Friday, January 04, 2008

Illegal Immigration: The Church's Response?


As the political season heats up, I will jump in the fray from time to time with some issues and questions. One of the big issues is illegal immigration. It is a significant problem. Regardless of political stripe, I think everyone can agree that our borders are broken, and President Bush has been AWOL on this issue. Last year's immigration bill was killed in the Senate because of pressure by social conservatives. So, for all my socially conservative readers, I want to present you with some facts, and then get your response.

Firstly, if there are as many as 12 million (some say as high as 20) illegal aliens in the US, how do you propose to "get rid of them." You do realize that rounding up that many people and removing them will be the biggest and most expensive forced migration in human history? Many of these people came here as small children. This is the only home they know. How would you find all these people? Where would you detain them? How would you physically get them to their country of origin? How will you pay for their lawyers? What courts will hear their cases? That brings up another misconception that needs to be straightened out. I hear people say that the US constitution only apples to US citizens. That is wrong. The Constitution places restraints on the Federal government - it does not grant or take away rights from persons. The protections that the Constitution offers applies to ALL persons in the US - period! So every illegal alien taken into custody has the right to legal representation and a court hearing. We simply do not have the manpower, facilities, money, or fortitude to remove 12-20 million of our neighbors. It is a mean-spirited fantasy that will NEVER happen.

Here are some more facts that we should consider. The following numbers come from D Magazine, “Mexican Invasion,” by Rod Davis, February 2007. Let this really sink in:

Of the 31 million total immigrants in the US, about 12 million are undocumented with 1.5 million in Texas (5% of the state’s population).

43% of Dallas area Hispanics are immigrants and only 19% are legal.

In Dallas almost half of the foreign born residents have no documentation.

50% of these immigrants live below the poverty line and have no health insurance.

Dallas County gained 175 000 Hispanic residents between 2000 and 2005.

Exit polls during the last election reported that 66% of voters listed immigration concerns as “extremely” or “very important” and 50% said undocumented aliens should be given a chance to earn legal status, while only 30% were in favor of deportation.

Entering the country without proper documentation is a civil matter, not a felony. Therefore, it is not a “crime.”

In 2006 workers sent $24 billion to Mexico - representing 2.5% of Mexico’s GDP.

In Texas, immigrants contribute almost $53 billion to local economies.

Undocumented Texas workers contributed $1.58 billion in taxes to state coffers in 2005.

If all undocumented Texas workers suddenly disappeared, the gross state product would drop by $17.7 billion in revenues.

Jobs follow market needs: a skilled carpenter in Mexico earns $125 per month; the same laborer can earn over $2000 in the US.

Sixty families in Mexico control 40% of the nation’s wealth.

Unemployment rates in Dallas - Fort Worth stand at about 5% - the result is a labor shortage.

70% of the Dallas construction workforce is immigrant and largely undocumented.

Texas Workforce Commission reports that Texas will need almost 125 000 additional restaurant workers and over 35 000 additional truck drivers in the next few years.

A language other than English is spoken in 44% of Dallas homes, as compared to 20% nationally.

High School graduation rates for Hispanics in the DISD is 32% - graduation rates for undocumented immigrants are even lower.

What should the church's response be? What is the proper Christian attitude? Somehow I don't think "round them up and send them home because they're lawbreakers" is an appropriate attitude for people who follow Jesus and are supposed to show kindness, compassion, and hospitality. What Kingdom values should we apply here? Remember, we are Christians first, Americans second.

47 comments:

Ryan said...

I have to go to the airport but will respond to this later. Great post, great food for thought.

Charles North said...

Thanks!

PS: N-400!!!!!!!

Bill Jordan said...

I have just received by e-mail a press release from one of our candidates for state representative attacking his opponent (I know you are shocked) on this very subject.

All that comes in the wake of my writing and running an editorial in The Terrell Tribune about this topic and getting more than a FEW pieces of mail speaking out against the position I took in that editorial. (Don't worry, that happens a lot).

I'm tempted to just post the candidate's press release because it is so much on topic with this post ... but I've also fired off a request to talk to one of this candidate's volunteers because I don't think his position is very wise and frankly I'd like to see him win this race.

Having said all of that to basically say that I'm not going to say anything ... my point is there is more gamesmanship in the political arena going on about this topic than actual practice of thought about reality and how humans should treat humans.

