Archives For Christian Perspective on Immigration

illegalscrossingfence-1I don’t like to wade too specifically into political issues, preferring to keep things theological and let you sort out the connections for yourself. Immigration, however, is different in that it’s a thoroughly biblical concern.

How God’s People think of, treat, care for strangers and aliens is much more a part of our core story than issues, say, of sexuality.

It seems to me that much of the (nativist) rhetoric from opponents of immigration reform strikes a protectionist tone: This is ‘our’ country. This country belongs to us. This is our home. We must protect it from strangers and aliens.

That may be an adequate perspective for Americans.

But it’s not for bible believers.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred…”
And Abram went.
(Genesis 12.1, 4)

In the story the Bible tells it’s Abraham who sends the human story in a new direction—from a steady drifting away from God, to a return toward God.

Christians too easily forget: before Yahweh called him, Abram was a pagan. An idolator. A worshipper of the gods of Babylon.

The gods of Babylon would never call someone away from their kin and country.

The pagan gods were, in fact, the personification of country and kin, or to be more precise, the divinization of kin and country.

Stars-Space-Wallpapers-But Yahweh calls Abraham to leave country and kin and Abraham does and somehow this is the beginning of the means by which God will renew his creation.

As St Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, Abraham is the the pattern for every believer. Indeed there’s a sense in which Paul’s understanding means that Jesus isn’t just the Second Adam (Rom 5) but that Abraham is the Second Adam and Jesus the Third.

If Abraham is the prototype for the humanity God’s desired from the very first creation, then how does the pattern of Abraham’s life inform how believers are to reflect on the subject of immigration?

We are all products of our national culture. Our self is formed in large part by the identity our country forms in us. As a result we feel an emotional- almost religious- connection to our country. This is ‘our’ home

This is neither avoidable nor bad.

What it is, however, is inadequate for those who claim Abraham as their true founding father.

For as Abraham, the pattern of genuine, God-desired humanity, shows to be the People of Yahweh always involves the call away from kin and country.

To be a people of faith, a people like Abraham, is to be a pilgrim people.

A diaspora people.

A people not unlike the Magi after they encountered the Christ Child: no longer at ease in their former home.

God’s call for Abraham to leave his country is a call for Abraham to accept being an alien wherever he goes. Yahweh, unlike the conventional pagan gods, isn’t defined by national or ethnic distinctions.

Yahweh’s call profoundly subordinates what previously would have been Abraham’s most precious values: his national and family identity.

Once he’s called by God, Abraham can be at home anywhere even while being a stranger everywhere.

He belongs no where because he belongs to God.

This is why throughout the Old Testament Yahweh is insistent that Abraham’s children care for and welcome aliens, because God’s call makes all of us aliens in this world.

If, as Paul writes, the faith of Abraham is the faith Christ perfects and invites us, through the Spirit, to live, then, like Abraham, we’re called to subordinate/qualify all our loyalties to the living God.

Without faith in this living God, without finding our true ‘home’ in this God, then, as the Abraham story makes clear, those most precious of loyalties, nation and family, quickly become gods. Idols.

Contemporary children of Abraham can welcome anyone because we ourselves are aliens everywhere for our ultimate citizenship resides in another Kingdom. It must be so because, as Abraham’s heirs, we’re called to be different from people who think in terms of ‘my country.’

Instead we’re called be a People through whom God is working to bless all the families of the earth.

illegalscrossingfence-1As the Senate passed an immigration bill this week, a bill which faces long odds in the House, I thought it would be appropriate to repost a portion of United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon‘s thoughts on immigration legislation.

Below is an excerpt of a letter he wrote to the Gov of Alabama 2 years ago in response to that state’s harsh immigration law. You can read about it here.

Will Willimon is no one’s definition of a liberal.

Here, his thoughts are challenging, nonpartisan…Christian.

We know that many…well-meaning individuals…are worried about employment in this fragile economy and some feel that the government is strained to pay for services like health care, police and fire protection, and education for those who may be here illegally.

As Christian ministers, however, we believe [anti-immigrant sentiment] contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith.

Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people wandering as “aliens and strangers.”

In the Old Testament, God reminds the people, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).”

Jesus told parables about people like the Good Samaritan – someone who was not considered a true Jewish citizen – stopping to help a battered and beaten man while the leaders of the people passed him by.

And the apostle Paul taught us that in Christ there is “no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”

We believe that God’s call for the United Methodist church is to be a church for ALL people, to be in ministry to ALL people. United Methodists welcome all people, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, to our churches, activities, and programs.

Many of our fastest growing churches are Spanish-speaking, and we do not check people’s immigration status at the door. In response to Jesus’ admonition in the parable of the Last Judgment to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger, many churches have ministries to care for those who are poor by providing them with food, shelter, and transportation.

Again, we do not check people’s immigration status before inviting them into our church vans and cars.  We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same.