Arizona Neighbor On My Mind
Arizona neighbor, how I love and advocate for thee. But wait. Who exactly is my Arizona neighbor? Immediately after signing Arizona’s latest (and for some, controversial) immigration law (BS1070), governor Jan Brewer explicitly defined that neighbor for us: “The citizens of Arizona.” No surprises there. After all, if our Lutheran theology of vocation teaches us anything, it is that no decisions on what is just, right, or reasonable in matters of the law should be made without having some concrete neighbor or sets of neighbors in mind.
Governor Brewer should know. She is a Lutheran! “I’ve prayed for strength and I’ve prayed for our state,” the governor said, as she spoke briefly on her wrestling with her decision to sign what has become a highly debated bill. The governor’s bio on her website states that she is an active member of Life in Christ Lutheran Church in Peoria, Arizona, a LCMS congregation located in Maricopa County, the fifth county in the United States with the largest Hispanic population on record (about 1,224,005 in 2008 according to the Pew Hispanic Center).
Theologically speaking, the governor’s speech on signing day clearly reflected her vocational priorities in decision-making within the context of her identity as a citizen and, much more concretely, of her office as governor in the temporal or left-hand realm or kingdom. She stated: “To my administration and to me, as your governor and as a citizen, there is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona.” Vocational priority really does drive decision-making.
And so we return to that question: Who is the Arizona neighbor on my mind? The question is important: It settles who I will advocate for. It also settles who I will NOT advocate for. Who that non-neighbor (?) is and what he looks like is also clearly delineated in the governor’s speech: “Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues for the people of our state….We do not sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings, and violence compromise our quality of life.”
While the bill targets illegal immigrants, the governor is actually more specific than that as she bears her soul–as much as a public official can–on the reasons that led her to signing of BS1070. She is concerned about drug dealers and their cartels, coyote drop houses, kidnappers, and violent people. These are your hard-core criminals! So we know who the real bad guys in this whole picture are as we hear the state governor take us briefly through some of the reasons that led her to advocate for the safety and quality of life of Arizona citizens.
We can’t really blame the governor. As far as advocating for the well-being of some concrete neighbor, within the context of her God-given vocation as governor in the civil realm, the governor has actually done her duty.
Lutheran theology respects and submits to God-given authority, but it also tries to make this little distinction between God-given offices and those who hold those offices at any particular time and place. Office holders in both the right- and left-hand kingdoms can err (ask Luther), but God will still preserve the world in both realms through his established offices. That should bring both fear and comfort to office bearers everywhere. I think governor Brewer might have implicitly given us a sense of that fear of God as she described how her decision to sign the law was not taken lightly and how she thought about its implications “long into the night.”
Arizona neighbor on my mind. The neighbor is relentless. So we keep asking: Who is my neighbor? Some would argue that, in making her decisions, the state governor has let some other neighbors fall through the cracks. Well, that is inevitably always the case in a less than ideal world. Somewhere in between the good guys who need protection (Arizona citizens) and the really bad guys that governor Brewer mentioned explicitly in her speech are a whole bunch of people whose lives are not being taken into account very clearly. These kinds of people range anywhere from legal immigrants of Hispanic origin to illegal immigrants not involved in the kinds of criminal activity explicitly mentioned by the governor. These are people in the margins of legal and political categories, discourse, and decision-making.
Who advocates for those sets of neighbors? Challenges to the constitutionality of the law are coming soon because of its potential threat to the civil liberties of people (that is–let’s not kid each other–Hispanic-looking people!) who are most likely to be racially profiled as a result of the bill’s law enforcement provisions. And so it seems that other civil servants ranging from governors of other states to President Obama himself also have a particular set of neighbors in mind for whom they want to advocate. Who can blame them for that?
And then of course, there will be others who will advocate for the hard-working immigrants whose legal status is questionable but over the years have contributed to the economic vitality of the state, whose children were born here and know no other country than this land of freedom and opportunity, whose families are a weird composite or citizens, residents, and illegal aliens all living under the same roof. These neighbors will also have their advocates. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), for example, has chosen consistently to advocate for the unity of the family as they take a critical look at the rapidly changing nature of immigration laws everywhere. Who can blame them for that?
Then, of course, are church workers who feel that some civil laws are intrusive in their God-ordained work of Gospel proclamation. How many pastors knowingly or unknowingly transport illegal immigrants, taking parents and their kids back and forth from Sunday school and other church-related activities? Will activities that take place in the context of fostering the proclamation of the Gospel and pastoral care be criminalized ipso facto? You can expect some Lutheran churches raise their concerns about left-hand intrusion into the right-hand realm. They will be advocating for the neighbor who needs to hear the Gospel regardless of his or her legal status. Expect that kind of statement of concern from the officers of the 4th National Hispanic Lutheran Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Yes, that is the same Synod governor Jan Brewer belongs to.
Who is my neighbor? The Lutheran teaching of vocation allows us to be bold in our advocacy of some concrete neighbor. That will often leave some neighbor out, I suppose. But in the end, God still manages to run the world and promote the life of many neighbors, even those who seem to fall through the cracks. We can be thankful for that.
Someday I really would love to see governor Jan Brewer, member of a LCMS congregation, and President Magariño from the Hispanic Lutheran Convention of the LCMS, have coffee together and talk about law, vocation, and neighbor. Better yet, I would love to see them take the Lord’s body and blood together at the same altar. That should be no problem: Disagreements on the law should not get in the way of our unity in Christ which the Gospel creates and sustains. They also should not get in the way of honoring each other’s vocations and those neighbors God has called us to advocate for and defend.