First of all, let me state that I am a conservative. I’m not an extreme “right-wing” conservative and I’m nowhere near being a Libertarian. I believe in the worth and value of a solid and stable central government that facilitates the ongoing well-being of self-governing states. I believe that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own actions and well-being though assistance (federal and otherwise) ought to be afforded to those truly unable to work or provide for their families. I’m an establishment Republican who sees the value and worth of compromise for the sake of progress and something about hatred toward those that govern us makes me a little uneasy.
With all of that being said, I want to draw attention to a few things I’ve considered as the border crisis re-ignites and immigration reform becomes a central aspect of American politics. Per the title, I intend these to be simple thoughts about immigration reform and that mainly for Christians and all those who may align with Christian social views. As they are thoughts, I am not claiming to have all the answers to what is obviously a very complex and sensitive problem, I am also not shutting the door on open-minded conversation and dialogue; in fact, I welcome it for the simple reason that perhaps in exchanging thoughts, we all might come to see the issue more clearly as Christians first and American citizens second.
Law and Compassion
Watching the GOP primaries leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election, I remember Newt Gingrich being absolutely slammed by some of the other Republican nominees because of his advocacy for a sort of systematized path to citizenship or residency for some illegal immigrants. The long list of qualifications for such a privilege included good citizenship, participation in the community (church or otherwise), no criminal record, and length of time in the US. There are indeed those who wish to outright deport each and every single undocumented immigrant in the US no questions asked. On one hand, I see the black and white issue here. In all reality, they have broken the law and thereby ought to be subject to the consequences including deportation. But as Gingrich explained, the situation is far more complex than that.
Some of those here in the US illegally have been here for decades, they have made homes, started families, and planted roots in the their new communities. They are children, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, etc. We know that those born here in the US are US citizens by birth. This means that the deportation of some would separate families, sever relationships, and strip people of their very lives. On the surface, it’s easy to say, “that’s not our problem, they’re the ones that broke the law.” And to be honest, that is the truth of the matter. But the solution can’t be that simple.
As a nation and a government, we are equally responsible for the situation because of our neglect of our own laws and borders for so long. We neglected border issues for so long that now it has finally become the crisis that it is. Therefore, it is not merely the fault of those that have come here illegally; it is also the fault of a government that winked its eye at the issue for decades. From a common sense standpoint then, it seems illogical and unreasonable to demand that those who have made lives here over the past decades (illegal or not) should suddenly be brought to justice simply because we finally noticed a problem and actually wish to abide by our own laws. In reality, both parties are guilty here; The ones who have illegally crossed the border, bypassing the legal path to proper citizenship and a federal government that has failed to abide by and enforce its own laws. Sure, reform is absolutely necessary and if we begin to actually care about and enforce border laws, great! But we cannot suddenly be outraged at those who came here illegally under the watch of a sleeping government.
Per Gingrich’s argument, troublemakers and those simply wishing to take advantage of our system without actually contributing to it by community participation, hard work, and good behavior, ought to be subject to justice and dealt with accordingly. Those who have been here for decades, have families, live peacefully within their communities, and contribute respectfully to society (by the very nature that their being here is partly because of our own unwillingness to enforce our laws) ought to be afforded a reasonable and highly selective form of citizenship… or at least the opportunity to live here as documented workers etc.
When or if we begin to abide by and enforce our own laws in terms of border control and proper paths to citizenship and immigration, then we may subject those who violate such laws to due justice. For too long, we have stood by while a seed as sprouted roots which have since spread into every area of American life including our economy, social structures, families, etc. Simply ripping up the tree will not fix the problem, it will only cause a massive hole and tremendous damage to everyone involved.
We must expect and demand that everyone lives by the laws of the nation… including the nation itself.