I have tried to reason with the concept of reality in my editorial and you are trying to reason with the concept of how followers of Christ treat other Christians and other humans in general. I think both are important and anyone who wants to engage in this conversation or debate needs to take long hard looks at both perspectives. Too many are being drawn into the conversation on raw emotion and also on the reaction to misinformation.

I'm glad you are bold enough to tackle the subject and I hope this post generates some frank conversation and comments from the many readers you have who generally just zoom by your blog and never cast their thoughts or opinions into the fray.

Tommy Riggs said...

Before sharing some thoughts, I had a couple of questions about the quotes from D Magazine. I'm a little surprised that..."Entering the country without proper documentation is a civil matter, not a felony." My limited background with law would hold that an act does not have to be a felony to be a "crime." I question why migrating to this country would simply be considered a "civil" issue. I could be wrong, but that seems strange to me. I'm a lazy researcher, so I'll allow a fellow blog reader to educate me.

I also had another question about the quote, "Unemployment rates in Dallas - Fort Worth stand at about 5% - the result is a labor shortage." How is the "result" of the unemployment rate a labor shortage? Again, I'll be able lazy and let someone else clarify for me.

In general, a couple of thoughts come to mind. Systems do not do well with radical changes. I don't see that the influence of illegal immigration is so drastic that a radical response is merited. Largely because of the cost, the questions as to how to do anything, and the fact that there are as the D Magazine indicates a number of positive benefits we reap from the presence of a number of illegal immigrants. This is the type of situation I feel will be addressed by adjusting your current procedures--maybe significantly if there is a defined need. As a country, we have to develop priorities of problems we will address. Our wealth is not without limitations.

I don't personally see a major problem, but as an individual caught up in my own life, I'm sure there are many societal issues/problems that I don't recognize. Part of this is because I tend to have a fairly inclusive attitude.

If we put ourselves in the situations of these individuals, I think we will be more understanding. If I could do the same thing I do for a living and make 8 times as much and were living in poverty, --I may very well be willing to be an illegal immigrant also. Who among us doesn't justify breaking a rule at some point? This doesn't mean that I think we should tear down the borders that would create instability.

I see my citizenship as a gift from God and not an entitlement. We are the wealthy (rich) of the world. In general, we should not hoard that wealth. I don't know the specific ramifications of that, but I believe God calls us to be givers and include those who are different. Jesus left the riches in heaven so that we could be included. As a result, I think maybe we ought to be more concerned about our attitudes (heart) than the specific strategies that need to be implemented.

Anytime I communicate something along these lines, I feel the obligation to also communicate gratitude for those who have risked and/or provided sacrifice to protect the blessings I so often take for granted. I recognize that I have been born at a time and place where the standard of living that I enjoy is not of my own merit. Others have paid a greater price than I for the blessings I enjoy.

Charles North said...

Bill and Tommy
Thanks for those comments. I want everyone who reads this to understand that I am not approaching this heated political issue from a partisan perspective. I just wonder what the proper CHRISTIAN attitude ought to be. I don't think it is the same as the Republican or Democrat position. I admit that this is a tough issue because there are so many arguments and perspectives and so much of it is fueled by emotion.

This is very real to me. On an emotional level illegal immigrants make me very angry because I did it the legal way - which is also VERY hard! My citizenship cost me. It cost money, I had to fill out countless forms, get fingerprinted a number of times, go through several FBI background checks, stand in long lines at 5am, live hand to mouth because for several years I was not allowed to work - and it all took 11 years! So yeah, I resent people who just sneak in. But I also understand that doing it the legal way is close to impossible. The system is truly broken. Anecdotal stories of what my family and I went through would take up pages. But still, what is the proper Christian response?

Tommy - I know it sounds odd, but entering the country illegally or overstaying a visa is no more serious than a traffic citation. It's one of those areas where breaking the law does not equal committing a crime. I know it sounds like hairsplitting, but it's why Congress tried to make it a felony a couple of years ago. By the way, that Bill stipulated penalties for churches who give sanctuary to illegals. That's a problem. I'm glad it didn't pass.

Also, economists have a formula for figuring unemployment rates that says 6% of the adult population simply cannot work due to illness or handicap. So a 5% unemployment rate equals a labor shortage, particularly in low end jobs.

