From Garland’s perspective, the Church (capital C””) is at the center of the immigration crisis. The Church is involved on both sides of the border, as most of the people attempting to enter the US are Christians. Meanwhile, the Church on this side of the border is torn about how to respond.
In the previous article, I discuss the three issues that characterize the public focus on immigration, and I address each of those narratives from a biblical, Christian perspective. In this article, I want to put a human face on the immigration crisis, as told by Garland, and invite the Church on this side of the border to wrestle with the immigration crisis from a biblical position.
For people of the Word of God, this is disheartening news. It suggests most that most Evangelical Christians’ views on immigration are shaped by the news media and politics, not by Scripture.
For this reason, I believe that Evangelicals have a critical need to ground their views on immigration in God’s Word, as Paul urges:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
In my previous article, I provided some quick Scriptural responses to the three concerns that characterize the public narratives (focusing on the law, lack of resources and resistance to change). I have already written extensively on immigration through a Scriptural lens, therefore, I am not going to try to restate or expand much on what I have already written.
Rather, I want to implore the church from the heart as I filter the immigration crisis through the eyes of John Garland on the front lines. I want to dig deeper into the Christian principle of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s without failing to render unto God what is God’s.
I want to parse out what it means to give our priority attention to the weightier matters of the law, unlike the Pharisees who tithed their dill, comin and mint, but neglected to do justice and love mercy.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This is the word of God through the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8)
Preston Sprinkle recently interviewed John Garland and Dr. Rebecca Poe Hays on the subject of immigration in episode #95 of Theology in the Raw. John Garland pastors a church in San Antonio Texas where he is immersed in ongoing immigration issues. Dr. Poe Hays is Assistant Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University.
The San Antonio area is home to several immigration prisons. Being in San Antonio means the immigration crisis is a daily reality for Pastor Garland, and his church has embraced its position in the world. For that reason, the media often comes to him for stories they can publish on immigration.
When they interview him, he says, they usually are looking for a story that fits a particular narrative. Garland says that most people doing stories on immigration have already developed their narratives when they come to him for an interview. Thus, they are typically looking for a story that fits that narrative.
That characteristic of the media is true on both sides of the political fence. Because of the media focus on certain narratives, Garland estimates that only about 5% to 10% of what we read in the news on immigration describes an accurate picture of what is happening.
Most news stories on immigration are developed according to prefabricated narratives.
One story that the news media doesn’t tell is that it involves the Church. In Garland’s personal experience, the Church is on both sides of the immigration crisis, and the Church is caught in the middle.
When there is crisis, there is often confusion. Soldiers talk about the confusion in the “fog of war”. When we experience crisis in our personal lives, we often lack the clarity, need the clarity that comes from counseling from others who can provide us perspective.
That clarity often comes from people who “have been there” and have wrestled deeply with the struggles we experience. John Garland is someone who “has been there”.
We don’t see in most media reports that the majority of the people coming across the southern border are Christians. Garland speaks from personal experience when he says,
“[The immigrants] are our Christian brothers and sisters, and 85% of them over these last seven years are evangelical Christians…. They sing the same songs as we do.”
The people that Garland and his church serve at the border read Scripture with each other and pray together every night. They worship and serve God. They seek a better life for themselves and their families. They seek safety and freedom.
Garland says that the immigration crisis is very much a 21st century version of the exodus of freedom seekers to the New World.
“This is not a political story, really. That is happening on the news…. It’s a story of the pilgrim church and how we, as a church in America, are receiving the pilgrim church, a persecuted pilgrim church.”
Garland has experienced this reality on both sides of the border. He has spent time in Central America where he watched Christian leaders being driven out by violence and persecution.
In San Antonio, his church is receiving pastors, social workers and Christian community leaders escaping the dangerous and volatile environments they have left behind as a last resort. Garland says,
“This story doesn’t fit into any of the prescribed political narratives that you are generally going to get from the news.”
In the remainder of this blog piece, I will relate the narratives that Garland has categorized in his dealings with the media. He says they boil down to three categories that are reflected in the questions he is asked over and over again.
I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.
At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.
I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.
The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.
Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.
About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”
Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”
This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.
His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.
Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.
“Earlier this summer, before I decided to take the time to read the three books I have covered in this series on critical race theory, I didn’t feel I really knew enough about it to say anything about it. I had heard a few talking heads on cable news decry it as Marxist and racist in and of itself, but didn’t really know much more than that. After a few people wrote to me and asked me what my view of CRT was and if I’d ever write a few posts on it, though, that is when I decided to read up on it and try to distill what I had learned about it in a short blog series.”
My past concerns about the critics of CRT I echo here: our baseline should be the Word of God, not political, ideological and philosophical standards. If we devolve into non-biblical standards, we loose our saltiness. We lose our distinctiveness as children of God, citizens of the kingdom of God and aliens and strangers in the world.
Because of the unique position of believers in relation to the world – in the world but not of the world – Christians have often staked out claims against injustice, including the abolition movement, while other people ignored the plight of the oppressed. I believe this is (partially) what it means to be salt and light.
