Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Living the Love Command: Immigration

Warning: This post may be annoying to some.  Walk away as desired.  I am filling in a gap in a chapter in the Jesus book on applying the command to love one's neighbor.
What does it mean to live out Jesus' priorities today, especially for those who live in the United States with its current issues? An important warning should precede any controversial discussion of this sort. Principles and values are one thing. Playing them out politically is something quite different.

I have often found that when there is significant debate over an issue and the issue seems like a slam dunk to me, I'm probably missing something. There are usually extremely intelligent people on every major side of a debate, and presumably every one of them sees something true in the debate. Usually, if we can calm down and actually listen to each other, everyone can gain something.

I also believe we as humans are prone to blind spots. We are prone to rationalize our true motivations, to make ourselves seem purer and more noble than we are. We are prone to take positions based on the "herd" to which we belong rather than sound reasoning. We are prone to oversimplify things and make things black and white that are actually gray.

So what would Jesus' values be in relation to an issue like illegal immigration?  Those who are most in favor of hard core tactics in relation to illegal immigrants usually say things like, "These are people who are breaking the law who must be punished."  "These are people who are taking away the jobs of the people who actually are from here." "These people bring drugs and criminal activity into the US."

It seems to me that it is appropriate for a country to be careful who comes in and out of its borders, to protect its people.  The spirit of Jesus surely values protecting the innocent in one's own country, as well as those in other countries! But it is hard to hear Jesus saying anything in the previous paragraph. Should there be laws about borders and should there be enforcement of those laws? Surely. But when the response to something is out of proportion to the cause, something else is going on, something psychological and beneath the surface.

Jesus never put law over people. Rather, he disregarded the law when it came into conflict with people, as we've seen. And there is often not a little hypocrisy in those who like the "law" argument when it comes to the issue of immigration. Do you speed? Do you fudge on your income taxes. Do you ever use the stop sign rule, "No cop; no stop"?

There is nothing intrinsically more significant to the imaginary line between the US and Canada than the sign that says 55mph or the law to wear your seat belt.  It is a man-made line, a legitimate one, but one created by one people to keep other people out. Immigration laws are human-made laws, not divine laws. Such laws change regularly, unlike biblical instruction about adultery or falsely accusing someone.

No one who reads the gospels on their own terms could conclude that Jesus would let a stranger in the land starve to death, a value deeply ingrained in the Old Testament Law (e.g., Exod. 22:21; Lev. 25:35). If an immigrant commits a violent crime, s/he should be prosecuted for the crime, not for being an immigrant, whether legal or not. Certainly there should be some consequence for a person being in the country illegally.  Otherwise laws over boundaries become meaningless.And there is a legitimate argument that making too many exceptions to a law only encourages more law breaking.

But one has to suspect that the furor over immigration that arises from time to time is as much about immigration, period, as it is about illegal immigration. This is the case because this is not a new story. It is a story that has been repeated all over the world time and time again throughout history. It happened when the Irish came to America. It happened when Italians came to America or the Chinese. Americans still tell Polack jokes as an artifact of an earlier immigration wave.

What is usually going on in these situations is a fear of the other and a fear of how the other group might change our traditions and our ways of life. The only thing new about Hispanic immigration today is the fact that white Americans may not be in the majority in the future.  Of course there really is no such thing as "white."  "White" is simply the word we use for all the non-African, non-Asian past immigrants who have been here long enough to blend together--English, Irish, German, Swedish, Dutch, and a host of others.

Jesus would demand that we not judge others because of how they look. I have a number of family members who were born and raised in the United States but who have one parent from a foreign country. Some of them have darker skin than others. Those with the darker skin get stopped more often by the police and sometimes get followed around in stores. Again, you cannot be a true follower of Jesus and approach others in this way.

Jesus would demand that we love the illegal immigrant and that the consequences of illegality in our laws be just but loving.  If our legislators were ever to cross the line, then Jesus’ example is one of law-breaking. The founders of my church were abolitionists, who were willing to break the law of the land when the lives of slaves were at stake. In the same way, it is possible that there would be a time when our commitment to Jesus’ values would require civil disobedience on matters relating to immigrant individuals.

It is not my intention to try to spell out precisely what that would look like or exactly what circumstances would call for that sort of action. It is only to say that in God’s eyes, it is just as important for the immigrant to have a job as the citizen. The foreigner is every bit as important to God as the person born in the USA. And if the foreigner is God’s child, s/he is more deserving of God’s blessing than the natural born.


Bob MacDonald said...

Good stuff - you write: appropriate for a country to be careful,...

How much I am reminded of that saying in Revelation that reflects Psalm 1 - the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations.

Protection is usually a matter of either work I don't want to do, and money I don't want to pay too much of. So here in Canada, transient farm workers have been transported in vehicles not up to standard re safety and I am sure there are other aspects too.

CBC investigative reports do some good to expose the failures - but some governments don't want to support such possible whistle blowing...

You can tell I am not a politician

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"God" is a universal that poses a "problem" about/toward discriminating tastes. But, humans have to have discrimination to even identify humans identify by their chosen or cultural group references....Laws are what protect boundaries and boundaries are definitive, othewise, they are meaningless.

Sovereignty cannot be given up without loosing what one cannot afford to loose, that is, one's own identity! And choice is a basic componant to one's identity.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In the case of America, we believe that no one, even "the gods" are above the law. "Equality" has to be within the boundaries of "Constitutional restraints", unless we want to give up our Sovereignty as a nation and "the rule of law" that protects our rights as citizens!

Ken Schenck said...

We also have a rich tradition of civil disobedience in America, starting with the American Revolution, through Emerson's famous essay, to the abolitionists, to the civil rights era. Civil laws are human laws, and it is the privilege of the citizen to break them in protest, especially if we are willing to face the consequences.

People like you and me make the laws, and we sometimes get it wrong.

::athada:: said...

You summarized perfectly: "What is usually going on in these situations is a fear of the other and a fear of how the other group might change our traditions and our ways of life." How many of us have thought through what immigration means (positively) for God's work in the world, the "next new thing" that God is up to beneath the surface? How many stories in Scripture involve people-movements, for that matter?!

Christians should be practicing the equivilent of racial (or more accurately, socioeconomic) profiling. People in need should have a "bat signal" with an image of the Cross. The Church looks for the least and the lost, the hurting and the mourning, and goes there. (Of course guarding against paternalism, racism, etc ;)

Martin LaBar said...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Immigration, traditionaly meant that one was acculturated into a specified culture, where one learned the language, etc. Today, America has to accomodate the foreigner, instead of the foreigner making themselves compliant to our cultural values. What happens? Radical ideologies are tolerated at our detriment! And that goes for civil rights (Black Panthers) to religious liberty (Islamic adherents/ Christian fundamentalists)...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

AND teachers have to be bi-lingual so as not to offend those that can't speak our language....which makes educating much harder!