Kingdom Sloppy: Southern Baptists and Immigration Policy

‘Tis the season of thinking about the relations between evangelicalism and political conservatism thanks to the release of From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin. With such heightened sensitivity come examples that show fuzziness on the differences between the kingdoms of redemption and providence.

I begin with the reaction of Jerry Salyer to the recent Southern Baptist Resolution, “On Immigration and the Gospel,” a statement that in itself is a grab bag of truths that do not cohere either theologically or politically. Salyer writes:

One defender of the new SBC policy is Southern Baptist Seminary theologian Russell Moore, who declares in “Immigration and the Gospel” that “[t]he Christian response to the immigrant communities in this country cannot be ‘You kids get off my lawn’ in Spanish.” Up until now I have had nothing but respect for Moore – anyone who appreciates Berry and Genovese can’t be all bad – which is precisely why his trite and thoughtless remarks pain me so. Does he really mean that no Christian can offer an argument against mass-immigration better than that of Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace? Can one really dismiss so quickly classicist Thomas Fleming, or philosopher Roger Scruton? What about journalists like Tom Piatak, Patrick Buchanan, and Peter Hitchens?

Whether one ultimately agrees with the positions taken by immigration restrictionists is beside the point. The point is that the Southern Baptist leadership hide from their flock the fact that such positions even exist. Should we be concerned about, say, the socioeconomic consequences of a vastly expanded labor pool? Soaring crime rates? What about the implications of perpetual war with the Muslim world even as mosques simultaneously sprout all across the Midwest? How seriously should we take those activists who celebrate the Reconquista of “Aztlan”?

In other words, opposition to open borders may not simply be an expression of nativist prejudice. It may actually stem from plausible political considerations, such as these that Salyer quotes from James Kalb who recognizes that the motivations for unrestricted immigration may stem less from what is true or good or noble and more from economic and political interests:

Ruling elites . . . are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and to weaken the mutual ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and to act somewhat independently.

The practical result of such influences has been the suppression of immigration as an issue in the interest of an emerging borderless world order. Restrictionist arguments are scantily presented in the mainstream media, and concern with cultural coherence, national identity, or even the well-being of one’s country’s workers is routinely denigrated as ignorant and racist nativism.

Whether you agree with Kalb’s skeptical analysis, it is a reminder that beyond the calls for making the gospel relevant or pursuing social justice are political considerations that religious idealism ignores. In which case, the book of redemption (which is silent on immigration policy) tells the book of nature (which has much to say) to “shut up.”

14 thoughts on “Kingdom Sloppy: Southern Baptists and Immigration Policy

  1. I don’t forget Al Mohler’s tweet during the debate at the convention.

    Southern Baptists are at a crucial decision point. The immigration crisis demands a Gospel response before any political response. #SBC2011

    My replies that tweet to Mohler were :

    What is a Gospel Response to Immigration? How does that work out?

    We replace Border Agents with Evangelists, with profession of faith: they receive entry, a green card and the Gospel of John?

    ACTS29 & Warren, Young Jr, Jeffress, Brunson being Pastors in good standing much bigger problems than immigration in #SBC2011

    Immigration is the problem of the civil government, not the Church Now pragmatism that is a cancer eating the soul of #SBC2011

    Al never responded back, but my tweets drew ire of the Mohlerites on twitter which I spent several days trying explain the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, Natural Law, and Two Kingdom Theology to Baptists via twitter and e-mail.


  2. Even though many, perhaps even most, Southern Baptists confuse Christ’s spiritual kingdom with the kingdom of this world, some are returning to two-kingdom theology thanks to authors like David Van Drunen, Michael Horton, and D. G. Hart. I have personally been heavily influenced by your writings, Dr. Hart. I am very thankful for your work and am looking forward to getting a copy of From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

    On June 29, the contributors at allowed me to write an article against the SBC making political statements in resolutions. For the most part, it seems to have been well received. Hopefully more Southern Baptists will return to the spirituality of the church in the future and avoid statements like the one made on immigration.


  3. Dr. Hart,

    Congratulations on the new book! It is eagerly anticipated in these parts…I think we can add Michele Bachmann to the mix. It’s interesting, she used to be a member of a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church…I *think* they can be described as confessional Lutherans– but has now abandoned the WELS church for Eagle Brook–a well, “evangelical” church that more closely aligns with her political beliefs. From the Associated Baptist Press article, Eagle Brook is “…a multi-campus mega-church affiliated with the Baptist General Conference…” Some “friends” say she left because their confession still says that the Pope is the antichrist.

    Further…”CBN’s Brody File blog said Bachmann’s spokesperson explained that the couple began seeking a new church about two years ago after they moved to a new home over “preference issues” common to evangelical families who occasionally change churches.” Ah, yes, those evangelical preference issues…

    Dr. Hart, your book is timely…and needed.



  4. Dr. Hart, thanks for leaving signed copies of your book at Eerdmans. It was a nice surprise. I love what I’ve read so far.


  5. Mr. Hart,
    I appreciate your work as your historical viewpoint has been a great help to me. My question is this: what was your purpose in writing this new book? I have not read it yet, but it appears that the subject of it has been covered many times over, especially in libertarian political circles. Would I be wrong in assuming your overarching purpose was mainly to say, “evangelicalism is weird?” I am not disagreeing with you if that is your point, but it seems odd to me since this subject has been covered so much.


  6. Mr. Lind, my point is to show the tensions between evangelicalism and conservatism partly to help conservatives lower their expectaions of evangelicals and possibly to help evangelicals become conservative. The ground covered is relatively fresh since not many histories of the Religious Right or of political conservatism have actually examined evangelical political reflection.


  7. This is one area of Christian involvement in politics that has bothered me at times more than others. I’ve mostly encountered Christians with a restrictionist position telling me that their position is the “biblical” position, particularly from self-described Reformed Christians. I’m not sure if this specific person was Reformed, but I remember someone at a Reformed pastor’s blog asking me about what was the biblical position if not the one that was similar to the Right’s view.

    I don’t fit into the restrictionist camp, but I’m not looking for agreement with my positions on immigration from a minister or a church.

    I am thankful for those who espouse a two-kingdom view, a view which gave me freedom to rethink my political ideas freely and to not feel guilty for choosing to abstain at times. I do hope more Christians will begin to recognize the limits of Christianity.

    For anyone interested, there is book written from a conservative perspective that is not in accordance with what you usually hear from Republicans and conservatives; it’s written by Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and is titled “Let them in”.


  8. Brad, I already praised the book in a prior thread (I started reading it before it was released). Why don’t Old Schoolers like snark and sarcasm? Chalk it up to the Machen in me, I guess.


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