The Bible, Immigration, Refugees, Closed Doors, and God


Like most conservative Evangelicals, I’ve spent a ton of time reading/studying the Bible, and a few years in grad school learning the ancient “Biblical” languages, methods for interpreting ancient Semitic/early Christian manuscripts, etc.

My understanding of the Bible, and my understanding of the way God wants me to live, has a direct bearing on whether or not I agree with the recent developments in the US surrounding immigration, refugees, walls, border closings, etc.

God’s Immigration Policy

We should always have immigration laws, but not when they’re so extreme that they amount to closed doors, or when our borders are closed outright.

Scripture paints the picture of an “open door” God.  His world (often referred to as His “Kingdom”) has no barriers or qualifications.  The only people that aren’t allowed in are the people who don’t want to come in.

I’ve heard from many that you have to first “repent,” i.e., have the right attitude about what’s right and wrong, before God will deem you worthy.  I haven’t yet met anyone who’s been able to do that.  We’re all screwing up in big ways that we’re not aware of.

“Repent” in both the ancient Greek and Hebrew contexts most often means “turn around and go the other direction,” not “be aware of every single place you’re screwing up and feel bad about it.”

The “Prodigal Son” narrative in the New Testament is a parable that lays out in perfect detail who can come in, who can’t, and what God requires for entry.  Here’s a brief recap:

The prodigal does an unthinkable act towards his family and community, then leaves home to live a life something akin to a hip hop video (stole that from this sermon).  After he blows all his $$, he realizes that he’ll starve to death and decides to go home, not because he’s sorry for what he’s done, but because he doesn’t want to die.

He then crafts a very manipulative speech that he plans to recite to his father in hopes that he’ll be allowed back into the family “kingdom.”

His dad, so overcome with joy at the return of his son, loses his mind in a culturally embarrassing public display of affection as the hopeless sinner attempts to recite his speech.  Dad cuts it short, restores the son to his former position, and throws an enormous party that the other son doesn’t want to attend – he’s understandably pissed that his loser brother, who still hasn’t “repented,” has been welcomed home with such pomp and circumstance.

The father goes out to the mad son to try to talk him into joining the party, which is where the story ends.

Self righteous people hate parties.

God’s “Kingdom” is a come-as-you-are proposition.  The doors are open, but the entryway will always be lined with morally OCD people who don’t want to attend since the guest list is so open, so “dirty.”

I entered God’s “Kingdom” many moons ago, and soon learned, despite how hard I might try to act otherwise, that I’m much more a terrorist than a saint.  I judge people, talk about them behind their back, spread anger and bitterness, lose it with my kids, my wife.  I do just as much violence to God’s world as I do good.  I want to bring healing and peace, but so many times I do the opposite, regardless of how much I might “repent.”

I’m “in,” but that’s because of Him, not me.

How screwed up I am!  Who will save me from this body that just can’t get it’s crap together? ~ Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians

Why doesn’t God kick me out?  Why does He keep admitting so many like me?  I have no right or business being part of His world – and His doors stay open.  Always.  Without condition or qualification.

Come to me, everyone who’s tired, everyone who’s overwhelmed, and I will give you rest.  ~ Jesus

The Gospel of Personal Safety

I understand why Christian folk want to build walls and close doors.  Immigration not only threatens our safety but our economy, culture, etc.  Shouldn’t we protect our God-given home?  Don’t we have a right to be as safe as possible?

According to The National Safety Council, The National Center for Health Statistics, the Cato Institute, Tulane University, and others, we Americans are

  • 6 times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth)
  • 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike
  • 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning
  • 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident
  • 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault
  • 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident
  • 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease

… than we are to die from a terrorist attack on US soil.

I’m not trying to downplay what terrorists have perpetrated.  I watched the towers fall, I see cultural expressions of Islam, the way we talk about them, the way we portray them, and can’t help but feel a tinge of fear. But the facts are plain; refugees/immigrants/etc. don’t pose nearly the risk advertised.

And they need a home!

And we have plenty of room!!

Doesn’t matter.  Fear has been leveraged to win an election, and has done its own violence to this home we’re trying so hard to protect.

I understand why we’re tempted to interpret the Bible as a Gospel of personal safety.  God has granted us all the freedom to think and act as we see fit.  I respect opposing views here, but given my interpretation of the scriptures, I can’t agree that the “travel ban,” extreme vetting of refugees, or a president who’s in favor of things like a Muslim database are good, especially in a country so full of Bible folk.

