Wednesday, July 16, 2014

7 Reasons Glenn Beck is Right: A Brief Biblical Survey for Rethinking Your Immigration Position

Immigration is making the news again. The debate rages again. I blogged about this issue last year here. 

Of course, this issue has been in the news often over the last two decades but sadly not much progress has been made in improving our immigration system. Now this policy failure has become a crisis with tens of thousands of children flooding our southern border.

Yesterday, I was at a meeting with over 250 Evangelical leaders where the border crisis was discussed. It was reported these children are fleeing conditions that are deplorable in their home countries - extreme poverty compounded by oppression and the human tragedy made worse by drug wars and murderous gangs. Parents are having their children flee to the U.S. for a chance at a better life, often at great personal risk.

Compounding this issue is also a misconception about U.S. immigration policy being exploited by "coyotes" to traffic drugs. Central America remains among the world's most violent regions. The problem is real and needs our well thought out response. 

These children arriving here are literally corralled into inadequate facilities and treated like prisoners. They come with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many arrive with diseases that are totally curable in the U.S. – head lice, scabies and the like. Some arrive with more serious but treatable health conditions. The border patrol is overwhelmed by the needs and unaccompanied children are off limits to NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) assistance, at least at present. It is a crisis like none the U.S. has faced before.

Regardless of how we might feel about this crisis politically, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins reminded us at the meeting yesterday that these are children, created in the image of God and precious in his sight. They are not “economic immigrants” but truly the “least of these” in our midst – 2000 are coming to Dallas, my home region. How we, the Church, respond will make a huge difference to these kids. Just as important, it will make a huge difference in our witness to a watching world. 

Will we see protests and picketing when these kids arrives in Dallas, as has happened elsewhere, or will we respond with the compassion of Christ and work together to make sure these kids have their needs met and know God loves them. At this meeting, I could not help but to think of the dual meaning of the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity.

I don't make it a practice to follow Glenn Beck but over at Revangelical there is a very thoughtful post about Beck’s recent response to the crisis. Brandan Robertson begins with this thought:
Last Wednesday (7/9) “….Glenn Beck, the uber-conservative, tea party-ish, Mormon political commentator and personality took to the airwaves to announce that he was going to be making a “potentially lethal” career move that would put his new television network and non-profit in jeopardy. But with tears in his eyes, he looked directly in to the camera and said, “I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this.” Following the emotional build up, Beck announced that he would be loading up a tractor trailer with teddy bears, soccer balls, and hot food and driving it down to McAllen, Texas to encourage the nearly 3,000 undocumented immigrant children whose lives and well-being are trapped in the middle of the intense immigration debates in Washington. This action by Glenn flies directly in the face of all of the right-wing’s positions on immigration and border control. In essence, he’s aligning himself with the pro-immigration movement and against his own audience. That’s a pretty gutsy move.”
Gutsy? Perhaps for Glenn but as Brandan points out, Beck has plenty to fall back on if his audience flees over this issue. The responses I have read on blogs shows some movement in that direction. That’s truly sad. But perhaps the Lord is using this counter-Right-wing-cultural move by Beck to get the attention of those who profess his Name but don’t know to follow his Word, at least not on this issue.

Can we honestly think that God is at all concerned with our comforts and conveniences we too readily take for granted when tens of thousands of children are fleeing the poverty, preponderance of violence and prevailing evils of their homelands to come here at great risk? 

Regardless of the political decisions that led to this crisis, as Christ followers our call is to respond with Jesus’ love and compassion as he gives us opportunity. Yes, we need to do something to improve border security, that is obvious from the ability of children to cross, but we must not allow politics to be our response to the needs of these “foreigners,” who are very much the "fatherless" in their distress (James 1:27a). 

We need to understand what God would have us do. We need to consider, firstly, that we as people of the Word, are required to know it and live it as best we can.

Could it be that most Evangelicals do not really understand God’s concern with respect to the immigrant and orphan? The Bible does tie together these two groups, the foreigner and fatherless, eighteen times in the Old Testament. This crisis provides an opportunity to rethink our immigration position through a Biblical perspective. 

I don’t know that Glenn Beck was thinking about a Biblical response when he decided to send truckloads of soccer balls to the border. I am not saying that is the right response - helping can hurt. But we must consider the counsel of the Lord and allow the Word to enlighten our thinking.

Therefore, let's briefly explore 7 Biblical reasons that Glenn Beck is right, at least to respond compassionately, and perhaps sacrificially concerning his career, to this crisis:

What does the OT tell us?

1.  God desires to be worshiped by all foreigners. From the very start of the nation of Israel, God desires that all peoples have the same access to freely worship him. Immediately upon making their exit from Egypt, where the rights of the Hebrews to worship had been burdened and oppressed, God directs his people to provide the same level of access to worship to the foreigner they would enjoy in their new found liberty. In Exodus 12:49 we read:

“The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”

What law? The law the Lord was establishing in how to live as his people and worship him. God does not have a special plan for one people over another, as he is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11). Our Lord desires that we all have the same freedom to worship and history demonstrates he is always moving people in that direction. 

At the meeting, it was mentioned that many of these children are asking for Bibles.

