March 10, 2017
This is Part 2 of a 3-part series.
On March 6, President Trump signed a revised Executive Order restricting entry to the United States from certain countries, which followed heated controversy and legal battles arising from the initial Executive Order (EO) temporarily halting entry to the United States for certain groups of people. In light of the new order, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding the issue more broadly, it’s helpful to separate the multiple issues—often conflated with one another—playing a part in this discussion. The relationship of refugee and immigration policy to international religious freedom advocacy, in particular, has revealed some glaring hypocrisies and deficiencies over the course of the recent public debate. Another issue at play is the question of what a Christian should be saying on the question of immigration in general, and the Executive Order in particular.
Issue #2: Theology
Many immigration advocates point to biblical commands to love the foreigner (Leviticus 19:34), and care for those different than us (Luke 10:25-37). They’re right. Those verses are in the Bible. What else is in there? Plenty of Old Testament law, which these same advocates are happy to overlook. For example, we see that God requires immigrants to assimilate or, in other words, live by the customs of the land they now call home in order to receive equal status (Exodus 12:48-49).
The point here is not to arrive at the precise theological implications of these passages, but to point out the hypocrisy of those who wish to suddenly have the government cite the Bible as a basis for policy. Are these same individuals prepared to tell us what the Bible has to say about shutting down public school Bible studies because of supposed Establishment Clause violations? Many suddenly seem to have developed a zeal for the fusion of Christianity and State, and try to justify their arguments for opposing this executive order by simply attaching a Christian reference to them.
The truth is, it is incumbent on Christians to open their hearts toward the foreigner—and all our neighbors. But living a Christian life is not so monolithic. The Bible also says government is to punish wrong and protect the good (Romans 13:1-7). Even the organization Sojourners believes this verse means “government is supposed to protect its people. That certainly means protecting its citizens’ safety and security.” Loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31) means all neighbors. Allowing Christianity to inform public policy is a worthwhile endeavor, but it must be done prudently and carefully, not merely as a pretext.
Primarily lost in this discussion is the question of how this controversy intersects with the larger issue of religious freedom around the world. Where has this energy and attention been when it comes to care for those suffering around the world for their religious beliefs? Where has the outcry been when the United States has stood by much of the time?
Where have Christians in the United States been as their brothers and sisters have been tormented overseas? Are they prepared to cite Scripture in defense of their apathy?
Those who are careless about their country’s borders while careful about locking their house at night are operating with a logical disconnect. This disconnect must be worked out. The policy implications of our theological sources are not always clear, and no one should be denigrated for reasonably disagreeing.
The question of what Christianity has to say about this issue is a valid one, but the inquiry must be done properly, not recklessly and carelessly.
Part 3 will examine arguments for and against refugee restrictions in President Trump’s executive orders.