BIBLICAL THINKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION

Sofia[1] smiled as she greeted me and asked for the birthday that pharmacies use as identifiers. Then she frowned and said, “I don’t see that one yet,” in gently accented English, “but I will check.” Coming back to the counter she smiled again, “They are filling it now. I’ll just put your other items to the side and take care of these customers, then call you when its ready?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I said and stepped back to watch her work. We’ve known her since she arrived as a fourth-grade student in my wife’s art class, unable to speak a word of English. My oldest daughter, home from college at the time, became one of Sofia’s first friends by using her rudimentary Spanish to help the young immigrant understand assignments. Later, she gave her life to Christ through the ministry of Young Life, which our church supports.

The pharmacy was busy, but Sofia—now a junior college student and pharmacy tech—gave each customer the same cheerful smile and professional service. It never occurred to me to ask how she got here. I was just happy to see her doing so well, enjoying her work, and learning the business from the bottom up as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

That happy story can be repeated millions of times all over America, as can the unhappy ones, like the increased drug trade, murders, welfare abuse, and human trafficking stories associated with illegal immigration. President Trump was elected in large part because he—famously or infamously, depending on your point of view—promised to bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt by building a wall and “making Mexico pay for it.”

Thinking Biblically about immigration means more than taking sides based on the latest heart-warming or inflammatory headline. It requires sorting through the balance between justice and compassion.

Scripture commands compassion for the stranger, as in Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”[2] Mary and Joseph, too, “found no room in the inn,” but did find refuge from the tyrant Herod as strangers in Egypt. Yet it also emphasizes justice: 20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” [3]

Empathy is easy. It comes naturally to us when we see others struggling. But empathetic compassion without justice, without something to keep it in balance, creates chaos and perverse incentives for criminal elements. Like Felix, my Uber driver earlier this month, who paid a smuggler $12,000 to get him across the Mexican border. “It’s a lot of money,” he said in a thick Cuban accent, “but safer than the Florida Straights in an overloaded boat.”  He’s working with a sponsor now to try to obtain permanent legal status, but the threat of instant deportation dogs his heels.

Barak Obama bypassed Congress when he created DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals), a clear overreach of his executive authority. Some call it a compassionate move, but not if it creates incentives for more illegal immigration. Senator Ted Cruz, in a response to WORLD Magazine’s Evan Wilt on questions about DACA, explained: “Any action on the individuals in the DACA program could potentially lead to chain migration of 3, 4, 5 million additional people here illegally.”[4] In other words, if Congress doesn’t bring justice to bear on Mr. Obama’s attempts at compassion, more chaos will ensue.

Americans, including some Christians, have a checkered past when it comes to welcoming immigrants. Even though most of our ancestors were once émigrés dreaming the American Dream, we are no strangers to bigotry. How soon we forget.

We are also oblivious to more pragmatic considerations. Birthrates are at historic lows, which is no surprise.[5] Since Roe V. Wade, we have killed 58 million babies, each a potential taxpayer. The Social Security Administration says that the fund is healthy, and fears of its collapse are unsubstantiated, but it also says benefits may need to be reduced by 25% by 2035 and taxes increased to keep it solvent.[6]

Some complain that immigrants take American jobs, but fewer Americans are willing to do the “dirty jobs” Mike Rowe made famous. Many business owners report that it’s because of our too liberal welfare system. Why work when you can eat for free? Most immigrants—even and perhaps especially the illegals—see dirty jobs as opportunities. Those kinds of jobs have always been the first step up on the multi-generational ladder of immigrant success. And the legal immigrants who work them pay taxes.

Historically, America welcomed immigration and immigrants helped build America. Biblically, we are commanded to treat them compassionately without ignoring justice and order. Politically and economically, it seems like common sense to create a path for illegals to become legal, and to reopen the doors to immigration once the injustices created by unwise compassion have been addressed.

[1] Name changed to protect privacy.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ex 22:21). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 16:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Marvin Olasky, Here to Stay? WORLD, Sept. 2017. https://world.wng.org/2017/09/here_to_stay

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/health/united-states-fertility-rate.html

[6] https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n3/v70n3p111.html

ISIS, JONAH, NINEVEH, AND US

Immigration and refugees were powder-keg issues in the 2016 presidential elections and remain pivotal today. A dear friend of mine, a former Muslim and native of the Middle East, who is now an American citizen with multiple ministries to Muslims, has a unique perspective on these issues. I asked his permission to share the following with you. I’ve withheld his name for reasons that will become apparent as you read. DS.

“The current political atmosphere has impacted ministry to Muslims and refugees. When I speak to churches about this subject, I find a growing number of believers who are apathetic to Muslims, and who are more interested in how awful Islam can be, than in why and how they can love Muslims. Some, who are interested in becoming missionaries, are reluctant to consider ministry to Muslims.

We need to ask ourselves these tough questions: Are we angry with Muslims, afraid of them, or do we love them? Is there in our hearts any hatred toward them? Do we pray for the salvation of the terrorists? What if an ISIS terrorist became a follower of Jesus? Would we forgive his or her atrocities? Could someone like the current Caliph of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, be saved?

We are familiar with the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Some may even know that modern Mosul, a stronghold of ISIS where the Caliphate was first declared, and now undergoing liberation by Iraqi forces, sits on top of ancient Nineveh.

Nineveh, during Jonah’s time, was not that different from Mosul under ISIS. Both were brutal, evil, and godless.

Jonah 1:1-2 says,

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’

How evil were the ancient Ninevites? Here is an example:

The head of Tiumman was fixed over the gate of Nineveh, to rot before the eyes of the multitude. Dunanu was slowly flayed alive, and then bled like a lamb; his brother Shambunu had his throat cut, and his body was divided into pieces, which were distributed over the country as a warning.[1]

ISIS does the same kind of barbaric and brutal things to its enemies today. Jonah did not like the Ninevites, just as most of us do not like ISIS, the modern Ninevites. He was reluctant to deliver the word of the Lord to them and tried instead to flee to Tarshish (in modern Spain), which was the end of the known world in his day. He wanted to avoid the mission altogether.

Are we also abandoning our mission to ‘deliver the word of the Lord’ to those we consider to be our enemies today?

I am not naive to the dangers of ISIS. I was one of those who gave early warnings about terrorist creeds, strategies, and tactics that you hear of today. My name appears on one of their published ‘hit lists.’ They have executed people I know and care about. I watched their executions on ISIS videos. Neither my family nor I feel safe, even in America.

But I think some of us are like Jonah. We are either trying to buy a ticket on a ship which will take us as far as possible from the Ninevites, or we have already set sail.

If we are to avoid Jonah’s mistake, we need to remember something: yes, all ISIS are Muslims, but not all Muslims are ISIS. In fact, ISIS atrocities are more disgusting to most Muslims than they are to us. Because of ISIS, Muslims are questioning their religion and attempting to reform it, or reduce it to simple cultural observance, like Americans with Christmas, or are abandoning it altogether.

Muslims are also children of Adam–like we are. They are born under the sin of Adam, like we are, and they need a redeemer, like we do. Let us not allow the atrocities of some Muslims cause us to reject all Muslims. You can hate Satan, but not his victims. May we all learn from and obey Christ who said: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44.”

[1] Maspero, G. (Gaston), The Passing of the Empires, 850 B.C. to 330 B.C., London 1900, P. 413.