Bill Jordan said...

Tommy I thought Charles would answer the civil vs. criminal question for you, but he didn't.

I'm not 100% sure that his statement is correct, but you do have to keep in mind that from an enforcement perspective we have shifted the picture to employers for than anything else. If I employe an illegal at my business knowingly, then I'm subject to a fine from the government that is more like an EPA violation than a criminal penality.

The best example of this is that starting last week in Arizona the first act carries a fine, the second act carries a removal of our business permit.

There is more government money spent on this type of enforcement than in any other area. In fact the total budget for the federal service branch that investigates immigration document fraud is less than budgets of a medium sized city police department. So basically, our government is willing to spend more money on punishment of employers who hire illegals than they are on catching those who make and sell documents for illegals to fool the employers who try to check INS paper work, but have no way on knowing for sure if the documents they are furnished are accurate or bogus.

Charles North said...

Yep. That's just one more flaw in a system that needs a serious overhaul.

BTW - I like the new picture Bill. Very sophisticated!

Bill Jordan said...

I was "forced" into getting a new picture made.

We have pictures of all of our publishers that hang in our corporate offices and my last picture was made in 1984.

Clyde King, our company president, told me I had two choices, either get a new picture made or go back to weighing 210 pounds like I did in 1984. For a couple of years I kept pointing out that his picture was vintage 1985 or 1986 when he had much darker hair and that when his new picture went up on the walls I'd be right behind him.

Well, about a month ago I walked into the offices and there was this picture of Clyde with his current head of white hair, so I knew I was trapped.

Bill Jordan said...

Charles, don't you just love it when we beat around the bush and don't answer your question?

There's really only one answer: Love your neighbor as yourself. "The Church" can't have any other response.

Bill Jordan said...

Just as a point of interest, some may have noticed that The Dallas Morning News recently named the illegal immigrant as their "Texan of the Year."

That selection produced a firestorm of protest from readers.

You might enjoy reading Editorial Page Editor Keven Ann Willey's response to that reaction on the DMN website that was posted today:

In short, she sums things up with this comment:

• The existing immigration system is a joke.

• It is unconscionable that Congress has refused to reform the system.

• The Department of Homeland Security should get on with it and "finish the rest of the barrier" along the border, noting as recently as last month that this is clearly "the will of the people."

• It's not as simple as just "deport them all" or "ignore it and the problem will go away." We've called for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes tighter border security and workplace enforcement, as well as a guest worker program to create a system of documentation and a pathway to regularization that includes touchback provisions and doesn't put those who have broken the law ahead of those who came here legally.

• We support the city of Irving's efforts to partner with the feds to deport those in city jails found to be here illegally.

The bottom line is that none of us should settle for snappy sound bites from politicians pledging gratuitously to "crack down" on illegal immigrants. We must push elected officials to move beyond the rhetorical appetizer and dig into the meat and potatoes.

Until they do, the problem of illegal immigration will fester like a sore and continue to drive this nation apart.

I don't agree with all of those positions that the DMN takes, but they do explain the paper's position that this subject is important and demands all of our attention.

Bill Jordan said...

Do you give away free tickets to Six Flags or something like that when somebody post three comments in a row? And do you get a bonus upgrade to a season pass if you post four times in a row?

Ryan said...

The system is truly broken. I remember the 13 hours I had to wait in line just to get a work permit years ago. If you want to see one of the ugly dark secrets of America you need to go stand in line at an immigration office.

Like Tommy I have a few questions about the D Magazine article.

How do they:

1. know that there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in the USA?

2. know that undocumented Texas workers contributed $1.58 billion in taxes to state coffers in 2005.

A lot of their list seems a little made up to me. However the point that is not lost is that illegal immigrants contribute GREATLY to our economic wealth.

Charles,
The natural rate of unemployment actually includes more than those who cannot work due to illness or handicap. It also includes those new to the labor force, those between jobs, etc.

To answer your original question. I agree with Bill that our only response is to love our neighbor as we do ourselves.

Mark said...

While I will openly state that being "undocumented" from a moral standpoint is wrong, people come to the states because there are jobs, money, and hope for a better life. I sympathize with those who choose to take that chance.

I do have a BIG problem with the business who knowingly hire these undocumented people.

