April 28, 2014


I have been reading “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness,” a recent product of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the U.S.A.      

I was struck by the use of “undocumented migrants” in paragraph 36 and reminded of my longstanding discomfort with the term “undocumented.”

Of course, the usual phrase is “undocumented immigrants.” This has become the politically correct euphemism for what used to be called “illegal immigrants.” This rhetorical change has occurred for at least two reasons. First—and this is not always acknowledged— “undocumented” is seen as less severely judgmental. Second, it is argued that the undocumented immigrant, qua person, is not illegal, though that person may be in this country by virtue of having committed an illegal act.

That is all well and good, but the term “undocumented” suggests not so much deliberate violation of federal law as it does simple bureaucratic slip up in the processing of paperwork. Public discourse would benefit from a term that is less harsh than “illegal” but more properly descriptive than “undocumented.”

I suggest that “unsanctioned immigrant” might be a better term, as the referent has not received the sanction of the government to be in the country. The phrase has something of a double meaning, at least insofar as we do not allow such a person to remain in the country while imposing a penalty—the unsanctioned immigrant has not been sanctioned (punished) for entering the country illegally.

Postscript: I have found the various Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogues (particularly ARCIC) worrisome, since Anglicans have a tradition of diversity, and Roman Catholics seem to have a tradition of proclaiming truth and resisting any suggestion that it is anything but Truth. My concern has been that the Anglicans, in the spirit of Christian unity, will be tempted to give away the store. The latest ARC-USA paper is actually reassuring, however. It is about explaining and illustrating how Episcopalians, on one hand, and Roman Catholics, on the other, evaluate and teach about issues of morality. The paper makes no attempt to suggest that the methodologies or conclusions of moral reasoning in the two churches will (or even should) converge anytime soon. As such, the paper is a helpful educational tool. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that unified moral witness.

1 comment:

  1. It's worth noting the comments of my old dogmatics professor, Eugene Rathbone Fairweather, who was an Anglican member of the first Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. According to ERF, there was no doctrinal disagreement that came up where the division was along denominational lines. There were always Anglicans and always Roman Catholics on each side. There is more diversity in the Italian Mission that their Headquarters likes to acknowledge.


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