Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two Curious Assertions in Current Immigration Policy Debate

There are strong feelings on all sides of the immigration debate happening in America today.

I frankly haven't formed opinions on the various proposals currently before Congress...and wouldn't express them here even if I had.

But this week, I have found myself scratching my head at statements made by people with strong views on immigration policy.
Mr. Mehlman was asked about the position taken by Los Angeles-based Cardinal Mahoney and the Roman Catholic Church in this country. That body has said that it deems it wrong for America to turn immigrants away. Said Mehlman (with the curious assertions italicized):
Cardinal Mahoney and these religious leaders are essentially asking us to give charity with other people's resources. They are saying to people: We're sorry. We think there are people on the other side of the border who have a case that is more compelling, and we're going to ask you to sacrifice your job, or part of your wages, or your children's education.

There is no religious or ethical system that permits you to give charity with other people's resources. If the church wants to give charity with its own resources, that's one thing.

But when they start telling other people within the community, you know, "We're sorry; you're no longer going to be to work as a contractor in the city because there are 20 people waiting in the parking lot at Home Depot who are prepared to do that job for half the price."

Then they're giving charity with somebody else's resources. That's not moral, and that's not ethical.

Agree with the stance taken by the Roman Catholic Church on this matter or not, they're not engaged in some nefarious plan to spend "somebody else's resources."

The Church is simply participating in a societal debate, just as Mr. Mehlman is.

And, just like Mr. Mehlman, Roman Catholic citizens pay taxes. They don't intend to spend other people's money. They're talking about how Washington spends their money.

They're saying, just like the advocates of other causes--be it tax relief for investors, NASA missions to Mars, the war on Iraq, or whatever, "This is what we think the policy should be; this is how we think federal dollars should be spent."

They have as much right to do that without having some childish or nefarious motives ascribed to them as anyone else.

I'm no fan of Church engagement in politics. If the Church is lobbying Congress on this issue, it's possible that it's violating 501c3 laws. That would be wholly different from speaking out on a public issue out of pastoral or prophetic concern.

Be that as it may, when people oppose a stance taken by a Church body, they're under still obliged to make sense. Mr. Mehlman didn't make sense on Monday.
  • But I find the arguments of those favoring amnesty and a fast-track to citizenship strange, too. The argument seems to be: People need to milk the American cash cow; so, let's make them citizens.
This is part of a bigger problem that we have in America today. Americans appear to suffer from a misunderstanding about who we are and what we're about. We're losing a sense of something that is very real: American Exceptionalism.

The United States has never been simply an economic entity. To define America economically is to insult those who have lost their lives in the cause of American nationhood. Doing so ignores the ideas and ideals which have fashioned our country.

Historically, when Americans have talked about freedom, they've meant a lot more than the freedom to work a job or pile up cash. They've meant the freedom to speak, to worship, to vote, to live in peace with one's neighbor, to choose one's own job path.

The term, The American Dream, wasn't coined to describe the lust for money. The American Dream is about enjoying freedom within a community of mutual respect.

Sadly, Americans who have lived here their whole lives have come to identify the American Dream in crass economic terms. So, it should come as no surprise when citizenship is economically defined, as is happening in the immigration debate.

Nor should it surprise us that students who see America as nothing but a cash cow should show contempt for this country by hoisting the US flag upside down. We all need to pay attention to our History before we lose sight of what this country is really about!

[For more on The American Dream, see here, here, here, and here.]


Icepick said...

Re; Mehlman's Roman Catholic Church argument.

I haven't heard Mehlman's interview, nor have I read the transcript. However, based on what you have quoted I don't think Mehlman is realy claiming nefarious motives for the RCC.

He is pointing out that the RCC's position entails certain economic costs to be borne not by the RCC (and its members), but by society at large. And he seems miffed by the idea that a church wants to use the force of government to get its way with his money.

While I'm somewhat ambivalent about the immigration question, I sympathize with Mehlman's reaction to the RCC position. (And from your post it appears that this is something that the interviewer asked Mehlman, and not something he volunteered.)

If a religious institution decides to engage in public policy, they deserve no more respect than any other person or institution involved in politics. That is, they deserve to be viewed as just another bunch of jerks trying to use the threat of or actual governmental violence to get the rest of us to do what they want. That's the essence of politics, and people understand this instinctually, if not explicitly.

Icepick said...

Re: The second part of your post.

This brings to mind a quote from Calvin Coolidge, which is usually shortened to "The business of America is business." But the full quote expresses so much more.

"After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses in our life. . . . In all experience, the accumulation of wealth means the multiplication of schools, the encouragement of science, the increase of knowledge, the dissemination of intelligence, the broadening of outlook, the expansion of liberties, the widening of culture. Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a means, or so little regarded as an end, as today. It is only those who do not understand our people who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. . . . . No newspaper can be a success which fails to appeal to that element of our national life."

And yes, the current immigration debate currently lacks enough discussion of all the rest of Silent Cal's description of America.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you for your--as always--interesting comments.

By my use of the adjective nefarious, I had in mind the apparent underlying notion of Mr. Mehlman's critique: That the position of many Romans Catholics on the immigration issue was designed to use tax dollars over which they had no rightful say.

Leaving aside for the moment, the 501c3 implications of ecclesial engagement in partisan political discussions, I felt an insinuation of impracticality, of do-gooderism gone rampant, and of a desire to wickedly misuse other people's money for church purposes in Mr. Mehlman's comments.

That's all I was trying to say, perhaps ineffectively.

I do not believe that churches should ever be involved in partisan politics and except in its prophetic role of standing against egregious evil, should stay out of the political process.

To your comment: "That is, they deserve to be viewed as just another bunch of jerks trying to use the threat of or actual governmental violence to get the rest of us to do what they want."

I'm no libertarian and so can't regard government as an inherent enemy of human freedom. Nor do I greet every proposal for public spending as a greedy assault on my wallet.

Governments of all kinds are dogged by a common problem. They were summarized by that famed theologian, Pogo, who said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

All human systems of governance are are harmed or destroyed by our humanity. We bring our sin and selfishness into the process of governing.

That same selfishness necessitates governments. The New Testament affirms that governments exist (not specific ones necessarily, but as a general category) at God's behest. Absent the human condition of sin, I believe that we would act with consideration and respect for one another and no governmental refereeing would be needed.

I've written more on this elsewhere on the blog and have to be leaving here in a few moments. So, I'll not say any more on the subject.

Finally, the full Coolidge quote is interesting. Thanks so much for sharing it.

And thank you for dropping by here and for leaving your comments. They're always thought-provoking.

God bless!


Charlie said...

I agree about the church staying out of politics, Mark, so long as we are talking about church involvement in political parties or pushing specific candidates. But politics is fundamentally a system for institutionalizing our collective social values, and the church really should speak openly about the values and moral principles that ought to inform our politics.

To that end, let me recommend David Wayne's latest Jollyblogger post on what our attitude should be towards illegal aliens. I think he says something important about the way we carry on this debate and the way we must treat the strangers among us, even as we disagree on policy.

You've written well, as always, my friend. Thanks.

Mark Daniels said...

I'll have to check out what David says.

I agree with what you say in the first paragraph. The problem is that the Church so often moralizes when what it should be doing is proclaiming Christ. My belief is that if we will be about the business of disciple-making, transformed people will also be transformed citizens, voters, and politicians.

Thanks for stopping by and for your generous comments.