There has been a lot of talk this week (well, every week lately) about the situation going on down at the southern border of the United States. And as I’m sure you understand, this is a super politically charged conversation. I’m betting that even as you read the title of this post, you came up with your own conviction and started auto-filling in mine. My hope is that in this post we can do two things: 1) We can suspend auto-fill, and have a heartfelt and compassionate discussion even amongst those with whom we disagree, and 2) that we can take a biblical and theological look at this issue that is happening at the border. To be sure, this is an issue that will offend some. But let’s promise each other that we’ll come at this with a posture of charity, eh?
To start with, while the Bible is somewhat confusing and contradictory about certain topics in our age, it is pretty aggressive when it comes to the idea of immigration, refugees, and the helpless travelers in our midst:
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
‘Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Leviticus 27:19
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35
Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me. Matthew 25:40
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Romans 12:13
And this is just a sample. It turns out that the Bible is full of examples of God calling on God’s people to look after the lowest and the most marginalized in society. The threefold example that comes up all the time is the fatherless (orphans), the widows, and the alien (refugees). And it’s worth noting that while the Hebrew Bible is often cited as the more aggressive and judgmental volume (wrongly in my opinion), these calls to care for the least get their start right there in the Torah. Which brings me to maybe the most important point we can carry forward in this discussion:
For all its political implications, immigration is a spiritual issue.
Whatever your political leanings on this issue are, I think we are compelled to recognize that this issue does something to our souls. It’s built in to the very fiber of the Jewish and Christian faiths, that what we do to and for our neighbors has a direct impact on our own wellbeing and our relationship with God.
(If you need a refresher course on who our neighbors are, I would invite you to read the story found in Luke 10:25-37)
Now lots of good, well meaning people can disagree about how many folks we allow to cross the border every year. We can disagree about the procedure for getting in to this country. We can in good faith have differing opinions on security and how to best protect our nation. This isn’t those conversations.
This is a conversation about the picture that’s been haunting me of a father and daughter drowned together in the Rio Grande. This is a conversation about calling our neighbors from South and Latin America dogs and animals. This is a conversation about the living conditions in detention centers. This is a conversation about the public discourse around these issues, and the tremendous and alarming lack of compassion we have for each other and the sojourners among us.
Again I want to be very clear that while these issues around immigration have political implications and weight, these are spiritual issues. The way we treat our neighbors has an affect on our souls. If you turn our brothers and sisters to the south into your own personal enemy, that has an impact on the way you walk with God. While there are some in our country that might try to convince you that abortion and same sex marriage are the only spiritual issues in our politics today, I assure you that they’re wrong. Immigration is front and center in the biblical witness, and it sure be front and center in our hearts as well.
A fair amount of action is required here. All I know to do at the moment is pray and to write my representatives, begging them to act in a manner consistent with the Gospel I preach on a daily basis. Perhaps there are more concrete actions to take, something that can move the needle on this conversation, and I’d be open to honest and helpful suggestions. But in the meantime my suggestion would be this: we need to tend to our hearts. We need to watch how we speak of those who simply want a better life for their families, and have insisted that this country is where they can get it. We need to give serious consideration to our political positions, and ask how they may or may not be building up the Kingdom of God, and not just the American Empire. We need to remember that even those who have views different from our own are our brothers and sisters as well, and not our enemies. We need to be guided by a spirit of love, which casts out any and all fears we may carry in to this conversation.
I pray for our nation. I pray that we can find a way past this, to see everyone treated with the dignity and respect that they are due as children of God.