James R. Rogers of First Things is asking the core ethical question surrounding the issues of immigration, free trade, diversity, and globalization: how can Christians balance obligations to different groups, and should we protect our own people first in a zero-sum game?

His essay, 'How many Foreigners is an American Worth?,' deserves to be excerpted at length (bolded text added for emphasis):
Responding to the impact of globalization on U.S. workers by increasing tariffs and/or trade barriers involves making tradeoffs between the lives of Americans and the lives of workers overseas. We can’t pretend otherwise.

How should Christians respond to this tradeoff?

Occupying one end of the spectrum is an extreme version of “America First”: Only American lives should count for Americans; foreign lives count only when improving those lives impose no costs on Americans.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is an extreme version of global cosmopolitanism: Improving the lives of Americans should count for no more than improving the lives of non-Americans.

While Christian cosmopolitanism breathes a different spirit and unfolds along a different trajectory than the cosmopolitanism of today’s global elite, there is an inescapably cosmopolitan dimension to Christian identity (Phil. 3.20, Eph. 2.19, Col. 3.11, Rev. 7.9, 5.9, etc.).

But that does not mean that Christians must adopt the extreme version of cosmopolitanism. God permits, even requires, humans to have preferential commitments to sets of people smaller than humanity in general. These are the “especiallys” in the Scriptures. Paul writes to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” And in his letter to the church at Galatia, “While we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Subsidiarity implies that we have a greater duty of care, an “especial” duty, for those closer to us relative to those farther away, for those who are our “own.”


The question Christian Americans face today is how Americanness marks people off as our “own” relative to our common humanity, and what are the policy implications of this distinction.

Beyond the practical issues, there is room for additional Christian thinking about national solidarity as a natural good. I’ve heard Trump-supporting Christians prooftext the argument, anachronistically identifying modern nation-states with “nations” in the Bible. This merits fuller discussion. But differences between “nations” (ethnos in the Greek) in redemptive history and modern nation-states are significant enough that Christians should avoid facile equivocation.
Further, the sheer scale of modern nation-states seems to go missing in Christian invocations of national solidarity. With over 300 million people today, the U.S. has a population equal to the population of the entire world in 1100 A.D. National solidarity ain’t what it used to be. And relative to the solidarity in intimate communities of church, family, neighborhood, and locale, is it possible to exaggerate moral or prudential distinctions between solidarity with 300 million heterogeneous souls relative to solidarity with seven billion souls?

Americans, as those of every nation, are responsible to attend first to their own. As with families, this decentralization normally helps with the provision of people’s needs, rather than hindering it. But America “first” cannot mean American “only,” at least not for Christians. Christian Americans cannot help but ask the question, just how steep a tradeoff between American lives and foreign lives, and at what point do we cross the line from appropriate preference to inappropriate neglect?
The way in which Christians answer these questions will define our trajectory on socio-political issues. Taking a protectionist approach leads to just war theory and strong borders, taking a liberal approach leads to pacifism and mass immigration.