Sometimes I feel like I don't connect with either side of the immigration debate. When I consider the absolute extremes (completely open borders vs. round 'em up, send 'em home, build a wall) I don't agree with either view. But on this issue, I have more in common with Geraldo Rivera and John McCain than I do with Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin and Tom Tancredo.
The Bible has a few passages about how we should treat foreigners living among us, and there aren't any more clear than this one:
But the Bible is also clear that we should obey government laws:
Now that we've established a little tension with the Word of God, let's throw in one more scripture to put things into perspective:
So what do we make of this, since it looks like either side of the immigration issue could feasibly make some kind of case for their position from Scripture? I think the answer lies not in proof-texting and cherry-picking Bible verses but in using the entire counsel of Scripture with the help of the Holy Spirit. When the Bible appears to contradict itself, that doesn't give us license to take whichever side we want. If we find two passages that create tension, we're supposed to interpret one in light of the other as best we can, not disregard either one. That's what I try to do, anyway.
Some religious leaders and members of Congress held a press conference yesterday to announce the launch of an "interfaith campaign for immigration reform." One of the speakers at this press conference was United Methodist bishop Minerva Carcaño.The bishop said, "As people of faith, we cannot and will not stand by in silence while young people die, families are separated, individual freedoms are ignored, and the immigrant community in the U.S. is treated unjustly and inhumanely. No more!" Bishop Carcaño referenced violations of human rights by law enforcement officers who, in some cases, have marched illegal immigrants through streets in shackles to detention camps to await deportation.
I don't doubt that this kind of thing goes on. I've seen first hand how second and third generation Mexican-American citizens have been treated badly by law enforcement officers (even by minority officers!) I think most Christians would agree that however tough we are on immigration, we should treat people with dignity. But in some cases, the people who are being deported have violated American laws somehow (not counting immigration laws) and in such cases, doesn't it seem reasonable for us to kick them out of the country? We don't want to roll out the red carpet for criminals do we? But when we do send people away, there has to be some kind of middle ground between a luxury suite and a deportation camp.
A big theme in the Bible is "take care of the poor and oppressed." From my reading of Scripture, that topic seems to get more ink than obeying government authorities. If I have to choose between the two and obey God rather than humans, I'd rather err on the side of the poor every time. The church as a whole (and the UMC in particular) needs to keep this in mind. Sometimes issues and laws compete with each other in an imperfect world, and we have to consult the Holy Spirit and figure out which one trumps the other. What we shouldn't do is enter "finger-wagging" mode and grandstand. I'm not saying that's what the press conference was about yesterday, but these kinds of events often turn into that, especially when the politicians of only one party are there. Since Republicans aren't of one mind on this issue, I conclude that there either weren't any pro-immigration Republicans invited, or they didn't want to show up at an event organized by the "usual suspects" from liberal religion and politics. That's a shame because this issue is so much bigger (and more complicated) than left versus right.
Jim Wallis said, "When government officials tell us who we can and cannot help they are telling us about our ministry. They can’t do that. When they tell us not to do our ministry, we will tell them we plan to engage in civil disobedience." I agree with him. Here's a link to an interfaith statement on comprehensive immigration reform. The UM General Board of Church and Society has endorsed this statement, which is calling for legislation with four key components:
- a path to citizenship for hardworking immigrants who are already here
- reforms that will reduce waiting times for families to be reunited
- creation of a work program that will allow foreigners to work here legally with their rights fully protected
- humane border protection policies that treat people with respect while allowing authorities to keep out criminals and terrorists
The devil, of course, is in the details, but I don't know how any reasonable, compassionate person could be against these goals in theory. Maybe the "interfaith" aspect of this leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some evangelicals. I'm a little uncomfortable with any interfaith coalition myself, but we need to remember that we aren't planting a church or writing theology, we're dealing with a secular issue! Evangelicals have found ways to work with Mormons and Catholics on traditionally conservative social issues, so on issues where we can agree with traditionally liberal religious groups, I don't understand why we can't find common ground and take action.