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

chained_door_by_kinyin

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