Has your house ever gotten invaded by ants, only to find that they were all after a piece of candy that had fallen behind the counter? When you simply remove the candy, the ants will eventually go away to seek a food source elsewhere.

I think the same thing should be true for these border issues. If we HAMMER the business (big and small) that continue to hire undocumented workers, then they will stop. When jobs stop being available, the people seeking the jobs will have no incentive to cross the borders in pursuit of the jobs.

Now, I know there are economic repercussions to this. Business would have to pay decent wages to attract documented workers and the price of goods and services would go up, but I believe this would be self correcting.

My point, do not go after the individuals, go to the root, the businesses that make it possible for those individuals to be here.

Bill Jordan said...

I'll pinch hit for Charles since I know he's busy this afternoon.

Again, remember the question is: What is the Church's response?

Mark, should the Church take a position in mass to HAMMER businesses that freely hire illegals? That's nothing more than organized boycotts. Is that a love your neighbor as yourself response?

The two key business segments that are known to hire illegals the most are our food processing industries and construction industries. Who are we really helping / hurting if we act in mass and drive up food and construction prices? But that just puts us back in the immigration debate, not the church response topic.

So what is the "real problem" in the eyes of "the church?"

Mark said...

Good point Bill, I did stray from topic just a bit. The political and economic side of the coin is horribly complicated. And, I get really passionate about people and business that take advantage of other people.

This is a little disjointed, but here it goes.


I guess I could try this scenario:

What if I worshiped with and was friends with someone from an Eastern Block country who had been trying to get a work visa for some time and had finally been denied that visa? Now this friend is breaking the law and has decided to try and stay. What is my Christian duty?

Do I go to him and say, you should go back to country "X" and when he doesn't, take another person with me to confront him. And, when he continues to break the law, ultimately bring him before the Elders? I guess I have no choice but to show compassion to my friend but address the sin in his life.

Sin is sin, whether it's breaking the speed limit (my Big one!) or living here illegally. We all sin, but God's grace has covered those of us who are in the Lord. And, as Paul writes, we do not "go on sinning so that grace may abound."

Our response should be to encourage those that are in the Lord to "live quiet lives" and to obey the laws of the lands (that applies to the undocumented worker and the businessman that hires the worker.)

Do we go to the alcoholic and say continue to drink? Do we go to the adulterer and say, "sleep with whoever?" No, we offer them a way out. We show our love and more importantly, God's love to them and help them with their struggles.

Bill Jordan said...

I agree with every point you made Mark.

I think the last thing we need to do is protect those who are breaking the law. And the next to the last thing we need to do is encourage anyone to break the law in the future.

But that "Christian" position calling for others to obey the laws does not have to spill over into the emotional political positions of punishing anyone in the scope of the thing we call "the problem."

The politics of this issue leaves many wanting to cut off health care and education resources for children and families of illegal immigrants. That's not a Christ-like attitude.

Your point about how we help the sinner is well stated. I just hope we all remember that our response as Christians to sin is to love the sinner and hate the sin. In today's political debate on the immigration topic I think we can all say that we have things thrown in reverse order when it comes to dealing with the sin involved in breaking the laws of immigration.

Charles North said...

I would love to jump in to the conversation, but I'm at ACU right now in a "Missional Ecclesiology" class. It's not yet 10am and my head hurts!!!

A.H. Jordan said...

Charles:

I have some serious thoughts to share on this as well, but I'm in the middle of a jury trial (for a born and bred U.S. citizen I might add), but here's a couple of lighthearted nuggets to start with:

1) I'd be much more in favor of deporting ACU grads (GO BISONS!), and

2) How in heck do you get a count on the number of "undocumented" aliens? I mean, if we know where they are in order to count them, aren't they documented by definition?

Charles North said...

Andrew
You should hear the things said about Harding on the ACU campus!

Counting illegal aliens seems impossible, so I guess that's why estimates range from 12-20 million. We do know how many people overstay their visas, so that's a start.

Holly said...

Is it really the church's concern if a person is "illegal" or not? I was under the impression that it was my Christian duty to see to my fellow's spiritual and physical needs. Perhaps the church should not even have a position on the matter and remain silent? However, I can see Mark's point and agree, but that gets into specific scenarios. I can certainly have my own opinion about what should be done, but that is to remain in the secular part of my life, not the religious.

