Sunday, April 09, 2006

Christian Teaching and Immigration

The other day I linked favorably to a post by Rev. Tom Ascol discussing his views on immigration in light of the experiences in his church in south Florida. The blogger at VolunteerVoters testily responded that he was "tired of people counseling 'Christian' compassion," and suggested the pastor should baptize an illegal immigrant and then take him to the border and "wish him luck."

Since Rev. Ascol is a Calvinist, I doubt that he uses the word "luck" very frequently, but many bloggers won't let details get in the way of a good line. Neither will many mind that such advice flies in the face of biblical commandments regarding Christian compassion:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? [James 2:15-16 (ESV)].

The normally more thoughtful Bill Hobbs responds favorably to the VolunteerVoters post, praising a reference to opposing turning the nation into a "flophouse" (which I took to be flippant nonsense: most immigrants are here to work, not rely on charity), while accusing Rev. Ascol and me of favoring short term, rather than long term, compassion. For Mr. Hobbs, long term compassion means making "them stay in Mexico where they can reform their own country to improve it for today and for future generations yet unborn." As to the present situation, Mr. Hobbs is ignoring that presently at least 12 million of those cats have already been let out of the bag. Nor is it clear how forcing a whole population to remain in a place where they see no opportunity constitutes compassion. No one is arguing that there is an obligation to allow in everyone who wants to come, but Mr. Hobbs suggestion is so sweeping as to be irrelevant. Perhaps our ancestors should have stayed in Europe? Perhaps we should be forced to return?

The Bible is not vague on the issue of the treatment of foreigners. In particular, many passages in the Old Testament (see, for two or many possible examples, Exodus 22:21, 22 and Zechariah 7:10) put specific human faces on commands for human acts of mercy. Such mercy was to be shown with particular regard to four groups: the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners. The command in the Exodus passage to treat foreigners kindly is rooted in the Jewish people's own experience as foreigners in Egypt.

For Christians, the way that biblical passages should be applied to matters of public policy is not always clear cut; however, this particular debate seems to be one in which Christians, on principle, cannot simply line up with what seems by some to be regarded as the conservative position.

9 comments:

John Norris Brown said...

I think you are correct, HJ.

Donna Locke said...

Harry, I can relate to what you are saying on a microcosmic level, but it is important for people to understand that many of those working for immigration control feel no less guided spiritually. Many, many immigration-control activists, including a number of the national leaders, are very religious. Some are ministers.

We are taking the long view, the big-picture view, and feel that massive immigration, particularly massive illegal immigration and the subsequent, obvious defeat of our traditional assimilation model, is destructive to the United States, whose role is crucial to the advancement of freedom and the very survival of all of humanity.

Get tough now or pay later.

Donna Locke
Tennesseans for Immigration Control and Reform

HJ said...

Donna, I agree that well meaning Christians can come to conclusions that differ from my own, and don't want to pretend that I have defined the inarguably "Christian" position. However, I think that many are taking positions without ever engaging Scriptural arguments on the issue. I want to at least get Christians to think about their positions.

Of course, I would prefer to think that once they do that they will agree with me!

Sharon Cobb said...

Hi Harry,
It's safe to say Jews and Christians have failed miserably by not putting their faith into actions.
How do I know this?
There would be no homeless or hungry people in this country if the majority of Jews and Christians followed their own teachings.

HJ said...

Sharon, while I think that is overly optimistic, I agree that we have not done all that we could.

Kat Coble said...

Since Rev. Ascol is a Calvinist,

I would have to say that perhaps there are those who are just not predestined to be Americans. You know, not everyone who cries unto me "American! American!" will be given citizenship.

Truthfully, while I'm not taking the same hardline as Bill and ACK (I'm of the keep some & fine them/send the others back school of thought), I think that our Christian compassion needs to not only include those who have come here illegally but also those to whom we have a sworn duty as fellow citizens. Otherwise we run the risk of being sort of a Robin Hood For Christ place where we steal from the citizenry to be 'compassionate' to the alien.

HJ said...

Kat, As I am also a Calvinist, I would have to say that your version of predestination differs far from that of the orthodox. Predestination is not inconsistent with human responsibility.

I don't believe that Christians as a whole are anywhere close to exhausting their supply of generosity. It is far more likely that as a group they are using Christianity to rubberstamp whatever they happen to want to believe anyway, thus giving themselves an excuse for not responding in accordance with scriptural dictates.

A few years ago it was said that there were Baptists (that was my denomination) who would send money to Africa to help black people, but they wouldn't let black people into their own church. The same might be said relative to current immigrants.

won't said...

The Bible also says to follow the laws. Illegal immigrants are not doing that. The Bible does not say you need to aid illegal immigrants. A foreigner and a person in the country illegally are two different types of people. I don't go to other peoples' country and break their laws and expect to not pay the consequences and they should do the same in our country. Their is nothing wrong with having laws and rules to control chaos. Please show me the passage that says we need to uphold illegal immigration. It is not in my Bible. Or show me the Bible passage that says we should break the law by aiding illegal immigrants.

Anonymous said...

We are all created in the image of God.