(This is the second part of a two-part blog).
Even a cursory look at Hebrew scripture and law reveal an almost constant concern for those on the margins: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Knowing that in an agrarian economy, women without men, children without parents and people without land and family are often vulnerable, God sets up rules to protect them. When Israel ignores these rules, the prophets rail. Laws regarding hospitality, gleaning laws, a special three-year tithe, workplace protections and legal proceedings all exist to keep the vulnerable from abuse. God says to Israel, ‘You know what it is like to live in exile under Pharaoh. Don’t be like Egypt. Be like me. Love these precious to me, because I love them.” Dr. Carroll reminds us that inherent in Old Testament law is the person of God, a God who commands the Israelites to love the widow, the orphan and the stranger because He does.
But this is risky business. Walter Brueggemann calls what drives the anxiety in the face of a risky, loving, generous God ‘the myth of scarcity.’ Instead of obedience and faith to our ‘liturgy of abundance’ where the God of history continues to provide, we believe the myth that there is not enough and begin to hoard. Brueggemann finds Pharoah introducing scarcity into the biblical narrative. His scary dream quickly turns into administering, controlling and monopolizing the food supply. By the end, Israel has traded their money, means of production, land and eventually themselves into bondage. It takes 40 years in the desert for them to believe again in God’s promises to provide, that, unlike Pharaoh, they can take a day off to rest, that they don’t have to stockpile like in Egypt, that there is enough for everyone.
The water metaphors are pervasive in immigration dialogues: waves, tides, drowning, sinking… This is scarcity talking and it is a myth according to scripture. Scarcity-think also necessarily leads to violence. If you threaten my survival than getting rid of you is almost compulsory, let alone excusable. Brueggemann points to an abundant God in Genesis who commands, ‘be fruitful, multiply’ while the Psalmist in Psalms 104 and 150 calls us to ‘abandon’ ourselves to God, to let go. God promises to feed everybody and repeats that He is in control. We don’t have to worry so we take only enough. Like the manna falling from the sky, hoarding doesn’t make sense in God’s Kingdom. Generosity reigns.
Finally, we get to the life of Christ. I love Virgilio Elizondo’s image of a ‘Borderland Reject Jesus’ growing up in the nowhere place of Galilee. Similar to many of the students in my youth group, Jesus was an infant refugee carried across a border without knowing. Arriving in the ‘Land of Cabul’ a displeasing place ‘like nothing,’ Jesus of Nazareth grows up in this outsider hole, helping him identify with other nobodies and outsiders. Jesus’ ministry is defined by a rhythm of identification and movement towards other outcasts. He personally understands rejection and so the Kingdom he ushers in invites everyone, especially those who were previously discarded, rejected or illegal. Those who used to be deported are now given special seats of honor in Jesus’ Kingdom. This offends worldly power today as much as it did when Jesus walked the earth.
Finally, Romans 13 must be addressed in Biblical conversations regarding immigration as it surfaces often from those using it as a proof text to defend current immigration policy. Many policy debates around multiple issues occur among Christians and Romans 13 is rarely introduced with the exception of in immigration dialogues. This is an interesting dynamic that deserves deep heart searching and honest reflection. Why do we mention Romans 13 in immigration conversations while neglecting it inside conversations concerning abortion, for example? Both clearly deal with issues of legality. It seems we choose which laws are biblically sound and which are not, almost subconsciously.
This begs the question: does Romans 13 imply blind authority to the state forever and always? Surely we can all come up with a long list of examples where we would as clear-headed Christian believers defy the government and feel good about it: Apartheid in South Africa, child labor laws or Jim Crowe in the U.S., Chinese policy regarding public Christian worship or the possession of a Bible. I don’t even need to mention Hitler. Christians have ignored and even conspired against these authorities; did they (do we) ignore Romans 13?
Dr. Carroll asks us to read Romans 13 in light of Romans 12. Romans 12 calls us to ‘not be conformed to the things of this world… to hate what is evil and cling to what is good… to share with God’s people who are in need… to practice hospitality.’ This is the standard for leadership that is instituted by God in Romans 13. When leaders fail this standard, we do not blindly follow but instead call them back to biblical values. Our prophetic tradition confirms this model. Romans 13 as a simple black-and-white defense of ‘what part of illegal do you not understand’ is quickly found to be lacking.
Blind followership of our immigration policies is similarly problematic. Widespread agreement exists that current immigration policy is inadequate and essentially broken. A schizophrenic approach has been the de facto position of not only big business but government and consumers alike as we simultaneously scream: ‘help wanted / don’t enter.’ We are all complicit in creating the system as it is; now we punish the weakest without a political voice while ignoring all other guilty parties. Growth built by immigrants has fueled our local economies and when changing demographics, economic downturns or political expediency require, we simply turn our backs on these workers and their contributions.
But now they have families, lives, children and histories here and they are likely to stay. Many times there is nowhere else to go. Economists say they help more than hurt; historians find nothing new in current immigration patterns and criminologists discover that immigrants are unlikely to be dangerous or involved in crime. The border is more secure than it has been in decades. But now I am getting into the policy instead of letting the Bible percolate…
Ian Danley is a youth pastor and community organizer with Neighborhood Ministries, a 30-year-old Christian community development work in Central Phoenix. Ian lives in the neighborhood where he serves with his wife Shiloh and recently completed a Masters in Public Policy from Arizona State University.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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