Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Immigration? What Would Jesus Do...

Dear Friends,

A family member once asked me one of those truly great questions so complex and confounding 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 then 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 one in the neighborhood with the American Flag on a 20' flagpole. And today, I’m also 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 in Biblical times before we can even attempt to extrapolate those Godly principles that we can apply to America today.

We flag-waving Conservatives enthusiastically point to passages of scripture that refer to foreigners. Anyone from outside the nation of Israel was inferior and possessed restricted rights. There was legislation concerning their limited rights in both civil and financial matters. Deut 15:3 Deut 23:20 They could not eat the Passover Exodus 12:43 intermarry Exodus 34:12-16 become king Deut 17:15 or even enter the Temple. Ezekiel 44:9 In the New Testament, we read that the very presence of foreign Greeks (meaning the Gentile, non-Jews) in the Temple defiled the holy place. Acts 21:27-28 

It’s easy for some to cry “Yes and Amen” and use those verses to show that we need strong regulations to limit the rights of immigrants today. But then we remember that we too are “Gentiles,” and according to these scriptures, that would have placed us 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.” Leviticus 19:33-34 And in the New Testament we read that we are to welcome strangers as if they were Jesus. Matthew 25:31-46 

Those are the verses that tell us how to welcome and treat the foreigners in our country. But it would be a mistake to also use those verses to justify that all immigrants should receive the full benefits of the American citizen.The foreigners needed to assimilate into the Hebrew religion and culture before they could receive all the blessings and benefits of an Israelite citizen. Only by obeying and accepting the law and becoming “Israelites,” could the 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, if they want the benefits of citizenship, they must take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Immigration has always been a controversial issue. God rebuked the Hebrews for their hostility towards foreigners and He may not be happy with the way some of us Christians are responding to the issue of immigration today. That’s why, as our government decides what to do with immigrants, I’m just going to love them like Jesus. Yes, I am a flag-waving American. But above the flag, there’s a cross.  Amen?

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