Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Immigration: A Christian Response

Dear Friends,

A family member recently asked me one of those truly great questions so complex and controversial that it forces you to wrestle with it for a spell until you are comfortable articulating your thoughts.

On the issue of illegal immigrants, she wrote, I “..would like your opinion as a Christian and as a law abiding citizen (which comes first??)” She also wrote, “Some Christians say, "what would Jesus do"? How far are we supposed to extend our freedoms to those less fortunate??”

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a law abiding, red-blooded American Conservative Republican who went door-to-door with my father to campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Our house in West Hollywood was the only private residence with the American Flag on a 20' flagpole. And today, I’m a born-again, Bible-thumping, washed-in-the-blood, Spirit-filled, unabashed and unashamed follower of Jesus Christ. 

So what I loved most about her email was her asking me, “..which comes first??” Because that answer determines my thoughts, not just on immigration, but on everything that America struggles with today. What does come first? Do we look at politics through our faith based on God’s word in the Bible? Or do we read and interpret our Bible through the filter of our ingrained political beliefs?

Exegesis is the rendering of scripture to determine the original meaning of what the writer intended to say. When looking at Old Testament scriptures regarding “foreigners,” “strangers” and “sojourners” we need to do our exegesis to understand the practices 3,500 years ago before we can even attempt to extrapolate Godly principles to apply to America today.

We flag-waving Conservatives enthusiastically point to passages of scripture that refer to foreigners. Anyone outside the nation was inferior and possessed restricted rights (Gen 31:15). They could not eat the Passover (Ex 12:43) intermarry (Ex 34:12-16) become king (Deut 17:15) or even go to “church.” 

In fact, Acts 21:27-28 tells us that the very presence of Greeks (meaning the Gentile, non-Jews) in the temple defiled the holy place. It’s easy to cry “Yes and Amen” and use those verses to show that we need strong regulations to limit the rights of immigrants today. Then I remember that I too am a “Gentile” and according to these scriptures, that would have placed me in the category of the inferior foreigner. And of course, that puts a little different spin on things here...

We love to quote Jesus summing up Old Testament law in what we call the two great commandments: “Love God with all your heart... and love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus quoted the “loving your neighbor” part from Leviticus 19:18 and in verses 33-34 we read: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” 

And then we read Matthew 25:31-46 telling us that we are to welcome strangers as if they were Jesus. But loving the friend or the stranger doesn’t mean we’re to enable their unlawful behavior and this is where it gets complex and controversial. 

In Leviticus, God rebukes Israel for their hostility toward “strangers” but the foreigners were not automatically granted the benefits of citizenship in Israel. Only by obeying and accepting the law and its requirements, could foreigners be included in the nation. Only when they were willing to give up all ties to their mother country and learn the traditions, the language, laws and customs of Israel, could the male immigrant be circumcised into the nation of Israel and bring the rest of his family with him.

And while we may not want to require the ritual act of circumcision as a prerequisite for citizenship in America, it is required that everyone living here obey our nation’s laws. And, as our government decides what to do with immigrants, I’m just going to love them like Jesus. Yes, I’m a flag-waving American. But above the flag, there’s a cross.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Pastor John for "Immigration: A Christian Response". I struggle with the thought that legislators pass policies that grant drivers' licenses to un documented immigrants and that these same undocumented persons can receive in-state tuition. Yet, as the daughter of immigrants that waited years to apply to become legally naturalized citizens of my birth country, I also know that my mother especially reminds me to be compassionate and welcome all. -yg