Setting captives free was an essential component of the work of Jesus in the world, but it was only a component of his work. Preaching good news to the poor (the first of the things Jesus announced he came to do) is part and parcel of his purpose in the world. (Luke 4:17-20)
Neglect or rejection of the Gospel (the good news) is a chief complaint of critics of the proponents of CRT. Captives are not truly set free without it. Yet, those who would preach the good news cannot ignore the setting of the captives free. Jesus focused on both, and so should we. Thus, I agree with this first caveat of Anderson:
“I think it has to be clearly emphasized that criticism of CRT isn’t a denial of racism in America or a refusal to try to address clear problems in America that stem from our racist past.”
Anderson goes on to state:
“Rather, disagreeing with CRT means disagreeing with the claim that the American free market system and constitutional law is inherently racist and that Marxist principles and a Marxist system is what is needed to eradicate racism for good.”
I don’t disagree with him on the point that the American free market system and constitutional law is not inherently racist, or that Marxist principles are a poor substitute for a governmental system that has elevated more people out of poverty and oppression than other system of law in history. At the same time, I am not going to die on that hill. Calvary is where I will take my stand.
The Gospel spreads and the kingdom of God thrives under any system of government, no matter how good or bad, precisely because it is not of this world. The kingdom of God cannot be equated with any system of human government. It transcends them all.
Anderson goes on to criticize CRT, but he comes back to this, which I think we MUST confront, especially in the body of Christ, who came to breach good news and set the oppressed free:
“[T]he reason we even have CRT, and the reason why we have growing calls for Socialism and Marxism, is because, quite frankly, there still is racial healing to be done and there still are issues of racial injustice to be addressed—and too often those instances have been ignored. America has indeed come a long way in healing racial injustices, but America has still nevertheless failed in certain areas—that is undeniable.”
CRT developed as a critique of an American system that has expressly addressed a history of racism with laws that have produced the promised outcomes of equality and fairness and justice for which people have hoped. It developed as a legal tool to address latent racism – racism that lies below the surface and continues on despite laws that prohibit overt racial behavior.
CRT was not proposed as a Marxist ideal designed to achieve Marxist outcomes. It was an attempt to get at pernicious racial disparities that persist despite laws that expressly outlaw it. Thus, I agree with Anderson when he says:
“I believe [CRT proponents] they have a genuine concern for injustice, and they want to address it.”
People are not our enemies. We can’t forget that, even people who advocate systems we don’t believe in. Even if we count them as enemies, Jesus clearly said we should love them. We in the body of Christ need to take that imperative seriously.
We may might fight against principalities and thoughts which hold people captive, but the people who hold them and and who are influenced by them are not (should not be) our enemies. They are the ones for whom Jesus was willing to leave the 99. They are in the field that is ripe unto harvest.
Again, I don’t personally disagree with his assertion:
“The problem is that they honestly think all that is needed is the implementation of a ‘better system’—the Marxist system. But that is simply detached from historical reality. It reflects the naïve wishful thinking of an ideology that has failed miserably, time and time again.”
But these are secondary matters in relation to the kingdom of God, which is not of this world. The Gospel goes forward in communist China and Russia and in theocratic Iran. The Gospel is not deterred by the systems of human government. It thrives despite them. Sometimes it thrives because of them, as people yearn for the eternity that God put in their hearts.
The Kingdom of God is always contrary to the kingdoms of this world, even free market, constitutional, and democratic kingdoms.
I wholeheartedly agree with Anderson when he says:
“CRT certainly highlights the clear racists policies of America’s past, and it sometimes points out clear instances of racial injustice still around today.”
We should not deny these things. Of all people, followers of Jesus, who is the way, the Truth and the life, should not ignore the truth of the injustice that survives in our world. Not that we can eradicate injustice in a fallen world. Injustice in a fallen world is inevitable, but we should not be any part of it.
For this reason, alone, we dare not ignore injustice, even when the majority of the people who seem to be fighting it are advocating systems of government that tend contrary to our political views.
For this reason, therefore, I suggest that we have more in common with fighters of injustice than members of our own political tribe who stand opposed because we serve a God whose throne is built on a foundation of justice and righteousness.
The nuance of that awkward positions may seem difficult to navigate, but we should be accustomed to awkward positions – being in the world, but not of the world. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways ore not our ways. We can trust Him to lead us through it.
The 2020 Census reveals a story of changing demographics in the United States. It should hardly come as a surprise that the story is diversity. “Over the past 10 years, people who identified as Hispanic, Asian or more than one race accounted for larger shares of the population….”
I suspect we could say the same thing about many a decennial census over the history of the United States. During the history of this country, from one census to another, we can trace the movements of people, including the Spaniards and Portuguese, the English and French, the German, the Irish, the Italian, the African, the Chinese, the Poles, and on and on.
I grew up learning that the United Stated of America is a melting pot. The news of the 2020 Decennial Census is simply the continuation of the same story that is America. It is an uniquely American story, though rhetoric in the 21st Century might suggest otherwise.
The new census may reveal a plot twist of sorts, though: a “pivotal moment”. Whereas the American story of the past was primarily an European story, the plot is tending toward greater diversity. The population of “people of color” are increasingly “younger and growing more rapidly” then their traditional American counterparts with Eurocentric origins.
The population growth since 2010 “was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black or more than one race”. We can speculate on the reasons for this major shift, but the fact remains that people of color are increasingly making up a larger percent of the population, and that trend will surely continue.
My thoughts, as always, turn to the impact on the Body of Christ and how the Church is responding… and should respond… to the times. These times are a changing, crooned Bob Dylan in my youth….. But then, they are always a changing.