"I've had my say, and counted to three."

PS: Charles, you are slipping to the conservative side. You need to reread your post and fix several typos. (Sorry, bloggers. Inside joke...)

Charles North said...

Good point Holly. What grammatical errors?

For those who don't know, my theory is this: The more conservative a person or church is, the more spelling and grammatical errors they have in printed materials.

Kerrie said...

It’s probably somewhat related to personality too or those infamous "upper right and lower right quadrants" you taught us about last summer Charles. It’s funny because I’m much more of the artistic type and when I write something that I believe has a powerful message I send it to Tommy to read. What I want him to do is to read the message and many times instead of comments about the message he comes back with grammatical corrections! That’s an educator for you!

Holly said...

Firstly, if there are as many as 12 million (some say as high as 20) illegal aliens in the US, how do you propose to "get rid of them."

There should be a comma at the end.

That brings up another misconception that needs to be straightened out. I hear people say that the US constitution only apples to US citizens.

What's apples got to do with it?


hey, you asked for it!

Charles North said...

Sorry. I should let you proof read for me. Nice new picture!

Kerrie - "infamous quadrants?"

Kerrie said...

Did I have a typo?

You had 4 quadrants in a talk that you gave the small group leaders.
The upper right quadrant people are highly intellectual book oriented in their approach to worship and God vs. the lower right quadrant people who approach worship and God in a much more emotional sense. The things they value are quite different. It had to do with conflicts in the church and how we should all try to incorporate more of each quadrant into our approaches to lessen the tension or something like that. I'm not sure I got the point right last summer when I complained to you about it and I maybe still have missed it. Oh well:)

Anyway, this has nothing to do with your post but I am disagreeing with your theory about typos because I'm very liberal in church matters and I have lots of typos. Perhaps I'm just lazy:)

So now I'm not going to want to post because people are counting mistakes. That sounds a little legalistic to me:)

Bill Jordan said...

If spelling and grammer r what counts then I is far ever more doomed to b one of them ferris c's.

Mark said...

Wow, it seems we've strayed from the topic....

To Holly's question on if whether or not someones legal status matters, I would have to answer, "yes, it is a matter for the church."

It is a matter in the same way that any sin is the concern of the church. Let's face it, continuing to break a law that does not threaten your walk with God is sin.

I'm taking a bit of a narrow view on this because this goes back to the little sin versus big sin thing. Me speeding down 121 separates me from God (thank goodness for grace) just as much as murdering someone.

There are some very negative repercussions to continually graying out what we talk about as right or wrong.

I guess my point is the church's position should be based on the sin being committed, not the crime being committed. One addresses a concern for the salvation of others, one addresses a legal issue.

Oh, and please don't pick apart the grammar and spelling in my posts. Remember, I is a product of Texas public education.

Bill Jordan said...

Mark I'm not going to try to pick apart your comment ... and certainly not your spelling or grammer. But I hope we'll all be careful about injecting the word "salvation" into this conversation.

Salvation does not come from keeping the law or The Law. It does not come from keeping traditions.

I expect, knowing Charles, this is the real reason he tossed this topic out for us to "chew on." And if it is, I expect he'll be back on the stump teaching and I know he can do a much better job than I can, so I'll shut up.

Holly said...

I was speaking about the church as a whole on the TOPIC of illegal immigration. I agree with you, Mark, the each Christian/church congregation has an obligation to help those who are sinning.

I will make no comments about anyone else's typos simply because it is Charles that always goes ballistic over certain churches' bulletin mistakes.

Kerrie said...

Bill,
I do see Mark's point though because ideally we don't want to be continuing in sin when we know better. If we have people/members of a local church group that are illegally in the U.S. then don't they have an obligation as Christians to try to make things right with the laws of our land? As brothers and sisters of those members shouldn't we try to encourage that much like if someone is living wrong and needs correction? We all hate to even get close to that nowdays for fear of being called judegemental. So where do you draw those lines of using what we know the Bible teaches regarding an attitude of obedience toward God and applying that to correct those we think are not living as they should? How far does God's grace go for those who know what to do and don't or for those of us who know what needs to be corrected in a brother yet refuses to be bold enough to address it? I know I hate conflict, confrontation etc. Is this clear as Mud or am I just way off track from a lack of sleep?