2. God’s fair treatment for foreigners. Upon exiting Egypt, the Israelites are instructed in a number of ways so as to demonstrate the fairness of God for all people. Only when all people can see the impartiality of God can the true knowledge of who he is be more widely known. Treating other peoples as the unwanted "other" impedes this witness and therefore God establishes rules of conduct early on for the Israelites. We read in Exodus 22:21:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Moses repeats this command in Deuteronomy 10:19 reminding the Israelites that they were to love those who are foreigners” for they themselves “were foreigners in Egypt.” I am often reminded of my own family’s immigration story, how they fled an encroaching German occupation prior to World War I.

These children at our border are fleeing drugs wars and murderous gangs.

3. God’s justice for the foreigner.  God had told the Israelites that they were no better than others and in fact had been foreigners themselves, so they were not to think of themselves as somehow exceptional. Doing so would certainly bring the judgment of God.  God desires equal justice for all. We read in Deuteronomy 27:19:

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Later in his discourse, Moses warns the people of Israel that their failure to obey the Lord and respond to the foreigner with compassion will result in judgment. The result will be a reversal of the good futures the Lord would bless his people with for their obedience (Deuteronomy 28:43). The history of ancient Israel tells us of their disobedience and the resulting judgment, directly resulting, at least in part, from their mistreatment of the foreigner and fatherless (Ezekiel 22:7,29).

4. God protects the foreigner. The Psalmist speaks of the protection of the Lord for the weak, the helpless and hopeless. In Psalm 146:9:

“The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

It is primarily through God’s people that he accomplishes his plans and purposes (1 Corinthians 12:27), as well as provides his protection. From the time of the Exodus, the people of Israel were expected to provide protection of the foreigner (Exodus 23:9). They failed.

How should these first four points inform our response to this crisis? Yes, this is Old Testament stuff but consider: would God be righteous to judge the nation of Israel for their failure to respond with his heart of compassion to the foreigner and fatherless and allow this “Christian nation” to do likewise? Actually, we are called to a higher standard. 

[Note: In the OT, the word ‘foreigner’ is translated from the Hebrew word ‘ger’ which means stranger, not one of us, different ethnically and culturally.  A ‘ger’ was a newcomer lacking inherited rights.]

What about the NT? 

The OT sets the precedents. The NT sets the example we are to live by. Let’s look at just three passages in the New Testament to help inform our thinking. 

5. God requires we love the foreigner. We know that Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, although this too was an Old Testament command (Leviticus 19:18). However Jesus heightens this requirement to also loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43). This removes any exception to who we are to love.

Jesus also gave us a new command (John 13:34) that also heightened the requirement of love – requiring sacrificially giving to “one another.” His new command makes it an imperative to demonstrate our love for the foreigner and fatherless in tangible ways based on the blessings we have received. To whom much is given.... 

6. God requires we welcome the foreigner. All of the above points call us to welcome the stranger. I saw a Facebook post today that read, “We don't mistreat the legal foreigner.” Does that make it okay to mistreat the “illegal" foreigner? The lack of critical thinking expressed in such a post should make us cringe. 

Jesus gives us two options, regardless of how we might perceive our present laws - to welcome the “stranger” (Matthew 25:35) or not (Matthew 25:43 ). But he also gives us the results of our choice saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” But wait, many will insist, "I said the sinners prayer and trusted in Jesus for my salvation." It will be dreadful to hear on that day, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Hey folks, I'm just the humble messenger. 

The Bible lays out for us a very clear and direct response to the plight of the foreigner and fatherless. Many will argue, no doubt, “but what about our own problems here, what about the homeless of our inner cities, the children in need right here in my town?” No one is suggesting that we do not have systemic issues of our own. What we need to consider, each of us, is exactly what we are doing to meet those needs and what we, each of us, can do to minister in this present crisis. It’s not an either/or choice but an and/both.

Now let me conclude with the 7th reason Glenn Beck is right in responding to this crisis: 

7. God moves the foreigner where he wants them. This border issue has broader implications concerning our understanding and acceptance of God’s sovereignty. God is not more concerned with our national border than he is in making himself – his mercy and justice - known to the foreigner and fatherless. In fact, history demonstrates that God moves people where he wants them to be for his purposes. The Apostle Paul understood this when on Mars Hill he says:

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)

God sets the boundaries of nations for the purpose that none should perish apart from the knowledge of who he is for them, in his timing, according to his will.

That is not to argue for open borders. It is to say we need good policy and must think critically about the challenge before us. First, we need to meet the present crisis. Could the Lord be using this crisis to challenge our priorities and preconceived ideas about what we think is important, juxtaposed against what he desires to do to make himself known? 

Let us pray

I for one WILL allow that question to shape my thinking as well as my prayers. How about you? 

Brendan concludes his post suggesting we pray... 
"...that our leaders and that each of us individually would be willing to sacrifice all that we have to do what’s right, to work to establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Because until we are willing to do that, transformation will never come to our communities, our culture, or our world. God is calling us to follow in Jesus’ example. It’s a way of pain, suffering, and marginalization. But it’s also a way of abundant life and extravagant beauty." 
America has done some wonderful and compassionate thing in our history. Let us pray our response to this border crisis is one of them. 

* This amount is calculated by dividing the $3.7 billion  request of the President on 7/13 to address the costs of this crisis by 100 million Evangelical adults = $37.00/12 months  =  $3.08 a month or about the price of a "Tall" Latte. 

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