“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law is transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point he has become guilty of all of it…. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:8-10, 12-13)
The immigration issues in the United States are much on everyone’s mind, if for no other reason than Donald Trump and the media are making a big to do about it. Most thinking and empathetic people, however, have watched with some angst as the treatment of families and children crossing the border has brought a moral crisis to our daily awareness.
What should we do with these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? How should we be treating them and handling the situation? As the videos, photos, stories and reports stream in day after day, we can’t help but notice what is going on and react to it.
How does a Christian respond to the immigration issues that face our country?
And reactions are mixed. There are the usual Trump attackers, like tattle-tales on the playground, calling out every little (and big) thing he does. Many of these people have responded with partisan outrage, opportunistically chastising Trump and any who dare to stand with him on the issue of immigration (or anything else for that matter).
Then there are the law-and-order types, respectable human beings, honorable in all they do – or so they seem to assume. Many of them are happy to support Trump who is “making America great again” (whatever that means) and are quick to note that Trump wasn’t elected to be our moral-standard-in-Chief. They claim the illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are getting what anyone in their shoes deserves.
But below (or above) the usual cacophony are some more sage and measured voices. We can’t just open the borders to anyone. We are a nation governed by the rule of law. We should be glad to take in anyone who comes through the proper channels legally. We are not against immigration; we just can’t allow illegal immigration that might let in terrorists and criminals along with individuals and families simply seeking a better life, as our ancestors did.
And there are even some long-time conservatives joining with their more liberal brothers and sisters urging us to have a more compassionate response to immigration. We are a nation of plenty, a nation of immigrants. We have long welcomed the huddled masses on our receptive shores.
In a democracy where freedom of expression thrives, we all have a voice in what our laws are. So we all have some responsibility for our laws to the extent we are able to open our mouths. If our immigration system is clogged up and bogged down with bureaucratic inefficiency, archaic systems and inept administration, we have some obligation to speak up. We can afford to take many more people in than we do if our laws allowed it and our system was better equipped to handle them..
Not that many years ago, people just showed up on our shores, and we accepted them, guiding them through the steps to citizenship, assimilating them into the melting pot of our culture. We no longer do that. We have rules, gates, policies, walls and bureaucracy that no longer afford an immigrant that show ups simply to be let in.
Most immigrants don’t know the rules, policies and bureaucracy. They come with little more than hope and a prayer and all the belongings they can carry on their backs. Many of them have paid their life savings to traffickers who have taken advantage of the strictures, like the mob during prohibition, exploiting would be immigrants and asylum seekers on the other side of the border leading those immigrants and asylum seekers into the unforgiving clamps of the bureaucratic machine on this side of the border.
But, we have to have rules. It’s just that those rules should reflect who we are. They should reflect compassion, fairness, freedom and our heritage of welcoming immigrants from all nations to our shores. Our rhetoric should match our values. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) Our laws should match our values.
The verse at the top of this blog piece got me thinking about our response to immigration as Christians. Yes, we are a nation governed by laws, and God is a God of justice. But God is also a God of mercy. The Old Testament prophets tell us that God desires mercy rather than judgment, and He demonstrated that by shedding Himself of all of his power and glory to become man with the intention of dying in our place. He satisfied the demands of justice by His own self-sacrifice so that He could have mercy on us.
We fulfill God’s law by loving our neighbors – including our foreign neighbors. If we show partiality, we are guilty of sin. If we demand strict justice for immigrants who do not navigate the labyrinth of rules and regulations to become citizens legally, while we drive over the speed limit, fudge on our taxes and fail to tithe, we are guilty of God’s law – all of it.
If we want to demand strict justice for others, we will be given strict justice. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” The standards to which we want to hold other people are the standards to which we will be held: “For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)
Jesus told us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we are Caesar in a democracy in which we all participate through the right of freedom of speech. Most of us are not in a position to do much about the immigration issues in the United States, but we all have freedom of speech. Does our speech conform to the heart of God on the issue of immigration?
How often did Jesus preach about observing the laws of the land?
How often did Jesus preach law and order?
How often did Jesus urge his followers to advocate for tighter, stricter laws?
Think about it. This isn’t liberal, progressive, socialist talk. Those things are a false gospel.
Think about how Jesus characterized the Gospel (“the good news”):
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19 quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)
If Jesus was only talking about the spiritual poor, spiritual prisoners, spiritually blind and spiritually oppressed, he wouldn’t have physically healed anyone. He wouldn’t have cast out demons, raised people from the dead or turned water into wine. Yes, we need to seek the kingdom of God first, but these things will be added when we do seek the kingdom of God first.
Are we following Jesus? Or are we doing our own thing?