Since today is the day we sons and daughters of unwanted immigrants offer thanks that the Almighty did not see fit to give those who got here before us gunpowder and military organization, it seems a fitting time to reply to the numerous responses to my post a couple of weeks ago, about the opposition of this nation’s largest self-styled Christian radio network to illegal and — I’ll argue below — legal immigration.
Several of you had very thoughtful replies, and I’ll do my best to treat them thoughtfully. Reading your comments several times, I’ve noticed a few themes, the predominant of which is this:
There’s a difference between illegal and legal immigration. It’s the former we’re concerned about, because it’s not fair to legal immigrants, it taxes our health care system and schools and law enforcement, it threatens our wages and standard of living, and it’s dangerous and difficult for the illegals themselves to get here and then survive. What’s more, the Bible tells us to obey the law.
Here’s a quick test for everyone who hangs his hat on that last sentence: what do you say we eliminate all immigration limits except for people suspected of criminal intent? The wily debater will want to obfuscate on that last bit, so let’s stipulate that we have a special machine that allows us to determine with 100% validity whether someone intends to sell drugs to schoolchildren or detonate a bomb.
So, who’s in favor of letting them all in, once our good Christian consciences are assuaged that this is no longer a matter of the law being broken?
Very well. So what this really turns on for most of us is the economic cost and the concomitant danger to our culture and very lives of allowing boatloads of very different, very poor people to lodge on our shores. These are reasonable concerns, but let me suggest to you that the Almighty God and Creator is not concerned with your standard of living. To think otherwise is the height of narcissism, when you consider the poverty and oppression under which his people have lived throughout history. Do you think any of them mattered less to him, or that the crux of history was the day your white forefathers declared themselves outside the control of the governing authorities in England and set us down a path to 401-K’s and flat-screen televisions?
To be sure, every good blessing is from above, but don’t be deceived into thinking that your full larder and wallet are God’s ends.
I have children, and I love being fat and happy, and I want them to be safe. Every parent wants this. But understand that when you argue against immigration because of the costs and dangers it entails, you are no longer arguing from Christian precepts, you are arguing from self-interest. I’m as self-interested as they come, heck, I was actually rooting for Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, but I don’t tell myself this has anything to do with my understanding of God.
My issue with AFR on this matter is precisely that — they bill themselves as a radio network bringing news and analysis from a Christian perspective, focusing on the issues Christians care about as Christians, the implication being that these are issues that emerge as important when we apply Christian precepts to our thinking. Now, if they’ll change their slogan to “the radio network for middle-class American Christians who want to see the nation’s GDP keep growing,” at least we’ll have some truth in advertising. But this leads to a second objection voiced by several of you:
Economics and politics do matter to God. The Bible itself addresses politics and economics. Do you honestly think he doesn’t care whether people violate his laws, or whether we do anything about it? Would you have us believe that he doesn’t care whether we protest abortion, for example?
In one sense, economics and politics describe our wranglings with man and nature over the distribution of resources and power. It is the struggling, the tempests in teapots, to which I addressed myself. Do you think it is on your walks around the abortion clinic that God pins his hopes for salvation of innocents? Is it on the capital gains tax that he depends for the weary and heavy-laden to be lifted?
Christ did not even view slavery as relevant to his purpose. Why do you believe he wrings his hands now over whether California will let two men get married? He already knows what will happen, being the Omega as well as the Alpha, and he knows how long he will tolerate every abomination, including the abominations that lie at the core of every man’s heart, mine as well as your own. In that sense — the only sense that will concern us once we’ve turned first to dust and then to glory or horror — we see that economics and politics do not matter.
This is important to confront, because it gets at the roots of what often is our real concern. It is not affronts to God that offend us nearly so much as affronts to our sensibilities and net worth. Why do Christians get animated over homosexuality? Is it solely because God has called it an abomination? Then where are our efforts to stamp out gossip (rampant in our very churches!), disrespect to parents, and the lying that is almost sport among our political and business classes? We single out some sins because they offend us first. Rather than seeking to be on the side of God, we bring him to our side, as if he were the created thing.
Likewise, how many Christians block the entrances to abortion clinics, where innocent blood is shed? How many Christians instead give money to the Republican party, a collection of self-interested climbers morally and functionally almost indistinguishable from their opponents, the Republican party which, by the way, avoids doing anything meaningful about abortion?
Whose interests, really, are we protecting when most of us engage in politics?
Had you met Christ on the dusty roads of Palestine, or when you meet him now — not as we confine him in liturgies and Wal-Mart bestsellers, but in the dark nights of our souls — we are overjoyed and humbled and terrified to learn that our standing, our power, our very sustenance, is secondary to knowing and obeying. Ask John the Baptist. Ask the Samaritan woman at the well. She with the dry throat, simply seeking a bucket of cool water, and here is this uncomely stranger, from a tribe that disdains her own, and he tells her this water is nearly nothing, that it is the spring of living water she should seek. She came seeking a brief respite to thirst, and he told her there is a far deeper thirst, unquenchable except through the word, the door, the truth. Look this Christ in the eye and tell him about the importance of economics and politics. Survey his bleeding brow and explain how politicians — men you and I have voted for — have employed his name, and what, by their actions, they have deemed the most important things.
Now all this is not to say that Christians aren’t called to politics, which would make no more sense than to declare that Christians can’t be called to music, or teaching, or farming, or being juggling hot-dog stand vendors in downtown Des Moines. Just understand that there is no general call to politics, nor to the accumulation of personal wealth, nor to safety. We are enjoined to obey the governing authorities, not applaud them, not support them, not join them and work on their campaigns. Likewise, we are called to support our families, not give them all the delights available to men.
None of what I’ve said means you can’t do these things, but I am suggesting that you examine your heart first. Are you investing your emotions and energy in politics to preserve your standard of living, or because you feel the sweet grace and pleasure of God poured out on you when you do it? The latter is calling, the former is dressing God up in a tweed suit and giving him campaign flyers.
And that is an abomination.
Now that I’ve preached far more than I intended, we come to a final objection, my favorite. In its simplest form it is this:
Do you live this way? Do you give to everyone in need, until you have no more to give? Do you let strangers into your home?
Dear friends and strangers, if I am your standard, you are doomed. I am weak and cowardly and sinful to the core. If you can only hear truth from one who is perfect, then look to the Gospels, to the letters in red, trusting that what you hold in your hands is God-breathed, and see for yourself the answers to your questions.
Find the passages where he has enjoined you to turn away aliens when admitting them would damage your finances. Commit to memory his sermons about the necessity of tempering mercy with economic practicality. While you’re there, tell he who fed the multitudes that there isn’t enough bread to go around. Explain to him that loving one’s fellow man must stop where suffering increases. Seek him out atop Calvary and lay out the facts of this world, ask him to be reasonable, to show restraint.
On this day we give thanks, and I have found my prayer: Thank you, brother Christ, that you showed no restraint when we were the aliens, that you were not reasonable when we were far off, that suffering did not deter you when we had no hope and were without God in the world. Thank you that we live in such a place of prosperity and peace that we can actually believe that preserving this blink in the eye of history takes precedence over your calling. And please forgive us when we confuse gifts with entitlements, means with ends, and come to view our comfortable lives as your purpose.