True Hospitality and the Immigration Debate

The Theopolis blog is hosting another conversation, this time on the subject of the immigration debate. I was invited to kick this discussion off and my opening post has just been published.

A neighbour-focused ethic is an ethic of love, an ethic that commits itself to particular persons over others. A liberal humanitarian ethic, on account of its abstract object, can undermine the particularity and the concreteness of our bonds and their related obligations. For instance, beyond the force of parental instinct, the reason why I should take especial concern for the well-being of my own children over the children of others may not be clear to someone holding such an ethic. However, Scripture makes clear that our moral duties are not generalized duties to humanity as such, but duties that are focused in concentric circles of proximity. We have duties to our households that we do not have to anything like the same degree to those outside of them. Likewise, our obligations are especially focused on the people of God (Galatians 6:10). Those who claim to be serving God in radical humanitarianism, while neglecting their obligations to their neighbours—those persons most immediate to them—reject the commandment of God (Mark 7:6-13).

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Exodus, Genesis, Guest Post, OT, OT Theology, Politics, Society, Theological, Theopolis. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to True Hospitality and the Immigration Debate

  1. Bill Smith says:

    Alistar, tell me what you know about children and parents being separated at the US border. Why and how is this being done?

  2. Justin says:

    “the brutal practice of separating children from parents that has occurred on America’s borders”

    “In our social and political debates it is often carelessly presumed that rejection of a particular course of action must arise from rejection of the good that drives our sense of its obligatory character. For instance, someone who opposes massive government welfare programmes can be wrongly judged to be rejecting the Christian duty to care for the poor. Yet what they are often rejecting is not the value of charity, but the faulty deliberative reasoning—or, as is often the case, the completely unreasoned jump from moral values to particular policies—by which specific government policies are supposed to be obligatory on account of it. On the other hand, there are those who, while paying lip service to the value, will seek to throw the concrete duties attendant upon it off their scent—or at least dissipate their force—through the self-exculpatory evasions of a sophisticated casuistry. We must beware of both these dangers.”

    Is the practice “brutal” or “loving” depending on whether the adult is actually the parent or just a child sex trafficker? Is it brutal if it potentially prevents the victimization of children, including by their parents? Is there something to be said about being careful in characterizing policy prescriptions based on presuppositions about those who crafted it and those who are affected by it?

    This isn’t to say that a practice of separating children from adults until the parental relationship can be established is the right policy given all of the circumstances, but I am not persuaded that any adult who shows up at the border with a child should be presumed to be the parent of a child and afforded all of the attendant access to and control over the child.

    There is much in your article I can agree with wholeheartedly. In fact, it may be all of it except for this one sentence. In particular, there needs to be some awareness of how different contexts may affect how we carry out the duty of hospitality. It is one thing to speak about how we comport ourselves when encountering a migrant in our neighborhood, and quite another to map that same conduct into the state’s actions when processing illegal migrants at its borders.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

    • Tim says:

      Justin, you make a subtle, and perhaps unintentional, equivocation at the beginning of your response that confuses some things seriously. You relate the zero tolerance policy that led to massive amounts of child separations, regardless of relationship between parent and child, on the US-Mexico border with a more constrained project focused on cases where border control suspected “parent” and child where not in fact related.

      Separating children when there is a concern over smuggling is not really that controversial. (Though a rate of only 30 percent among people suspected to be smugglers makes me question the effectiveness of our screening procedures). Seperating all children from their parents, especially with no procedure in place for reuniting them is horrific. In effect, we have created orphans through the mistreatment of the stranger in our land, if we worship the God of Duet. 10:18 we should be very worried about his justice coming down on us.

      You also make an unjustified jump to all of the 30 percent mismatch being “child sex traffickers.” There certainly are some who are doing this. But that 30 percent likely also includes step-parents, adoptive (both formal and informal) parents, family friends bring children to the states (in some cases to possibly reunite with parents).

      I would conclude saying foisting the burden of proof on parents to prove that their children are theirs rather than leaving the burden on the state to find credible evidence of trafficking is a betrayal of the assumption of innocence among other things.

      • Justin Walker says:

        Hello Tim,

        It was not unintentional. My objection was to the characterization of the policy as brutal, especially in the context of Alastair’s other comments about approaching this topic.