Doing the Shit that God Does

The Bible doesn’t talk much about personal safety.  Instead it speaks time and time again about laying our lives down for the sake of others.  Before the founder of our religion went willingly into slaughter, he commanded His disciples to a life that, for so many of them, ended the same way.  Biblical Christianity is a religion that has risk at its core.  That doesn’t mean we go looking for danger, it does however mean that we don’t turn people away because there’s a very small chance that some might be dangerous.

What God has done for us, we should do for others.

We’re supposed to act like God.  It’s only through acting like Him that we become like Him.  In becoming like Him we change the world – which, by definition, will never be a “safe” activity.

Let’s not make America “Great,” or “First,” or “Safe.”  Let’s make it God’s.  Open the doors.  And while we’re at it let’s celebrate.  Let’s throw the yugest, hip hoppiest, borderline-saturnaliastic hootenanny for these people who so many times have been through utter hell.  Let’s dance with their children, embrace their culture, drink Stranahan’s together (or maybe even Whistle Pig if we really want to be Christ-like) – give them jobs, fall in love.

While there are sure to be a few terrorists among them, you can rest assured that God will be in their midst as well.

And God replied, “Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” ~ Matthew’s Gospel

33 Replies to “The Bible, Immigration, Refugees, Closed Doors, and God”

  1. Hey, man. Enjoyed the post, but as you can imagine, don’t agree with its premise or analogy. But I do appreciate your heart for the issues, word choices (hootenanny), honesty and vulnerability and the refreshing Mark Landryishness of it 😉 Keep up the good work!

      1. Well, let me see … you know, my critique would probably be best served with a post of my own, to be honest. Or I can come back later with some points of contention. At the moment, I’m furiously busy with a somewhat related post about the “Resistance,” which was born from an excruciating “conversation” on John Pavlovitz’s FB page with a rabid resistor who managed to embody nearly every single point I made in my Uncivil Discourse post. Not trying to duck a debate, just rolling like a muthah on the post ;-).

      2. Hey, I came back and started popping out a critique, but now wonder if a few sentences would be more helpful. Here goes: Maybe I’m too practical, but I think if immigrants/refugees from predominately Muslim countries truly want to make better lives for themselves here, they would be willing to be vetted more closely. Is the outrage coming from them or from us? I think they would understand that a more intensive questioning process and background check would be worth it compared to what they can expect from life where they came from. Also, they know much better than we do, who is ultimately responsible for the more difficult process.That said, and though some of your theological points give me pause, your overall message of love and mercy and throwing the big hootenanny encourages me. P.S. I’m willing to send you my critique via email rather than here–I don’t want be a buzzkill–for you and other subscribers or for me ;-).

      3. Thanx again for your thoughts – I’d love it if you’d post your entire critique here. I don’t think anyone’s going to freak out about it, and I’m seriously interested in your perspective.

  2. Hey Mark!

    This is a really difficult one. Personally I think a wall is ridiculous (what about the Canadian border and the coast?), nevertheless I want to see US border and immigration laws enforced. I didn’t vote last November – as my king is Yeshua and I’m a citizen of heaven – so says the word … so I don’t really have a horse in the political debate. Nevertheless, this sort of thing makes for personal discomfort if only because Christian compassion collides head-on with personal sense of security and willingness to foot the bill for compassion … etc. Sometimes the face staring back at me in the mirror of reality, ain’t so pleasing to behold, you know?

    It’s been my observation, that most of us who “preach it” fall short when we are pressed into doing that which we exhort others to do. And it’s very difficult to wrap my head around such a big problem, without bringing it into the scale of something I can understand – something that will flush out what I believe/practice on a personal level without being driven to an opinion by the continuous bombardment from the media and pulpit, etc. So the following hypothetical scenario is meant to test your resolve, like it does mine, by presenting the problem on a smaller, more personal scale … and, well, because I like playing the devil’s advocate … 😉

    It’s a sunny summer Saturday and I’m watching tennis on TV, while enjoying the breeze coming in through my open patio door. There’s a noise behind me and I turn to see a rough looking stranger rummaging through my kitchen looking for food. Another man is seated at the dining room table, wolfing down last night’s leftover BBQ chicken.

    Do I respond “how may I serve you in the name my God”, or “who are you and what are you doing in my house?!?”

    They respond in a duet of foreign language with words I don’t understand but the inflection sure sounds like cursing.

