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Monday, December 14, 2015

You Are Being Manipulated

Mass immigration might be the single most important political issue being discussed in North America at the moment.

Perhaps you are among the small minority of people who have never given much thought to the question of what sort of people — and how many — ought to be allowed to acquire citizenship in your home country. If so, this will probably not interest you much.

But if, like many, you have very definite answers to those questions in mind, and especially if you are one of a growing number of Christians with the inclination to publicly share your thoughts on the issue, I have a gentle suggestion for you:

Stop and think first. There is a very good chance you are being manipulated.

The Most Important Issue

Why is mass immigration such a big deal?
  1. It’s Highly Divisive.  Feelings run hot on the subject. People have relatives, friends and neighbours who stand to be affected one way or another by any change in government policy. As such, there is a good chance large numbers of Christians are going to end up disagreeing strongly with one another about it. In fact, they are already at it. That’s fine, but before we shoot our mouths off, pro or con, it might be worth taking a moment to think about the message we’re sending out when we do. There’s a U.S. election coming up in less than twelve months and immigration is front and centre in the debate. The rhetoric around the issue will only get more intense.
  2. For Some It’s Existential.  Two of the Paris bombers passed through Greece posing as refugees. Tashfeen Malik, one of the terrorists behind the recent California massacre, arrived from Saudi Arabia on a K-1 visa. While some think these events exceptional rather than omens of worse to come, others quite reasonably view immigration as a proximate cause of more than 144 deaths in the last month alone. Time will tell who’s right. In the meantime, whatever we might think (or fear) the future holds, we have precious few solid reasons to be dogmatic about it.
  3. God’s Name is Being Dragged Into It.  Most importantly, both sides of the immigration argument are happily tweeting and Facebooking their favourite proof texts to demonstrate that “Jesus taught this” or that “God would approve” of that. Before we start claiming we have Heaven on our side in any issue, we ought to look carefully at the scriptures we are waving around to see if they actually teach what we think they do.
From the Left

The Christian left stakes out its pro-immigration position on the grounds of social justice. This can become rather extreme. Miguel de la Torre at Iliff School of Theology, for instance, even advocates for illegal immigration from an allegedly Christian perspective:
“Wherever immoral laws are in place, a moral obligation exists to be illegal.”
Most of the Christian left declines to go quite that far. However, when the left brings scripture to bear on the subject, it uniformly mangles whatever it touches. I have dealt with two of the biblical red herrings raised by the left in an earlier post: a risibly specious comparison of the rejection of would-be immigrants to the rejection of Christ; and the misapplication of Matthew 25:42-25.

But the misappropriations of scripture keep on coming. Other favourite passages misused to advance the cause of accepting more immigrants include:
  • the Levitical instructions to care for sojourners.  These involve doing the sojourner “no wrong” and loving him “as yourself”. But these instructions were not given to Christians but to Israelites living in a theocracy. Properly observed, they would have prevented the rather natural abuse of people passing through their land. There was no suggestion that Israelites ought to resettle thousands of Canaanites within their own tribal boundaries and respect the freedom of their new neighbours to engage in the worship of Baal or Moloch. Such a thing would have been unconscionable in Israel.
  • the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This was not directed at secular governments but at individual believers. Christians have a mandate to love our neighbour as ourselves, and enough of those exist within a five mile radius of our own homes to keep us all busy for the rest of our lives in productive service. We also have a mandate to go into the world with the gospel, as many have done and continue to do. But I do not see a mandate here or anywhere else in scripture to push for secular governments to bring the world to us.
  • Galatians 3:28, which states “There is neither Jew nor Gentile ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. The problem here should be obvious: Paul is speaking of spiritual equality before God in the context of the church, not the world. The world is demonstrably not “all one in Christ Jesus”. That’s something that is unique to believers. The world has neither the capacity nor the inclination to be “one”, as is amply evidenced by the last 2,000 years of history.
  • James’ instruction to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction”.  It hardly needs to be pointed out that this is an instruction to believing individuals, not a prescription for public policy. Further, there are numerous ways to show love to widows and orphans from other countries that do not involve moving them in next door along with all their relatives. In any case, this point is largely moot: the wave of migrants currently engulfing Europe is comprised primarily of young military-age men, not widows and orphans.
While it is possible to draw principles from some of these scriptures that might impact our dealings with individuals in need as we encounter them in our daily lives, there is nothing in scripture either by way of precedent or precept to directly address the sheer scale of mass migration currently underway.

Christians on the left who feel strongly about accepting all would-be immigrants claiming hardship in their home countries are free to advocate publicly for their position, but it is at best naive (and at worst dishonest) to pull passages of holy writ out of context and try to use them to seize the moral high ground in the public debate. There are ways to address the needs of the world that do not involve granting citizenship to everyone who seeks it (something that is impossible in any case). Each of these alternatives — such as giving out of our own wealth or going overseas to provide care and aid — has the very Christian character of personal sacrifice.

