We have a somewhat romanticized view of immigration in the US. All of us in the United States reading this article are the benefactors of immigration, unless your ancestors were all Native American. Thus, the vast majority of us have benefitted from the various waves of immigration to the US in the past.
My ancestors immigrated at various times from England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland and France. It’s no wonder, then, that I view our history of immigration with some appreciation and sentimentality, and I believe most people with European ancestry feel like I do in that respect unless.
If you have much Native American or African ancestry, then, your view might be a bit different. If you have Chinese ancestry, you might feel differently. If you had German ancestry in 1750’s, you also might feel differently, but I will get to that.
We also tend to view our immigrant ancestors as hard-working, honest, and lawful people checking off the right boxes, jumping through the right hoops and diligently observing the protocols demanded of them to enter the country. We have earned the right to be citizens through their noble and respectful efforts.
Most of us, me included in years past, don’t really know the history of immigration to the United States other than the generalized and romanticized notions we carry from the US history we learned s children.
I am not a big fan of the new approach to American history that downplays the great positives that characterize the birth of our nation and its unique place in the world as a leader in many facets of human existence from governance to industry, science, and technology, medicine and human rights and in many other ways. At the same time, I think we should be honest about our history.
Immigration in the New World was relatively open, with exceptions, before 1882. Benjamin Franklin advocated in 1751 to exclude Germans and Africans from settling in the New World because he was “partial to the complexion of my country”. Alexander Hamilton “warned of the dangers of absorbing and especially naturalizing too many foreigners”. In fact, it seems that fear of immigrants is (at least) as old as the New World itself.
People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington opposed those views at the time, though Jefferson’s opinion may have been motived by a perception that German immigrants were more apt to support him politically. Some things don’t change!
I am not going to recount all the history of immigration in the United States. I am sure I don’t know the half of it, but a few noteworthy historical markers might be instructive in these times.
My interest here is the evangelical church in the United States, of which I am a member. How should we as a church orient ourselves to the immigration issues in our time in light of Scripture?
I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?
I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:
“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”
I am familiar with the thinking of patriotic Christians because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.
The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.
Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands like a city set on a hill for the world to see.
While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.
The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. The focus was on faith. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.
I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 21st Century. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles. That tribalism caused the first schism in the early church.
The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe we are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.
Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that patriotic element differently. God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.
(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)
The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as our brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.
That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world. We all have our own unique vantage points and perspectives, and for that reason I need to listen to others because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position.
Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world. The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump:
“Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.”
This is a major concern. We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.
I have been writing about and trying to convey a certain perspective on racial tensions in the United States and the response of the American Church to those tensions, but I fear I haven’t done the subject justice. An article I read today on the Resurrecting Orthodoxy blog[i] clarifies some of my thoughts and prompts this article. The author’s subject is the book by Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: An African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. (I have the book and intend to read it myself.)
To be clear, when I speak of the “American Church”, I am really thinking of my own tribe – the evangelical church in the United States. My tribe are the people who the political pundits label “white evangelicals”. I don’t like the label, but these are “my people”.
That doesn’t mean that “we” don’t have African Americans, Mexicans and Latin Americans, and other ethnicities in our churches. We do. We are predominantly white, though, in the evangelical circles in which I have grown up as a Christian since my college days.
Regardless of the pews where people sit on Sundays and who sits next to them, political pollsters separate “white evangelicals” from their black counterparts. This distinction has bothered me because it suggests a false dichotomy.
Theologically, we agree on primary beliefs. The article on Reading While Black describes those beliefs as follows:
“(1) The importance of a ‘born again’ experience, (2) The demonstration of the Gospel in missionary and social reform efforts, (3) The upholding the authority of Scripture, and (4) The stress on the sacrificial death of Jesus as what makes redemption possible.”
On this point, Joel Edmund Anderson, the author of the article says:
“… I couldn’t help thinking as I read the book that the book’s title is actually misleading, for I didn’t see McCaulley’s black ecclesial interpretation of the Bible to really be a black interpretation at all. It was a faithful Christian interpretation.” (Emphasis in the original)
This observation underscores the main point of my article today: white Christians and black Christians agree many things at the heart of faith. We agree on the necessity of being born again, the missionary nature of the Gospel, the authority of Scripture, and the redemption from sin through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
We don’t agree, though, on politics, and we vote very differently. Polls clearly show that white evangelicals voted about 80% in favor of Donald Trump, while black “evangelicals” voted just the opposite – about 80% against Donald Trump.
It’s tempting to try to explain that difference away on the basis of conservative and progressive/liberal ideologies and miss the clear common ground in our biblical beliefs. It’s also tempting to blame this difference on race alone. Race surely is a key distinctive. But why?
I think many Americans have been trying to decompress from the events that took place on January 6th. The long, tense build up to the electoral college vote count, the persistent claims of fraud and a stolen election, the rally and then the sudden alarm of people storming the Capitol Building are being replayed now in the impeachment hearing.
Legal retribution is grinding forward. The Biden/Harris duo were confirmed, took over the White House and issued a flurry of executive orders, but we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The ripple effect of the events that preceded the inauguration seethe and heave under the surface.
A majority of Americans condemn the outburst of misplaced patriotism that spilled into the Capitol Building and onto the congressional chamber floor. Most were horrified by it. It looks even worse in retrospect.
I recently heard someone emphasize that Trump lost by 7M votes. That seems like a hefty number, but consider that almost 75M people voted for him. Almost half the country voted for Donald Trump.
