A Biblical Lens on Immigration
I hate Brent Barry right now. This is the hardest blog entry assignment ever. In case you don’t remember, last week Brent challenged us to "choose any 'hot button issue' or controversial topic and write on it, but do so from a perspective of Jesus's love, mission, and ministry." He’s going to go last. Thanks, Brent Barry.
So I got stumped, and I put out an SOS on my Facebook page, imploring my friends list to help me choose a topic. Kyle Smith suggested illegal immigration. So here we go.
Looking at immigration from a biblical perspective is hard enough. The holiness code in the Old Testament, as well as the radical hospitality celebrated by our biblical heroes, calls for kindness, acceptance, help, and overall generosity to folks who are traveling through a strange land or those who have settled far away from their home countries.
Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Naomi, Jacob, Mary, Joseph, and even baby Jesus spend time as "resident aliens" living in lands that are not their own. But on the other hand, the Bible makes some troubling (in my opinion) statements on intermarriage and racial issues, punishing those who lose the traditions of their people by marrying into foreign cultures and adopting other religions.
The story of Phinehas has him murdering a couple because their romantic encounter is seen as impure and in Ezra/Nehemiah the newly returned Israelites banish their foreign-born wives and mixed-race children into the wilderness where they presumably die. Both the stories reflect these actions as "pleasing to the Lord." I say all this to point out that the issue is really confusing to me from a religious standpoint.
And then we have Jesus Christ, savior of the universe, son of God, fully human yet fully divine. Jesus preaches release to the captives. He advocates for the poor and disenfranchised. He feeds the hungry and tells his followers that every time they give food or drink to someone who needs it, every time they visit the sick, lonely, or imprisoned, it is the same as doing so to Christ himself. He implores his followers to give even the cloaks off their backs to help someone in need. There is no one more patient, loving, and kind in the history of the universe.
Yet in the book of Matthew, Jesus calls a Canaanite woman a dog and tells her he's just here to help the lost sheep of Israel… because she's asked him to heal her child. (He ends up helping her anyway.) What on earth are we supposed to do with that story? Did she just catch him on a bad day? I mean, if you're like me you forget that story even exists because Jesus is synonymous with love, acceptance, and challenging the powers and principalities that make injustice a reality.
And of course he gave us these lines:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep."
So here is what I’m taking from all of this:
- I think it's okay if the issue of illegal immigration makes you angry (either because you see the situation as unfair to our country or because you're angry at the situations that are forcing folks to flee their homelands) and I don't think you should be ashamed of your anger.
- It's okay if you feel like the injustices causing people to cross the border are big issues and certainly worth our time and concern, but you just don't see open borders as a viable option.
- It's okay if you are so moved by the suffering you're prioritizing it above any other immigration issue and you want to welcome people in and trust in God that somehow we (and God) will provide what these people need.
- It's okay to have different opinions depending on the specific situation.
- It's okay to see this as a black and white issue.
- It's okay to want to help these people in radical and tangible ways, even if it upsets others.
And if that's too wishy-washy for you, taking into account the love, ministry, and teachings of Christ Jesus, it is NOT okay to:
- Talk about these people in any way that diminishes their humanity. No racial slurs, no racial stereotyping, no violent threats, and no fear mongering. Do not hold up signs instructing them to "Get the hell out!" or chant to a bus load of scared children, "We don't want you!" I'm pretty confident Jesus would not be on board with that.
- Minimize the issue. Seriously, people are not crossing the border to "leach off our welfare systems," "to drop their anchor babies," or "get freebies from the government." People are risking their lives and all their material possessions to escape violence, persecution, conscription into gangs, sexual slavery, and such extreme poverty that they don't stand a chance any other way. It is one thing to say, "this is bad but we can't help you." It is another to portray them as lazy moochers with dishonest intentions. If you're doing this, you are part of the problem.
- Put people in danger to make a point. It is not okay to sabotage the water jugs well-meaning people leave out for border-crossers hoping that a more dangerous crossing will lower numbers. It is not okay to riot and protest in a violent manner. It is not okay to take matters into your own hands when encountering "an illegal." Jesus may have been an instigator, but foremost he was a healer.
That's where I see this issue these days ‒ murky in some ways and clear in others. And if you're interested in discussing this issue in a context of faith, I encourage you to attend a special Faith on Tap screening of the documentary Anchor Baby on Monday, October 13th.
ANCHOR BABY, directed and produced by Leanna Creel and Mason Funk, is a film about a mother and a daughter, caught in the grip of America's unresolved immigration crisis, and the bold moves they take to stay together against all odds. Anchor Baby is intended to enliven our national conversation about the best way to justly and compassionately deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. You can view the movie's trailer here.