Ellen Clark Clemot
Cascade Books, 140 pages | Published March 22, 2022
Ellen Clark Clemot has written a lucid, pastoral and engaging guidebook for churches discerning an appropriately Christian response to the presence of undocumented refugees in their communities. Focusing on undocumented asylum-seekers, rather than immigrants in general, Clemot offers a nuanced portrait of the plight of “stateless” residents who live and work among us without a resolved political status.
Evolving from her doctoral work, Discerning Welcome is bookended by accounts of Clemot’s personal experience with an undocumented refugee in her congregation and seeks to “develop a Reformed Christian immigration ethic that respects the common cause of refugee and nation-state to promote earthly peace.” She first highlights John Calvin’s own refugee experience, advocating for a “new cosmopolitanism” that recognizes the necessity of borders but still prioritizes refugees, before drawing on Reformed views of neighbor-love (like those of Karl Barth) that underscore the humanity of undocumented refugees. She concludes with a practical theology outlining the measured steps congregations can take — including careful consideration of the strengths and limits of civil disobedience aligned with the “new sanctuary” movement alongside advocacy within the bounds of the law.
Clemot offers a compelling vision and strategy to help undocumented refugees toward political personhood. The author brings together expert legal opinion, Reformed theological acumen, and pastoral discernment to aid Christians and their congregations in extending gracious welcome to undocumented refugees in their communities. Clemot shows how the church’s welcome goes to the heart of its identity in relation to God’s covenant, situating the sometimes confounding gaps between alienage laws and US immigration policy within the broader scope of Christians’ responsibility to God and, secondarily, to the state.
This accessible book would make a great adult forum topic, particularly for churches wondering how to advocate for and with undocumented refugees and for pastors and other leaders seeking a theological framework to explain the need to welcome refugees. Covering Reformed theology, ethics, law, immigration policy and political theology, yet remaining well under 150 pages, is a testament to the book’s conciseness. At the same time, if the book were to be extended, it might include more biblical material. While chapter headings include biblical quotations, there is little direct engagement with the Bible’s abundant use of “alienage” language (e.g., Lev 19, Ephesians 2, 1 Peter), which would have further identified the welcome of refugees as a biblical commitment.
At a time of almost unprecedented displacement of people – from Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Syria to name only the most recent cases – Clemot’s book will be an increasingly valuable resource to educate all Christians in how to practice a loving ethic of witness and welcome. The book is especially timely given the 225th General Assembly’s recent declaration to be a “sanctuary and accompaniment church.” We can be grateful to Clemot for offering the denomination a framework to follow through on its commitments on both a national and congregational level.
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