How do we move forward? How does the church move forward? (Divided as it, not much unlike the unchurched)
Our human penchant for sweeping generalization in times like these misses the nuance and complexity that fill out the truth. I think about these things as I listen to an interview of Sarah Posner on the podcast, Sacred & Profane, titled Render Unto Q.
I was involved in the New Apostolic Reformation during that time period, though we didn’t have a label for it. I remember the influence of politically minded religious leaders and religiously minded political leaders during those times.
I am now an outsider to the New Apostolic movement, but I was once an insider. I have friends who are still actively involved in current iterations. As I listen to the interview, many of the things Posner says ring true, but I can bring a little nuance into the dialogue from my own experience.
Sarah Posner has studied these things closely, and is somewhat a subject matter expert on the involvement of evangelicals in politics. She has a far more nuanced understanding than most people, so her comments bear some consideration. I will summarize some of Posner’s observations and add my own, especially where I can add some clarity from my own experience.
Part of the problem with critiques of what happened on January 6th is trying to understand the strange mixture of forces that came together in the storming of the Capitol. They have long been stewing together in a weird kettle of different fish.
As with any stew, the individual ingredients take on a singular flavor, given time, and this stew has been marinating for quite a while. To the extent the church is close enough to this stew to take on its flavor is concerning.
Reading in Exodus today, I observe that two passages in the first two chapters have poignant application to the Body of Christ in the United States today. I see two predominant lines of injustice in the United States to which the Church collectively has given its attention that are identified in these first two chapters of Exodus.
At the same time, the Church is divided on justice issues. I don’t say this to condemn or to be judgmental. It’s simply a fact that I think we need to recognize soberly, honestly and humbly.
We might find many examples, but the one that comes to mind – the one that is, perhaps, most poignant in this given time – is the division between black and white and the division between supporters and and non-supporters of Donald Trump.
I know: I said one example, and it seems I given two here. These are two examples, but they coalesce into one. The proof for that is in the statistics that show that approximately 80% of white evangelicals support Trump, and approximately 80% of black “evangelicals”[i] do not support Trump.
Now, I recognize that these statistics are sweeping generalizations, but generalizations do tell a story. There is some reflection of truth in them. I also don’t mention Trump to be divisive here. The example simply is provided for illustration.
Churchgoing African Americans can be as theologically conservative on things like what it means to be born again as white evangelicals, but their individual and collective experiences give them a different perspective on life. Their view of the world and injustice is different than their white, evangelical counterparts, for the most part, and influences them to have different political affiliations.
My reading in Exodus (which I will get to) is timely because today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. I didn’t even realize it when I did my daily reading after I woke up this morning.
I didn’t realize it until I tuned into the Manchester (NH) Vineyard Community Church service this morning. I have never tuned into their services, until today, though I know people affiliated with them. When I set out to participate in a more local church service, I believe God drew my attention away to this one.
It was a great message, and I gained some perspective from it that, perhaps, God wanted me to have in writing this. With that introduction, let me explain the passages in Exodus that prompt my writing. Those texts include Exodus 1 (about the killing of babies) and Exodus 2 (about slavery).
I will take these things one at a time and draw some conclusions consistent with the burden God has placed on my heart over the years. In another article, perhaps, I will explain how my perspectives have changed and, hopefully, shed some light on how the church can come together in the full council of God to advance His justice and righteousness.
Before I get into my immediate thoughts, though, I need to say that I speak with no condemnation in my heart
Just as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, I am reminded that God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world; God sent His son into the world so that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
I do not say these things to condemn anyone because Jesus has redeemed us!
In the story of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees and Sadducees brought her to Jesus to challenge him because the Law required her to be stoned. They wanted to see what Jesus would do, but Jesus seemed to ignore them and began writing in the sand.
Some people believe that Jesus may have written the Ten Commandments out in the sand. When he looked up from from writing, Jesus “invited” them, saying, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” Then, he continued writing in the sand.
Some people believe he was writing down the sins those men had committed. They would say the men walked away silently because they realized that no one is without sin.
The wages of sin for every person is death.
Whatever he wrote, we know how the dialogue went next. “Jesus stood up and said to [the woman], ‘[W]here are they? Has no one condemned you?,” John 8:9) When she replied, “No one”, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:10)
Jesus didn’t condemn the men either, because he told us he came not to condemn, but to save. I imagine that, Jesus would have received, forgiven and invited the men to follow him, if they had stayed and repented.
God desires to save us, to have relationship with us, to renew our minds and to conform us to His image. Our sin is the reason God became flesh and died for us. He came not to condemn, but to demonstrate His great love for us and to save us from the sin that enslaves us.
One last thing before I get into what I believe God has put on my heart to share: salvation and sanctification is a process. It starts where we are. When we are born again, God begins to work in us to will and to act according to His purposes and to conform us to His image, but we start that process in different places.
One point made in the sermon today, is that “a person doesn’t have to be pro-life to be saved”. People are saved by grace; it’s a gift that we haven’t earned. There will be no exam in heaven we must answer satisfactorily for salvation. It’s already been accomplished for us by Christ’s death and resurrection.
At the same time, if we are born again, God has begun a work within us. He has begun to renew our minds, and change our hearts, and we have begun to learn to think God’s thoughts after Him and become like Him.
With that said, I will address the two texts I read today in Exodus 1 and 2 that speak to me about the Church, collectively, in the United States. In writing this article, my hope is to provide some biblical basis on which we might begin to bridge the divide along racial and political lines and come together as the body of Christ. I hope to provide some perspective and understanding that will bring us together in Christ.