Charles North said...

This is a good conversation. I still don't have a whole lot of time, but I have to strongly disagree with you Mark. I don't believe that breaking the law (civil law) is a sin. Their is a profound difference between what is legal and what is moral. Sometimes keeping the law is a sin (if the law is unjust). Speeding down Hwy 121 does not affect your relationship with God at all. I think that it is deeply flawed to say that all sin or lawbreaking is equal. I just don't believe it - I see a new post down the road.

Charles North said...

I meant "there" not "their." I feel like such a hypocrite!

Kerrie said...

Charles,
I'm wondering if what you just said about civil law and moral laws of God is correct. Not sure, because I'm not the intellectual one here. But even if it is then aren't we splitting hairs in regards to obedience and the attitude of Jesus' teachings. Are we going to take the attitude of walking as close to the line of right and wrong as possible or take the high road and desire excellence in respecting the laws of our country as well as God's. It's also difficult to separate out at what point which laws are "ok to break" and which ones are morally not ok. Do we hand out a list of do's and dont's like the old law or follow the spirit of the law? I guess its not the actual law that concerns me but the attitude of looking for an out in obedience to authority in general.

BTW...I acknowledge that I have typos so please pardon from here on out my mistakes so I can be lazy and not log back in to correct them:)

Charles North said...

I hereby grant a full administrative pardon to all who commit typos!

Charles North said...

Kerrie (and Mark). Here's an example. If I go through a red light at 3am at a completely deserted intersection, I may have broken the law, but I have done nothing immoral. To say that I have sinned is absurd.

Charles North said...

Okay, it's time to answer my own question: "What should the church's response be to illegal immigration?" My answer is to rephrase the question. The way it is phrased here looks for a policy answer. It's easy to come up with a "solution" to the "problem" of 12 million nameless, faceless people. It's a statistical resolution. The question should be: "What should the church's response be to illegal immigrants?" The answer is both simple and profound - we should practice hospitality. I use that word in it's broadest sense - as in welcoming strangers (not having friends over for dinner). The church's response should be hospitality. Kingdom values are not only different to civil/legal values, they sometimes require you to break the law.

Kerrie said...

So you are really not saying that it’s ok to break ANY civil law because its not sinning… you’re saying that if it is a law that clashes with the principles of Christianity, that we should put those principles (and our actions) ahead of the law because that is the Christ-like thing to do? I don’t have a problem with that but I don’t think that comparing running a red light at 3:00am in a deserted intersection falls into the unjust category though. I think I’ll go ahead and tell my 11 year old Andrew to stop at the red light when he starts driving (as well as not be out at 3:00am).

So what is the Christ like moral thing to do with child abusers who escape any punishment for their wrong doings because of the law saying not enough evidence to convict? Are there any civil laws we could break here to amend this situation?

Charles North said...

Yes to your first paragraph. My red light example is simplistic, but it still makes the point that not ALL illegal acts are necessarily immoral.

Your second paragraph is a tough question! I'm certainly no anarchist, and I would never support vigilante justice when it comes to child abusers. But your question sort of proves my point - there are different levels of lawbreaking with vastly different consequences and punishment.

Tommy Riggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tommy Riggs said...

Charles:

What is your scriptural basis for the comment......

"I don't believe that breaking the law (civil law) is a sin. ........Sometimes keeping the law is a sin (if the law is unjust)."

Do you believe these to be statements of principle that we should base our actions on or statements that can be true in some situations and false in others?

Ryan said...

Tommy,
I think the scriptural basis for "Sometimes keeping the law is a sin (if the law is unjust)." is Matthew 28:19-20. If it is illegal to make disciples, which it is is some countries, we must still do so as many missionaries do.

I think it is difficult for us to see that law keeping might be sinful in this country. Perhaps it is because everyone knows that we should "back the blue" or perhaps it is because we think all of our laws are just. Disobeying the laws of an unjust regime is easy for us to do. Disobeying the laws of the United States is somehow sinful?

Kerrie said...

In Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

I think this verse and the overall spirit of the teachings of Jesus would merit obedience to the laws, even civil laws, of any country we live in as long as they are not in direct conflict with Christianity. Call it what you want but when we disrespect the civil laws of our government and those in authority over us we are in opposition to what the Bible teaches us as Christians. So I would categorize the attitudes and actions of disrespect for civil law as morally wrong.