Language: Opportunity for the Gospel
When immigration reform was last a hot-button issue almost ten years ago leading up to the 2006 midterm elections, I remember some of the Christian chatter then centering on the issue of language. In fact, much of the discussion was on the incorporation of Spanish into the American system. I remember bills being proposed that would make English the “official language of government,” which most simply recognized as already in place. There were those voices on the right who uttered what can only be described as hatred by mocking Hispanic people, the Spanish language, and Hispanic culture. For some reason, people became inflamed with Spanish-speaking radio stations, grocery stores, and the average restaurant worker whose English wasn’t so great. I remember hearing exclamations like, “well, they need to learn English before they come here!” Really? Would we have said the same thing to our own immigrant ancestors, most of which came to this land speaking German, French, or Swedish? Doubtful.
We somehow have this notion that America is simply the way it is and those of us who are here should never ever have to accommodate anyone else who wishes to call this place home. From foreign foods, music, cultures, and languages, we tend to raise a suspicious eyebrow and see everything else that we’re simply not used to as “nasty,” “dirty,” and “stupid.” America isn’t alone in this regard, surely there are Frenchmen who raise a snooty sort of eyebrow at the visiting American with our crass form of English. Indeed, all people have at least a shred of nationalism that fosters suspicion for the unfamiliar and “foreign.” However, from the very beginning of this nation, the ideal wasn’t to be a fortress of European whites estranged from their homeland; but a sanctuary for people from all over the globe who longed for freedom and the “American Dream” (defined simply as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for you “Radical” Platt people). And what a great privilege this is. We are home to people from all over the world who speak different languages, eat different foods, and listen to different music; but we can all call America “home” and pledge allegiance to the same flag. That’s beautiful.
But more beautiful still is the opportunity such a diverse setting brings to the doorsteps of the American Church.
When missionaries go to foreign fields, they are expected to carry with them an understanding (small as it may be) of the language of the people to whom they are sent. They go through extensive and crammed training in the languages and cultures of the various countries to which they will go. Why is it not fitting then that when God is actually sending the nations to us, we would not readily learn, explore, and discover new cultures and languages in order to serve as missionaries right here in our own communities?
Ambivalence, suspicion, and hatred of other people and their cultures (including their language) have absolutely no place in a Christian worldview. Our haughty comments and raised eyebrows not only bespeak our ignorance and asininity, but are injurious to the gospel of Christ and are blasphemous in that they grieve the Spirit who is at work to bring the nations to Christ through the preaching of the gospel in every language.
Christ will have a bride from every nation, tribe, and language (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). As such, it should strike us as beautiful when the Church here on earth resembles that ideal. There will be cultural issues that make that hard sometimes (language and customs); but the attitude which says “we will accommodate” no one is not a Spirit-filled response to the Great Commission and spits in the face of God’s activity on the earth. The vest depicted in this picture on the right stirs our nationalistic zeal and ire, but it is wholly incompatible with not only the Great Commission, but the gospel itself. The Apostle Paul was a “Jew of Jews,” (Phil. 3:4-6) Yet he counted it all as “rubbish,” “trash,” “dung,” compared to his calling in Christ Jesus (v. 7). Paul gladly accommodated to weaker believers and Jews alike in order remove any stumbling block to the gospel (Rom. 14, Acts 18, 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
There’s nothing wrong with a good dose of patriotism, a modicum of national pride, and a gratitude for God’s providence in our nation’s founding and success (keeping in mind God is sovereign over all nations). And there’s certainly nothing wrong with being grateful to be a citizen of the United States, a nation (while not perfect) that paved the way for liberty and personal freedoms all over the world. But as Christians, we ought to also consider that identity as nothing more than trash compared to the calling that is ours in Jesus Christ. This calling, to be God’s own children, supersedes national borders, it bypasses language differences, and it embraces people and their cultures from all over the globe.
As we confront an immigration crisis yet again, may we as Christians approach the subject with a Christ-like compassion and Spirit-filled response. Let us avoid harmful stereotypes and hateful language that speaks more of our ignorance than the truth. And let us embrace our eternal identity in Christ as far more precious than our temporal identity as citizens of any earthly nation; an identity that makes us closer to the believers of Mexico or Guatemala than to our own white and unbelieving neighbors across the street.
At the very least, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would not only illumine our own prejudices and misgivings, but that he (by the Word of God) might sever it cleanly from our spirits.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19 ESV)