The Immigration Crisis: How Do We Begin to Solve It?
- Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We live in times when the clamor to separate church from state has become shrill. Appealing to the Bible to help arbitrate the rather hostile national discourse may not seem like the obvious thing to do at this time in our nation's history. After all, some might appeal to the Bible because they wish to impose "biblical" law on America, an anathema to secularists who represent the opposite extreme and don't want the Bible to have any role in public policy or law. Such objections notwithstanding, the reality is that various communities, human rights organizations, and churches are appealing to teachings, laws, principles, and practices from the Bible or are quoting Scripture as the basis for the positions they advocate regarding immigration and the treatment of illegal aliens.
As already mentioned, some churches offer sanctuary to illegal aliens within their walls, and some individuals occupy churches in hopes of obtaining asylum. One well-publicized case in the U.S. was that of Elvira Arellano, a woman who had been ordered deported by a judge because of her undocumented status. Along with her son who was born in the U.S.A., she took sanctuary in a Methodist church in Chicago for a year. The pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church, Rev. Walter Coleman, posted a lengthy statement on the church website condemning American immigration laws and suggesting that Ms. Arellano's sanctuary was divine protection. He explained that "God has protected Elvira from deportation so that the light of truth and love might come into this debate and replace both the vicious self-degradation of hate and the arrogant self-righteousness of paternalism." In August 2007, however, she emerged from the precinct, was arrested a short time later, and was expatriated. The reaction was telling: some wept, others cheered.
Some city councils—San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, New Haven to name a few—have declared their community to be a "sanctuary city." This means that the city will not cooperate with or assist federal officials who want to arrest and deport aliens. The practice of sanctuary—a place of legal protection—is rooted in laws of the Torah or Old Testament law. Sanctuary is not a modern practice invented to aid illegal immigrants. It goes back over three thousands years! So whether people realize it or not, the Bible is influencing the immigration debate and even inspiring the actions taken by some individuals, organizations, and municipalities. A crucial question must be asked, however: Is the Bible being used correctly by those who offer and practice sanctuary? This matter will be addressed in Chapter 4.
Those who support illegal immigrants on moral grounds, like Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the Sojourners, appeal to Bible verses like "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:33-34). In fact this verse is posted on their website.4
Meanwhile the law-and-order camp appeals to St. Paul's teachings in Romans 13:1: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities"—i.e., the laws of the land. As noted already, the sanctuary movement originates with the practice of taking sanctuary in the cities of refuge as established in the Old Testament law. However, sanctuary advocates seem totally unaware of the conditions prescribed in the Bible for receiving sanctuary protection. Then, too, most Americans simply do not know that the Bible has much to say about immigration and immigrants. Clearly what we need is a fair and balanced treatment of all relevant biblical material to examine how it addresses these issues and to see what wisdom it might offer us. The fact is, the Bible records many stories that deal with immigrants as well as containing many laws and ethical principles that could guide America, its people, organizations, churches, and even lawmakers as this nation wrestles with one of the most vexing issues of our time.
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