It may be that keeping immigrants out of our country or deporting them is in direct conflict with Christ’s teachings but we sure need to be careful to not lump the obedience of all civil law into a category of choice.

Bill Jordan said...

Aren't we kind of splitting hairs here?

We don't have any problem visiting someone who's locked up behind bars in prison, sharing the Gospel with that person and doing what we can to help that person. That person has obviously broke a law or he/she wouldn't be locked up.

Shouldn't we have just as much love and concern for that person before they enter the prison, and after they walk out, as we do when they are inside the prison's walls?

Just because someone has broken a law, or sinned, does not free us of our responsibility as Christians to love one another. I don't see any "if, and, or, but" clauses in the command to love God and love each other.

Now, is that easy to do? Nope. It's tough.

Tommy Riggs said...

I (as I guess most) have such mixed feelings about this blog and probably any that I would participate in. I like the intellectual stimulation but sometimes the opposing viewpoints can be frustrating and choosing the best words to convey your feelings can also be frustrating.

I have no disagreement with the thought that we should love all or that we should show hospitality to all--although I still have questions as to how that love and hospitality should manifest itself toward illegal immigrants. I agree that a congregation as a whole has no need for a policy or stance on the political issue of illegal immigration.

I believe one of the things we as Christians have failed miserably at is disagreeing with each other in a spirit of love and fellowship—hence all the groups and denominations. As I review the previous comments on this post, I still don’t think I understand those comments which seem to represent a differing viewpoint than mine.

I totally understand and agree with Ryan’s point that there will be cases where manmade laws will be in conflict with God’s laws. Jesus’ instruction to preach the good news is a great example. This conflict between man’s law and God’s law has gone on for centuries. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Peter, John, millions of martyrs (forgive any misspellings... remember I can be lazy…didn’t want to look them up).

What I don’t see from scripture is support for the view that we have freedom to disregard laws which do not conflict with God’s laws or take each law individually on a case by case evaluation to see if we see individual merit in the law. I also don’t see scriptural support a manmade classification of civil or criminal law being the basis for whether breaking a law is sin. My previous teaching has been that unless a governmental law conflicts with God’s commands, we as Christians should follow that law.

I feel compelled to confess that I’m not perfect in following the law. I certainly don’t always follow the speed limits, come to complete stop at stop signs, or use my blinker. However, when I look back at those actions, I don’t deny that they are sin. They are actions of my human weakness. They are times when I justify my own actions in my own mind. Do I think these weaknesses or sinful patterns are unforgivable by a gracious God—No. But I think I have to continue to examine my own attitude so that I don’t continue to sin so that grace may abound. I think Satan can tempt us to rationalize sin and rename it so that we will then tolerate it in our lives. Maybe this is “splitting hairs” but again I think one of our weaknesses has been that we have not been able to love one another and teach against sin at the same time. Is this impossible to do?

Now I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing that my driving habits are not that different from Charles’, Ryan’s, or Bill’s. (Except for the fact that I know I’ve passed Bill at least once on the way to church, but that’s because he was driving too slow…but I think that was discussed generally in a previous blog). My comments are not meant to “split hairs” or to be condemning but are from a genuine concern that we (individually or any country that we live in) are not the one’s who decide what is right and wrong—God is. I also believe that focusing on what is or is not right or acceptable is not the attitude God desires—that appears to be another form of legalism to me. While there are practices we have had in the past that were unloving, there is a point where we do have to guard against our present culture’s tendency to tolerate those things contrary to God’s teaching. I think we all agree that Jesus loved all; his teachings also challenged all to holy living.

Do I believe everyone has to agree with me as to whether running a red light at three in the morning is a sin? No. I can love you whether you agree with me or not. I’m open to other’s thoughts if they feel I’m wrong and hope that all would be open and loving in their comments. My personal hope also is that all will share explanations and information to support their views. As I said at the beginning I believe this can be a tool for growth as we consider each others’ thoughts.

Charles North said...

I'm back from Abilene. Just 2 more classes, and I'll be "Dr. North." Scary!

