Christians at the Border, Second Edition: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.


Value as persons. The creation of all persons in the image of God must be the most basic conviction for Christians as they approach the challenges of immigration today. Immigration should not be argued in the abstract, because it is fundamentally about immigrants. Immigrants are humans, and as such they are made in God’s image. Each and every one of those who have come to the United States is God’s creation and is worthy of respect. Because immigrants are made in the divine image, they have an essential value and possess immense potential to contribute to society and to the common good through their presence, work, and ideas.

Human rights and the image of God. If one takes what the Bible says in Genesis 1 seriously, as revelation from God, then what it communicates about humans becomes a divine claim on Christian attitudes and actions toward those who have arrived in this country—irrespective of whether they are here with or without the documents the government might mandate. To turn away or to treat badly one made in the image of God ultimately is a violation against God. As a consequence, the topic of immigration at some level needs to be considered from a human rights perspective and not be defined solely in terms of national security, cultural identity, or economic impact. From the standpoint of national security, for example, the primary concern is to control the border. Those trying to enter the country in any manner not permitted by law are categorized logically, then, as intruders and must be kept out. In contrast, a human rights perspective has as its special focus the needs and fate of the immigrants themselves. . . .

Expectations of the image. . . . For many reasons, immigrants can feel inferior and of less worth. They may have less schooling, come from a more deprived economic background, have a hard time learning English or speak what they do know with an accent, and be of a different skin color or of one that is different than those in their host neighborhoods. They may not know the laws or handle cultural cues well; many live in perpetual fear of the authorities. The fact that they are made in God’s image should generate a more edifying perspective about themselves—about who they are and what they can become, about what they can add to their new context and to the wellbeing of their communities. Whatever their previous or present condition, they are valuable before God and, therefore, to the United States.

Not surprisingly, this theme of the image of God and Hispanic identity and worth is a major topic in Hispanic theological writing. What these authors try to convey is that Hispanics have significance not only as humans in a general sense but also, just as important, as Hispanic persons. It is at this point that the theme of mestizaje . . . comes into play theologically and pastorally. Ethnicity is no longer something to be ashamed of. Mestizaje can be embraced as a gift from God and is inseparable from being a valued human being—a unique person, one from a special people with a matchless history and culture. Immigrants have an intrinsic dignity as humans and as Hispanics.

The image of God makes a claim on Hispanics as well. The fact that immigrants are made in God’s image should cause them to reflect on what his expectations of them might be. Their divine endowment has profound implications for the way they develop their capabilities in education and at the workplace; it should impact how immigrants carry out their responsibilities as potential citizens, raise their families, work at their jobs, handle their money, and generally engage the world in which they now live. In addition, immigrants should value the people of this country as those made in God’s image. To be easily critical of things Anglo or African American as a defensive reaction to prejudice or in order to extol the mores of Latin American cultures at the expense of others is to contradict what Hispanics themselves seek: appreciation for their backgrounds and abilities. For the Hispanic, as for the majority culture, being God’s representative is both a privilege and a responsibility.

Through its instruction on the image of God, the Bible can mold the attitudes and actions of the majority culture and Hispanic Christians. For the former, it can yield fresh appreciation of the immigrants’ value and promise; for the latter, its message is one of encouragement to forge ahead and an exhortation to live well as God’s representatives.


©2013 by M. Daniel Carroll R. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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