Monday, June 06, 2022

Anonymous Asks (200)

“Should Christians respect borders?”

Borders are neither essentially good nor bad: they simply tell us where one state’s authority ends and the next one’s begins. In principle at least, borders are morally neutral.

In fact, God himself was behind the original borders between the nations. As Moses put it, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples.” This is a reference to the fallout from the judgment at the tower of Babel, when the Lord dispersed mankind over the face of the earth.

So God did not just send people off willy-nilly to live wherever they felt like. They may have thought that’s what was happening, but behind the scenes God was pulling the strings and graciously assigning to the various language groups distinct territories in which each could thrive and prosper.

Drawn and Redrawn

Now of course mankind has drawn and redrawn God’s original borders thousands of times since God first assigned territory to the various people groups of Babel, with the result that it is not always prudent to try to enforce even perfectly valid claims to one’s historic territory, as King Ahab belatedly discovered. To complicate things further, formerly-homogenous nations have absorbed members of other people groups, muddling their genetics and making it impossible to be dogmatic about what parts of the earth really belong to whom. Israel, for example, is one hotly contested territory. Then there is the current movement to “Make Texas Mexico Again”. American Texans may reasonably disagree.

Another modern example currently in the news: the two breakaway states in eastern Ukraine. The region was largely unpopulated until 1676, though nomadic tribes like the Scythians, Huns and Tatars migrated back and forth across it for centuries. The Russian claim to these states only dates from about 2014, when large numbers of ethnic Russians moved there and continued until recently to be harassed by the Ukrainian government, which wants to assert its control of the territories. Where should the border be drawn between these new self-declared republics and the Ukraine (or Russia, for that matter)? Who even knows, but I sure wouldn’t want to be in charge.

Respecting Arbitrary Lines

So should Christians respect the borders other people have drawn all over the world, even though they are at best arbitrary and often unjust? The obvious answer is yes, there are laws about when and how you can cross borders, and Christians are to be respectful of the authorities God has put over them. But a trite answer would make for an awfully short post, and sometimes the issue is more complicated than others. See, states do not always act morally or biblically, and there is plenty of New Testament precedent for ignoring their edicts when they come into conflict with the will of God. “We must obey God rather than men.”

The Christian reason for respecting borders has more to do with the teaching of Romans 13 than with God’s original plan for the nations, which we cannot know or recreate at this stage even if we were able to enforce our will on a world that has no interest in our opinions. Like the Pharisees and scribes who “sat on Moses’ seat” in the first century and took to themselves the prerogative of enforcing Jewish religious law, the right to dictate where borders are drawn today is very much in the hands of those powerful enough to enforce their decisions. In anything but the most exceptional circumstances, Christians ought to accept and respect that, if only to avoid being labeled as rebels and troublemakers.

So then, the question of who draws borders and where they should really be drawn is way above our pay grade, but there are two issues concerning respecting borders which we might consider: (1) Should Christians cross borders illegally; and (2) How should Christians respond when other people cross borders illegally?

Should Christians Cross Borders Illegally?

The answer to the first one is fairly self-evident: it depends on your circumstances. When we look to the examples of persecuted Christians in the New Testament, we find there are times they chose to deliberately put themselves in the hands of hostile or neutral authorities for the sake of the gospel, as in the book of Acts when Paul went up to Jerusalem and ended up defending himself in Rome. Then there are other times when Christians thwarted the will of the state to detain them (also for the sake of the gospel), as when Paul was let down in a basket through a window in a wall to avoid being captured by the governor of Damascus, or when Peter walked out of Herod’s jail at night on the coattails of an angel. At the time, he thought he was seeing a vision, but you will notice he didn’t go back to jail when he discovered the truth, and none of the believers gathered at the house of Mary felt obligated to turn him in.

So then, we are wise to interpret the instructions in Romans 13 in the same way the apostles did: by treating them as a good general principle to which there may be occasional equally-principled exceptions. Another perfectly valid principle for Christians is not to die stupidly or unnecessarily. That’s basic stewardship. It may certainly be the Lord’s will for us to perish at the hands of authorities hostile to the word of God, but we are not morally compelled to make the abuse of their God-given authority easier for them. If escaping the clutches of authorities acting outside their mandate involves surreptitiously crossing a border, it strikes me that would be at worst a minor infraction. The issue is one of a good conscience before God, and ought to be settled in the heart of the individual believer.

However, overt persecution by the state is not really a problem for Christians in Western countries at the moment. That doesn’t mean it will never be, but for now the personal relationship of most Christians to borders remains mostly in the realm of theory.

How Should Christians Respond to Illegal Immigration?

Not so when we consider others crossing borders illegally, an issue which is far from theoretical. There is actually an awful lot of that going on, and some of the fallout from it may occasionally end up on a Christian’s doorstep. The streets of the city in which I live are peppered with men and women who have recently crossed the Canadian border. Many of these folks are in dire straits and could use some Christian help. Were they wise to come north from mostly-tropical homes to a land where snow and ice dominate for significant portions of the year? Maybe not. Our government doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do with most of them. Nevertheless, they are here now, and stepping over their sleeping bodies on a frozen sidewalk should trouble a Christian conscience.

Generally speaking, I am against illegal immigration. If I lived in the US, I would probably vote against any amnesty for illegals on the basis of fairness, given that they have jumped the line and bypassed people applying for citizenship lawfully. Desperate people do such things, and they are understandable. However, it needs to be recognized that the poor in Third World countries are so numerous that no Western nation could possibly absorb everyone who wants to cross its borders no matter how desperate their situation may be. A degree of orderliness in border crossing as well as reasonable limits to the numbers doing so must be maintained, or any society quickly begins to break down.

Minding Our Own Business

But that is the difference between political problems in the domain of theory, and personal problems lived out at street level. It is not inconsistent for a Christian to be against unlimited (and especially illegal) immigration in principle, voting to reduce it where possible, while being personally generous to illegals in need of help when he encounters them. I also feel zero obligation to notify the authorities about illegals who have crossed the Canadian border, partly because it is clear our government winks at such things, but also because it is truly none of my business.

That too is a Christian principle.

No comments :

Post a Comment