As usual, we have strayed off topic slightly, but I do think everyone has been very respectful and open-minded. Thank you. The original question asked what the church's response ought to be to a specific issue in this politically charged climate. My answer is that we ought to show hospitality (whatever that means) to "strangers" in our country. The fact that they are lawbreakers (technically) should not change that. If you are in the U.S. illegally you have committed a minor civil offense, but I simply CANNOT say you are acting immorally. Common sense won't allow me to make that leap.

So, to answer the question - 3 things inform my position:

1) Good old fashioned common sense. My example of running the red light on a deserted road at 3am may be extreme, but it proves the point - an illegal action may sometimes be immoral (murder, theft), but it isn't always the case. Morality and law cannot be tied together because then the reverse would also have to be true: If lawbreaking is immoral, then lawkeeping would have to be moral. So abortion, gambling (in some states), and consuming alcohol, etc. would have to be moral actions. If your response is, "No, they are immoral because they violate God's law," then you have proved my point - God's law supercedes civil law, and civil law cannot be tied to morality.

So in that vein, here's another example. Panhandling is against the law in the city of Dallas. And yet a couple of weeks ago I gave $2 to a homeless guy at a light on NW highway. Was that act of charity immoral? It certainly was illegal.

Plus, we all know how laws are made in the U.S. It's the messy result of clamoring constituents, special interests, and corporate money. The result is different laws in different states and cities. Something as confusing, debased, and "worldly" as legislating civil law cannot be tied to morality because it is fluid, pragmatic, and often sold to the highest bidder - or the loudest whiner!

2) Experience. You have to understand that growing up in apartheid era South Africa has colored my thinking on this. I don't mean to sound smarmy, but by age 12 I knew that our laws were unjust and that the government was full of liars trying to brainwash me into being a good little citizen. I have a built-in distrust for civil authorities. Plus, I know what it's like to be an illegal alien.

3) Scripture and Christian tradition. When Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God" (Mtt. 22:21), he was making a subversive statement. Caesar (all civil governments) cannot claim full allegiance. Only God has that right. The church has always functioned as a subversive community throughout its history - during the Roman era, even during Constantinian "Christendom," during the Reformation, and even today, the Church is an outpost of God's Kingdom, and must NEVER be co-opted by any nation, government, or political party!

Kerrie said...

Oh great! I’m so glad this is coming down to common sense so I can just throw in my 2 cents worth of it.

So it looks to me like we are dealing with a basic difference of values in how we see the authority in our lives and how we view our roles as Christian’s in a worldly society under that authority. Sounds like a new post?

I see my role based on Titus and many other scriptures that refer to the spirit of our attitude towards authority. Like it or not, (an believe me many times I do not) my role as I see it involves God as my head, my husband then followed by the government, basically in that order for my life and given the Godly man that I’m married too. Having said that I believe that as Christians we have an obligation (call it moral, legal or whatever) to show respect towards the authority in our lives whatever country we live in. My common sense (which I happen to value) tells me that this ATTITUDE of respect also goes towards the laws in my country and following that attitude goes obedience. Reason would tell me that if I understand the lines of authority in my life…that when the values of the government differ with God’s principles that I follow God’s first and foremost i.e. homeless, immigrants, abortion, charity. I try not to approach things from an all or nothing stance as life is much more complicated than that.

So from my women’s perspective in what I read in the scripture Old and New we as Christians ought to go above and beyond what the rest of the world does in how we handle ourselves in respect to the law. Do we have a right in many instances to do our own thing? Sure we do but is it the best approach in setting an example of being different from the rest of the world? In other words…an attitude of rebelliousness towards authority in general is my main concern. I teach my children that they have an obligation to respect the authority in their lives, parents, teachers, police officers etc. They don’t have to like it but they do have to obey. I teach them that the attitudes they develop towards authority now will ultimately help determine their attitude of authority towards God…and to me that all boils down to a moral issue as I don’t think Jesus teaches us to be “subversive” in this area of our lives.

So about the “Common Sense” thing? These are my thoughts and my beliefs based on how I was raised and how I view scripture. We may just have to agree to disagree because sometimes commons sense to one person is non-sense to another:)

Charles North said...

Kerrie. It's like I told Tommy - I think we are closer to having the same position than it seems. On a practical day to day basis we live our lives the same way. I do respect authority and try to follow the law - I just have some built in suspicion, but I try to not be cynical about it.