But advocating for governments to attempt to solve the problems of foreign countries with the tax dollars of others, let alone to do it in the face of increasing potential danger to our fellow citizens, is no display of Christian virtue. It is lazy, short-sighted and irresponsible.

As a Christian, if you let yourself be swayed by these sorts of specious arguments, you are being manipulated.

From the Right

But it is not only the pro-mass immigration side of the argument that reaches into scripture to find its support. It’s not as common, but some Christians in the “nay” camp do the same thing:
  • The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:21-26 who comes to the Lord for help is originally told “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. On the basis of this passage, the case is made by those not in favour of mass immigration that while is appropriate for western nations to be charitable with the “crumbs from our table”, we have an obligation to ensure the welfare of our own children first and foremost.

    Such an argument may be both rational and even constitutional, but it is not found in this passage. The Lord is not talking about bringing the poor of other nations into western countries and granting them citizenship. He is talking about working miracles for the purpose of bringing Israel to repentance and acceptance of their Messiah. These signs were the “children’s bread” to which he refers, and the Israelites were the children. His point is that he has been sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

    It is certainly possible to apply principles of scripture in situations beyond their original context, but this seems like a stretch to me.
Again, as a Christian, you are being manipulated if you let yourself be swayed by these sorts of arguments applied to the issue of mass immigration.

Rational Arguments

Nathan Smith is an open borders advocate who tries to make his case from the Bible. But even Smith concedes that, “The New Testament doesn’t deal with politics much”.

It doesn’t. Anyone who reads it carefully will tend to agree with him.

Still, Christendom is increasingly activist. The internet allows us to blow off steam and air our opinions, often without a whole lot of premeditation. I’m not against Christian activism in principle. I’m certainly not against Christians advocating for what they believe in a free society in which votes determine outcomes. But if the Lord Jesus had wanted the case for open borders and mass immigration to be an essential part of the Christian worldview, he would surely have taught it much less ambiguously. I have yet to see a specifically biblical position on the subject laid out with interpretive consistency.

For this reason, I think Christians are wise not to characterize fellow believers who argue with integrity from the other side of the issue (whichever side that may be) as immoral or as buffoons, fear-mongerers, patsies, shills or racists. Such language is part of the public discourse and may even be accurate in some cases, but I don’t think it is useful to the believer. Strong language ought to be reserved for those who are clearly seeking to lead the church of God astray.

There are rational, practical, non-biblical arguments for and against mass immigration. Whatever your convictions, it ought to be conceded that any contributions to the public discussion on immigration we may mine from scripture are not easily or consistently intuited. Furthermore, society is unlikely to find them convincing. Christians with a conscience about displaced Syrians and other needy people should make rational arguments like everyone else rather than trying to drum up moral authority for their convictions on tenuous exegetical grounds.

It is my conviction that scripture does not explicitly address the issue of mass immigration. And it is not seemly for those who follow Christ to be easily manipulated. It should not be in us to misrepresent the world to one another, and we should not be played for fools.

Innocent as doves, sure. But wise as serpents too.

2 comments :

  1. Tom: I agree with everything you have stated. How do we handle the case of fellow believers in distress? The Assyrian Christians who have been bounced around Iraq/Turkey and now Syria are under attack. Are we obligated to help because they are Christ followers? And should this be more properly done without government help, although government policy is a major barrier to helping. Many Assyrians already in Canada have been trying for years to help family leave refugee camps. It should be noted that many Christian refugees are choosing to stay in the middle east because they see revival happening among their fellow sufferers and they are needed to encourage new believers.

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    1. I wish I knew more about the politics and the mechanics of bringing legitimate refugees into the West to be able to recommend anything practical. My primary concern has been the wrong use of scripture to push one side or the other of the political debate. I think if there is a case to be made for mass migration in scripture, it is surely along the lines of individual “neighbourliness” rather than professional advocacy. I am told there are Canadian Christians sponsoring individual Assyrian Christians or families and having some success in getting them resettled. That would be a great thing if they are able to pull it off.

      Of course the big problem, as you note, is that the larger debate is intensely politicized, and we are told that it is “discriminatory” to seek to single out Christians from the Middle East for assistance. The media push is to bring in much larger numbers of Muslims while patting ourselves on the back for our multicultural bona fides. That being the case, it is understandable to me if factions within the government or groups of private citizens find themselves flinching at the thought of the potential social cost of admitting thousands of unvetted “refugees” when it is near-impossible to “vet” these self-proclaimed refugees in any meaningful way.

      All to say, you point out a real, major problem with current public policy and a major problem for our fellow believers.

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