    About that time, I hear the toilet flush and another man emerges from the bathroom, saying in broken english “You’re out of toilet paper”. Seconds later, my daughter lets out a scream when she returned from playing at a friend’s house only to discover a man sleeping in her bedroom.

    My heart beating out of my chest, I dial 9-1-1 to report the intruders.

    The dispatcher replies “We are unable to respond because we are a sanctuary city. Your “house guests” entered in unopposed through an open door and therefore have squatter’s rights where they are entitled to make use of everything in the house. Removal is only through legal action, for which they are entitled due process with a public defender and interpreter provided by the city. They are entitled to remain in your home until the jury renders a verdict. In the meantime, we suggest you make friends with them. Please do not call 9-1-1 on this matter again. Click.”

    Ultimately, I can’t advocate for such unless I’m willing to make it personal. Such as this proves very difficult for me to reconcile my inner NIMBY (not in my back yard) with my Christian compassion. And lest you think this is totally made up, a local friend lives on the edge of the next town over, where in the field behind his back yard fence, there is an encampment of foreigners, here illegally, whom the sanctuary city in which he lives, refuse to deal with. He is prevented from selling his home because of it. For him, this is all too real a scenario where he lives in fear for the day they break in and help themselves.

    And lest what I say be misconstrued by readers, I believe in helping, and have helped with donations of cash and goods, but still I want to see a controlled and organized approach to it for safeties sake.

    1. Hey!
      Understand where you’re coming from, but this post isn’t a plea for utter and complete lawlessness (as I stated in the beginning). Also, if I were a war-torn refugee and couldn’t find a home for my kids anywhere b/c everyone thought I was a terrorist I’d be crushed…

      I’d extend your analogy like this: A group of 20 people stands on your lawn, many of them are children. They’re cold, hungry and have seen horrific things. You have a home that’s 10k+ square feet and people who live on the property who are in charge of security. You call the shots whether or not they come in. I get it, one or two might be a terrorist but there are steps you can take to figure that out.

      Not a choice I want to make either. But we’re talking about justice, one of the key issues in scripture, not a horde of completely inconsiderate foreigners who think what’s yours is theirs.

      1. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum … in a world where I own/govern my property with sovereignty, that would work.

        However, the city manager had 2 of my security guards jailed for enforcing my property (border) rights and the city attorney filed suit against me for profiling and actively sought to prevent me from defending my property claiming I had no standing to enforce the cities private property laws. Since they are a sanctuary city, I had no course of redress.

        Anyway, all my scenario was meant to do Mark, was to demonstrate that nearly everyone recognizes some form of border control – whether it be their own house or yard, a city, state or country – at some point – people draw a line and say “this is mine” and I’ll defend it.

        In the spirit of “do unto others…”, a person can’t very well say “let them in” while barring the door to their own home. Such would be hypocritical in my view.

        From faith perspective, I do recall the words of Jesus in this – responding to Judas, He said “the poor you will always have with you”. One of the reasons He allows the poor, I believe, is to test our mettle as His followers and who profess His love for our brother and neighbor … certainly the poor put that to the test for us … and like you, I think we can do better.

        There’s a heart solution (let them in) and a head solution (keep them out) … would that the head and heart work together and come up with an expedient and compassionate solution.

  3. Wow Mark; you went there! Well done. I am appreciating the reactions and your responses. Thanks for bringing the conversation back to the One who is actually sovereign – for our lives are an illusion of safety, etc, without recognizing His centre. You may appreciate my take on this kind of topic in na

  4. Enjoyed reading. It’s not an easy topic to write about. Thanks for your perspective and for your honesty. Laughed at the “morally oCD” folks lining the entryway. I prefer to envision them gossiping in the back of the room by the punch bowl.

  5. Thanks for injecting a bit of sanity into this topic. I don’t see why helping our fellow man has to be so controversial. Regardless of the factors that may make immigrants different, there are many more that make us the same.

  6. Great commentary! This is a balancing act, between the very real need for security and overdoing security to the point that it walls us in, and we’ll probably never get it exactly right. The poor morals behind the current politics, however, is trying to drive us away from a balance,

  7. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint on this issue. I have the same mindset as you, but many of my family and friends feel differently. It can be hard to talk honestly with them and feel like we’re having an open conversation. It seems like this is a very polarizing issue when really we should be able to listen to another person’s viewpoint without getting bent out of shape.

  8. I really like this, relating it directly to religion is an interesting take on how immigration should be perceived by our nation’s peoples. Check out my blog and see what you think. I’ve given some insight on the situation and plan on going more in-depth!

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