        I was stating that there is an argument to support a policy of separating minors from adults at the border. In fact, your characterization of the project as constrained due to testing only occurring when the lack of a parental relationship was “suspected” only indicates that the 30% is the floor and not the ceiling of the problem.

        In the US, we have a problem with CPS taking children away from parents that are established as the children’s parents for, in comparison to dragging a child across the desert to illegally enter the US, minor infractions (or even what once would not be an infraction at all). In the US, children are separated form their parents when their parents commit crimes. And again in the US, citizens need to establish proof of parent-child relationship to take their own children outside the US. And if US citizens want to take their minor children to Mexico, they need to establish parenthood and if travelling without the second parent have a notarized letter of authorization. All this paperwork to legally migrate with children.

        With all this in mind, I find it odd that there is so much consternation and strong condemnation of the policy without any seeming ability to understand the positive reasons for the policy. I would presume that most people would understand why US parents can’t take their children out of the country without proving the relationship, or why Mexico wouldn’t want Americans bringing their children into the US properly. Yet, when someone is aware that people show up at the border “undocumented”, not able to prove parent relationship, a clearly documented high-level of trafficking, and still want to adults to have access to minors, I find it to be an odd juxtaposition.

        And the comment of sex traffickers is not an unjustified jump. It is just as valid as assuming that all of the adults are parents. That was the point you missed about presuppositions of who crafted a policy and who is affected by it.

        So I would include that you have a lot of work to do to undo every law ever put in place to protect children by requiring adults to establish the parent-child relationship in order to move that child between countries or even for the ability of the state to separate children from parents when the state deems it in the child’s best interest. It seems pretty odd that you choose a context with even higher levels of trafficking, including sex trafficking, and other abuses to make your stand.

        The state very much should put the burden on parents wanting to bring their children across borders to establish their parent relationship. And woe to those who turn a blind eye to the victimization of children while claiming they are really showing neighborly love.

  3. CW says:


    Fantastic piece, thank you. Despite the awkward transition between the expository first half and pragmatic second half this piece really shines and it makes a stirring pro-neighbor case for certain limits on immigration.

    I will be very interested to see Leithart’s response as I have read him (and others associated with Theopolis) to be basically pro-open borders.

  4. Stephen Crawford+ says:

    Very interesting. I happen to be reading The Idiot and am getting close to the end, so I’m a bit sorry about the spoiler (I’ve been hoping that Prince Myshkin would end up with Aglaia). Also, I’ve been leaning pretty hard on Alastair’s previous blogposts about Pentecost, so I’ll just take this opportunity, Alastair, to tell you thank you for them.

    Relatedly, I’ll just say that I very much appreciate the opening reflections on Genesis. If anything, he might have pressed the parallel between Abraham and Lot a bit harder, making it even clearer that, when Lot was willing to betray his own daughters for the sake of his guests, it’s a failure of hospitality. The article gives words of warning about our modern situation, and that’s the part of the scriptural analysis that seems to resonate most with the cautions he goes on to offer.

    He is risen,


  5. Tim says:

    Thank you for this thought provoking article. I appreciated the central use of Hagar in the opening section. Rereading Genesis with my children recently, I was struck by the uniqueness of her treatment in the narrative, especially in her interactions with God.

    While generally in agreement with your practical approach in the second half of the piece, I was concerned that by emphasizing caution license might be given to those who would avoid the hospitality required (I would prefer to say given) in scripture. I think of my own home, where I could easily avoid all uncomfortable situations and people by virtue of my relatively well off life in the suburbs and the nature of transportation by car. My life in the suburban, American South is engineered to put space between me and those who might make uncomfortable demands on my hospitality. For me to be willing and actively pursue neighbor making will not necessarily direct my hospitality toward the widow, orphan, sojourner or the poor. This concern reflects a need for better Prudential decisions in making communities but it also seems to me that the duty of a Christian like myself is not just neighbor-making but the active pursuit of the disadvantaged in my society. (There are landmines aplenty on this pursuit to be sure.)

    (Apologies for any unclear phrasing or bizarre gramar/syntax, I’m typing on a phone). (Unrelatedly, do you still give tours of Durham cathedral?)

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